An interview with Collaborations course instructors, Sarah Tourjee and Casey Llewellyn

Collaborations starts on October 2! We are so excited about this class, and you should be too. If you feel intrigued but haven’t yet signed up, read this interview with the instructors– Sarah Tourjee and Casey Llewellyn. The class is open to everyone, writers and artists of all levels, and you do not need to already have a collaborator. Just bring yourself and a willingness to explore. Click here to register for the course.

How would you define collaboration? Who (or what) have your collaborative partners been over the past few years? 

Sarah Tourjee: To me collaboration means extending your practice outward. As writers we are used to going inside ourselves in order to write, but when we collaborate we are choosing to allow the external world (other artists, objects, existing art, landscapes) to act on our work. This requires flexibility and the willingness to lose some control of what we make. This is worthwhile– there is so much potential in our creative energy-so much that I am certain we could only ever reach a small bit of it on our own. And I don’t think we should settle for just a small bit of anything. So we collaborate.

Recently my collaborating partners have been other writers (poets, fiction writers, playwrights), performance artists, animals, appropriated language, the desert, and people in my life who perhaps are not aware that they contribute.

Casey Llewellyn: Collaboration for me is building something with other people, a piece created through an interaction between people or potentially by any other kind of interaction (inter! <–>). Almost every project I’ve ever been involved in as an artist has been a collaboration at some point because I am in theater. So that is the highest goal for me as a writer, to invite others into my work (even if I did everything else myself (impossible), the work doesn’t exist without the participation of an audience). This is the most beautiful part of theater for me, you are not alone! And writing can often feel the opposite, like Sarah’s talking about, so this tension between Obsessive Vigorous Pursuit and Exploration of Personal Impulses and Vision on the one hand and the Necessity of Interdepence on the other, is a very exciting and fruitful one for me. Not to mention completely sexy and completely unsexy in the way that living a whole life is and figuring that out, how to do that.

In your course description, you say “A collaborative artist says, ‘There are things I don’t know’ and leaves open a space in their practice for another to enter.” What kinds of things don’t you know?

ST: I don’t know how to weld, or how to perform an autopsy, or how old a baby is when it has its first thought. I have only been to a few places on this whole planet, I don’t know how to ballroom dance, I don’t know what anyone else thinks about when they look at their hands or knees. I studied Spanish but I still don’t know how to speak Spanish. There’s such a small portion of language with which I can communicate. I can’t even imagine all the things I’ll never be able to say.

CL: Sarah, you really sound like a writer right now. Oh my god, forget words! But I guess this question is just a little stressful for me (see Sarah’s response above). When we were writing this, I was mostly thinking about how I regularly don’t know how to do things (or do them well enough to want to do them) that are involved in my own art practice, like composing music, lighting, performing some roles, directing some pieces, so I rely on others who have a more organic relationship with those things. Something really exciting about theater and especially collaborations I’ve had with performers working on theater as a writer and director is that the actor’s themselfness, way with body and words and look and impulses become your material to some extent and definitely give you so much that’s real to work with, into, push off of. A space can also work like this or a performance context. They are things you can work with and get somewhere you could never go pretending you are in a vacuum. So in the most literal sense, I don’t know how to be that performer or do what they do in a piece (I can’t even be myself!). So the other self you are involved with who is involved with your art is the most beautiful gift to listen to rather than try to control (of course both, always both). Basically there is a way to virtuosity as a collective, that I think is transcendent, and is possible even when virtuosity of any individual involved is limited. Now I’m thinking about sports many of which I don’t know how to ‘play.’

What kinds of environments do you seek out for writing?

ST: My ideal setting is a public place that is also somehow private, even if artificially. Coffee shops work well for me. I like to have things going on around me. But, I’ve also learned to be flexible, to write in any environment. Even the worst setting is interesting in its awfulness.

CL: I am the opposite. I like to work in spaces that are quiet and empty where I can close the door, whether that’s a rehearsal room or my bedroom. I like to zone into and forget the outside. Not the internal outside of course.

What do you think is the most important aspect of keeping yourself motivated and in the right mindset to create new work?  

ST: Being open, allowing yourself to be inspired by anything. You’re going to see thousands of things today, you’re going to think more thoughts than you’ll even notice. People are going to speak whole sentences and paragraphs. You’re going to see a dog at the park that’s smaller than a cat. Your friend is going to call you and tell you about the flying termites that swarmed her house and how they crunched under her feet when she pushed through them, and then disappeared into the walls of her house. This is happening and you just have to let yourself be an artist during all of it.

And of course the thing that will keep you most motivated is by talking to other artists. Keep telling each other what you see.

CL: For me it’s just keeping working always, practicing the craft. Free-writing and looking at it non-judgmentally, listening to and allowing myself to be present with what’s going on inside me, saying yes to gigs and making new work for them, asking people that excite me to collaborate, dancing and listening to music and reading.

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