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August 08 2012


The Art of Collaboration: Inside the New York Theatre Workshop

Editor's note: Collaboration Central occasionally looks at collaborations outside of the journalism world to glean lessons for what works elsewhere. This story looks at collaboration inside an award-winning theater company to explore inspiration for media organizations.

"Without collaboration, you can't make a play." --Jim Nicola, artistic director of the New York Theatre Workshop

Since 1988, Jim Nicola has been at the helm of the New York Theatre Workshop. Last season, he led this non-profit theater company to win 13 Tony Awards for the smash hits "Once" and "Peter and the Starcatcher."

In a wide-ranging interview, Nicola told me that he sees the role of artistic director as that of "facilitator in chief."

"My job is to support, sustain and nurture the relationship between artists and the audience," he said.

As someone who spent more than six years managing Broadway shows and national tours, I know first-hand that collaboration is an essential ingredient of any theater company's success. But not everyone takes collaboration as seriously as Nicola and the NYTW -- or applies collaboration to achieve such impressive results.

Collaboration's The Thing

Jim Nicola

From my first day on the job in theater, I understood in a visceral way that no man is an island in this business. A successful show effectively fuses the talents of a vast cast of characters, onstage and behind the scenes. And yet the writers, actors, musicians, designers, crew members and managers involved in a show often have competing interests, needs and opinions about how a production should come together. To add further complication, all of these parties have their creative reputations riding on the outcome of the final product.

This means that the leadership of the artistic director is critical to unite cast and crew members behind a single set of artistic decisions. Everything rides on this person's ability to transform a group of artists with strong opinions into a tight-knit community dedicated to one another and to the work. It is a Herculean task -- and one that Nicola handles with tremendous grace and savvy.

Community-Fueled Creativity

"We have a structure of collaboration and relationships and that structure is vital to our work," Nicola explained. A new NYTW show typically begins with a reading from one of the Usual Suspects, a group of affiliated artists 500-strong that receive support from NYTW. Each member of NYTW's collaborative community, including critics and audience members, has a stake in shaping and reshaping a show until each artistic element helps the story rise to its potential. It is a beautiful and rare process in this day and age of overproduced shows, celebrity leads, and ever-shrinking budgets.

"To do justice to a piece of theater, it needs to be in the mouths of actors," Nicola said. "That's why our labs and reading series are so critical to our creative process."

Once a reading is complete, NYTW uses a feedback technique called the "Critical Response Process" created by artist Liz Lerman. The process is composed of a series of questions that pass between the creative team and audience members, with the goal of giving the creative team useful feedback:

  1. The creative team asks the audience, "What ideas did you walk away with?"
  2. The creative team asks the audience their opinions of specific artistic elements in the show. For example, "How did you feel about the minimal number of props that were used in the show?"
  3. The audience asks the creative team specific questions about the motivations behind any artistic element in the show. For example, "Why was everyone wearing green hats?" The creative team may not have the answers right away.
  4. The audience shares its opinions and recommended fixes with the creative team.

If this process sounds lengthy and tedious, it is. It's also necessary in order for NYTW to continue its lineage of producing meaningful art. Collaboration is the vital ingredient that keeps NYTW at the top of its game and on the leading edge of a crowded field.

"Acts of creativity require collective support. When someone comes to see a show at NYTW, they are peering through a small window into a much larger image of what we do here," Nicola said. "There is an entire community at NYTW that is much bigger than any one production, and we want the audience to be a part of it."

The Role of the Audience

NYTW recently took the idea of audience participation to a whole new level when it staged the original production of "Once," the hit musical that transferred to Broadway and won eight Tony Awards this year, including Best Musical. The audience spent the pre-show inhabiting the on-stage bar that serves as the show's main location.

Nicola explained that NYTW does not try to entertain; instead, he wants the audience to think long and hard about the larger implications raised by the themes of a show and reflect upon how those implications make them feel about their own lives.

"We have an obligation to help the audience figure out what they think and why," he continued. "You are a citizen, one part of the fabric of humanity, and life is getting more and more complicated. You need to have opinions and thoughts on how it's unfolding. Theater is just a reflection of what's happening in society. Let's talk about it. We don't need to agree, but we do need to come together and share our points of view."

