Some immediately spring to mind: Beyonce & Jay Z, Tosh & Marley, Kahlo & Rivera, McFadden & Whitehead, Westwood and McClaren, Laurel & Hardy…
I love hooking up with other artists to try things. The effort of mutual attunement. The challenge that working with someone else gives me. My certainties get flipped and new ways of approaching problem-solving hit the mix. It’s like driving with extra headlights and four hands on the wheel. Nerve-wracking. Exhilarating. Rule-breaking. Collaborations often fail but even when they do, you always learn something. What types are there? Since I’m hungry, the following taxonomy is based on food!
Bread-filling-bread. I once combined with another writer to write a novel. He was a good starter of work but struggled to finish. I am often reluctant to start but once started I tend to keep going till I cross the line. The collaborative plan was, if we worked in tandem we’d be guaranteed to get to END. We wrote a chapter in turn. The finished product attracted an agent. Though we didn’t get a publishing deal I learned how to synch writing styles, how to create a shared sense of place, the importance of sharing notes. At one point his character went to blow up the wrong bank. It was a writer-to-writer communication error. We kept it in – very ‘Elmore Leonard’). Me and that writer recently hooked up again on another project that went with more swing. So success came, but in an unexpected way. (Our unpublished joint novel is called, Funny Money by the way – in case it ever sees the light of day!)
The meatball is a metaphor for the type of collaboration where individual contributions are so ground up – so intimately connected and synthesised – that it’s hard to separate out who did what. I’ve written and devised plays in this fashion – bouncing lines of dialogue across with other writers so often that we can’t tell who came up with which line, which scene,which theme. It’s about getting so completely immersed in each other’s way of thinking and feeling that for the length of the project you become one artist.
This is where you create huge mounds of material and allow it to get juiced – the good stuff separated out, the rest junked. In a bizarre journey to publication I once created a story for telling in theatres. I performed it before about a dozen audiences across the UK, letting each successive audience response guide me on what to leave in what to take out: the audiences became my collaborative partner. That’s pretty much how my storyGetting Home got written. A variation of it is now published in a short story anthology called Closure (Peepal Tree 2016).
Sometimes you need to be the base to other people’s flavours. My craft is story. I’ve collaborated with musicians, dancers and visual artists (especially visual artists). Generally, they ask me to lay down a narrative structure on which they can spin their particular artistic input. I’m always happy to do this. It gives me access to how these artists work. One briefed me, “Try to use as few words as possible on this, Pete, I hate words.” Being asked to construct a scene so as to annihilate my own craft in the service of the greater artistic good was a great honour – and I loved the piece that was created!
The Layer Cake
If I get the sequencing right for them – my words, their music/their visuals – I get a buzz. Meanwhile they teach me new expressions, adding salt and sweetness to my own craft. OK I’m too hungry to write any more of this article.
I’m off for a pizza!