Saturday, February 23, 2013

Theatre For Thought, February 23, 2013

joel fishbane

The art of collaboration is getting a whole new definition thanks to a new initiative being spearheaded by a feisty group of international directors, all of whom seem intent on making one of the world’s loneliest professions a little less lonely. The World Wide Lab is a global collective of 13 directors who are intent on exploring what happens to theatre when one directorial vision is replaced by two – or three or six, as the case may be.  “I hate competition in art,” says Evan Tsitsias, one of WWL’s founding members. “To be in a room of directors and to really want everyone to succeed…. it’s all about creating magic.”

A Toronto-based director / playwright, Tsitsias helped found WWL after participating in the Director’s Lab at Lincoln Center in 2011. An annual retreat for international directors, the Lab allows artists to collaborate on techniques and share their individual approaches to the art of putting things on stage. Traditionally, directors return to their individual projects having adopted new skills - but the founders of WWL wanted to try something different. “We wanted to create an annual festival focusing on collaboration,” explains Tsitsias. “No show would ever be directed by less then two directors.”

members hail from Tel Aviv, Greece, Ireland and New York

Although theatre is the result of collaboration between several artists, in most cases it is ultimately a lone director who decides what shape the show will take. WWL is a unique experiment as it hopes to defy this tradition. Nor does WWL truly echo the days before the director, when actor-managers took charge of a theatrical troupe. If anything, the collective seeks to be a hybrid of the two, maintaining the idea of an outside eye while encouraging an atmosphere of co-operation.

Their tenacity led to a residency at the Watermill Centre, a private retreat devoted to providing venues for artists to explore new ideas. The international cabal – members hail from Tel Aviv, Greece, Ireland and New York – worked to develop their festival, a period of time Tsitsias describes as being a “magical experience” despite the number of arguments and disagreements that naturally occurred.  “We decided that consensus had to rule,” Tsitsias laughs. 

From Watermill, WWL soon produced their first festival at the Irondale Center in New York. Launched in the Fall of 2012, the festival featured 15 ten-minute plays, each of which were directed by several directors. The texts were often devised creations, allowing directors to take on an idea or theme that they had been itching to explore. A massive troupe of actors worked in rotation, sometimes rehearsing one show before moving immediately into rehearsal for another. 

The process, says Tsitsias, eventually allowed all the directors to fuse their techniques. “We turned into one entity,” he says. “We could hop into rehearsals and help each other out…the idea is that we’re bringing all of these theatrical traditions to create a new language of theatre, a common language.” 

The festival was so successful that WWL is now looking at a partnership with Irondale and the possibility of an annual festival for international directors. WWL is also planning to take the festival to Rome, assuming the theatrical and financial stars align. As much a social experiment as a theatrical one, the process has forced the members of WWL to surrender their individual egos with the hope of creating a new style of theatre that bridges the gap between cultures. 

“It’s already done wonders for my work as a director,” says Tsitsias, who will be directing I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change in the spring. “We’re actually thinking of creating a manual through this, a textbook of new exercises….this is night and day from what I learned in theatre school, from the way theatre is in North America.” Tsitsias attempts to be diplomatic when discussing his frustrations with theatre in his neck of the woods. “Right now there’s a circle of directors that are being used and you go and see their work and you know it’s their work,” he says. “Why wouldn’t we want to expose audiences to other theatrical traditions – that’s what we should strive for.”

Tsitsias is insistent that WWL is more then just a playground for directors: the group is constantly searching for  new forms of storytelling to delight a new generation of audiences. “We’re not actually looking to revolutionize theatre in any way,” says Tsitsias. “We’re just trying to find ways to tell a story from every perspective we can.”

For more information about WWL, visit

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