"A writer can write," Nicola said, "and a painter can paint independently. Theater is different. Everything we do here has to be an act of collaboration. And here, everyone counts."

Christa Avampato is a product developer, freelance writer, and yoga and meditation teacher based in New York City. She blogs daily about the art of creative living at Christa In New York: Curating a Creative Life. Learn more about the things that light her up by visiting her company website Chasing Down the Muse and very-often-updated Twitter feed.

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September 08 2010


Il Tg1 è Porno.

Io credo che la puntata del Tg1 di stasera rimarrà nella storia. Non sono mai stato così serio. Probabilmente in un futuro politicamente remoto dei nostalgici berlusconiani si accarezzeranno rivendendo i filmini del più importante telegiornale italiano - quelli di oggi in particolare - e celebrando con la mano destra quell'inspiegabile alchimia socio-culturale che ha permesso loro di fottere per 20 anni di fila una riconosciuta democrazia occidentale.

Stasera il direttore Minzolini per arginare la prestazione mediaticamente sublime del Presidente Fini - ospite in simultanea da Mentana nel Tg di La7 - ha dovuto prostrarsi anima e corpo, anima e corpo: un sacrificio Pro-Papi in cui per vincere bisognava perdere tutto, un'immolazione così pura da risultare quasi fatale, e credo che in qualche modo vada riconosciuta ed apprezzata. Se non altro per la grandezza del gesto, così meticoloso, così spudorato, così premeditato, una sottomissione totale, molecolare, che coinvolge tutti i nostri sensi e forse pure qualcuno in più, e sapete di cosa parlo. A La Russa l'Oscar come miglior attore non protagonista: eterno colonnello all'eterna ricerca di un generale da servire, convocato in extremis per arginare il torrente finiano. E poi Lui. Lui, e nessun altro. Il nemico da delegittimare, a soli 6 canali di distanza. E 2 minuti per realizzare un servizietto come si deve. Alla fine dell'editoriale la bocca di Minzolini appare impastata, bruciata, arsa di dolore ma anche di piacere, lo sforzo salivare sovrumano - e noi lì a soffrire con lui - le ghiandole dell'apparato digerente come pistoni impazziti, ad idratare una lingua crollata in un minuto e cinquantaquattro secondi netti. Giusto in tempo per chiudere l'intervento, ed abbandonarsi in carta vetrata, esausta. Per un giorno deponiamo le armi e apprezziamo la dedizione dell'uomo - limpida, estrema, sacrificale - onore e gloria per Augusto, nei secoli prono.

Tags: Artists

March 16 2010


The Amazing Art of Disabled Artists

Some of the best artists deal with disabilities in their everyday lives that the rest of us can’t even imagine living with, and use art to communicate with the world. The results are often stunning.

We’ve collected biographies and sample pieces from outstanding disabled artists, both famous and lesser-known.

The artists below paint with their hands, their mouths and their feet.

Many are blind or suffer from mental disabilities, yet they produce some of the most beautiful and intricate artwork that you can imagine.

Their achievements are arguably epic in the face of the adversity that they face.

We hope that the artists in this post inspire your designs and make you look at adversity in any field as a surmountable obstacle.

Stephen Wiltshire

Disability: Autistic Savant

Wiltshire was born in 1974 in London to West Indian parents. He is an autistic savant and world famous architectural artist. He learned to speak at the age of nine, and at the age of ten began drawing detailed sketches of London landmarks. While he has created many prodigious works of art, his most recent was a eighteen foot wide panoramic landscape of the skyline of New York City, after only viewing it once during a twenty minute helicopter ride.

Maria Iliou

Disability: Autistic

Maria Iliou is a Greek artist with autism spectrum disorder. She lives in Long Island, New York, and is an advocate for the rights of people with autism.

Joseph Cartin

Disability: Bipolar

Cartin is from Brooklyn and actively lives with bipolar disorder. He has been active in the Mental Health Consumer Movement since 1990 and considers himself a “psychiatric survivor”. He has won numerous art competitions and does corporate design work in addition to his art.

Peter Longstaff

Disability: Missing Both Arms

Peter is a foot painter. He creates all of his artwork using just his feet, having no arms. Peter’s disability stemmed from the drug thalidomide, which was prescribed for morning sickness until it was discovered that it caused deformities fetuses. After living most of his life without arms, Peter considers his right foot to be like the right hand of most people, using it dexterously to open doors and perform many other everyday tasks.

Willow Bascom

Disability: Lupus

Willow grew up in Saudi Arabia and Panama, where her father was a pilot on sea vessels. Her early introduction to varying cultures made her a huge fan of tribal art. Later in life she was struck with lupus, and started drawing when it went into remission.

Alice Schonfield

Disability: Diminished capacity through multiple strokes

Although Alice Schonfeld is most known for her sculpting work primarily in Italian marble, she is also regarded as an inspirational figure for the disabled community. She has shown a considerable tenacity to work through debilitating illnesses and has done a lot to promote awareness of disable artists. She resides in California.

Keith Salmon

Disability: Visually Impaired

Keith is a blind fine artist and avid mountain climber. He has climbed over a hundred Munros (a type of Scottish mountain), one of which can be seen in the first painting below. In 2009 he won the Jolomo award for Scottish landscape painting.

Lisa Fittipaldi

Disability: Visually Impaired

Lisa not only learned to paint after losing her sight, she wrote a book about it. Her inspiring use of color and her ability to tell which color she is using just by feeling the texture of the paint are just two remarkable facets of her story.

Matt Sesow

Disability: Missing a hand

Just six years after losing his hand as a child in an accident in which a crashed plane severed his arm and took away his dominant hand, Sesow played for the US team in the disabled Olympics in England. While working at IBM as a software engineer, he began painting scenes in oils that were influenced by his traumatic injury.

Michael Monaco

Disability: Quadriplegic

Michael Monaco is a quadriplegic who paints with his mouth. His work has been featured in global exhibitions and he is a member of the Mouth and Foot Painters Association.

Simon Mark Smith

Disability: No lower arms or right foot

Simon has no lower arms or right foot. In addition to his still paintings, he teaches digital photography and writes poetry and prose. He is also a web designer.

Dennis Francesconi

Disability: Paralysis

Francesconi is a mouth painter that excels at adding a high level of detail in his works, especially considering his method of painting them. He has participated in over 75 exhibitions around the world.

A. Erich Stegmann

Disability: Loss of arm use through polio

The first President of the Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists of the World, Stegmann lost the use of both arms and hands from polio at the age of two. A prominent mouth painter, he formed the association around 1953 and was voted president for life. The association continues to be home to hundreds of Mouth and Foot painters globally.

Richard Wawro

Richard Wawro was a prominent and prolific autistic savant artist from the United Kingdom. He began drawing at the age of three, and immediately covered the chalkboard with a number of detailed images.

Jessy Park

Disability: Autism

Jessica Park is an autistic artist from Massachusetts. She starts with a sketch of the scene and may refer back to a photograph for more detail later. Her mother wrote a memoir about Jessy’s story.

Ping Lian Yeak

Disability: Autistic Savant

Ping Lian is an autistic savant who has been producing amazing art since his childhood. He is now fifteen. More of his amazing art may be viewed at his website.

Christophe Pillault

Disability: Autistic Savant

This French autistic savant artist was born in Iran. He is unable to speak, walk or feed himself, but he produces paintings of flowing, beautiful figures. His art has been exhibited globally.

George Widener

Disability: Autistic Savant

Widener is a famous autistic savant artist whose works are exhibited in museums and galleries nationwide. He not only creates intricate works of art; he is also able to make complex calculations in an instant.

Gilles Trehin

Disability: Autistic Savant

The city of Urville exists solely in the mind of this French autistic savant artist. His elaborate sketches of the city are executed in intricate detail. He has published a book with over 300 detailed sketches of his fabled city.

Amanda LaMunyon

Disability: Asperger’s Syndrome

LaMunyon is a talented child artist that began painting when she was only seven. She is now twelve. In kindergarten, instead of cutting out letters to illustrate her alphabet, she drew her own.


Compiled exclusively for WDD by Angela West.

Do you have a favorite artist who is living with a disability? Please include a link to their works in our comment section.

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