Jess on Disney & Collective Creation

Posted By Theatre, Writing

I was recently reading a copy of the Harvard Business Review’s “Interviews With CEOs” which may seem odd, but it was fascinating. One of the interviews was with Michael Eisner, who in 1995 was the CEO at Disney. This interview was particularly interesting to me because Eisner, while speaking of the creative team coming up with new ideas for The Little Mermaid and Pocahontas, claimed that they would lock themselves in a room for 12 hours and go through a complete transformation in order to create as a collective. And although the interview did not pertain to theatre I found that his description of their collaboration was so spot-on that I would share my reflections on Disney’s ability to capture our hearts through collective creation.

Eisner mentions that at the beginning of the creative team’s journey into the creation of a designated film/product/theme park/etc. everyone who was in the room tried their hardest to show the others that they were worthy of being there. He mentions that the Junior Creators would try to prove their worth, while the Senior Creators would try to prove their seniority… and after a few hours they would get tired, and eat, and get more tired. About halfway through the process they would come to a standstill — and then, beautifully, just like my experience with collectives in the past, the playing field would become equal and someone would say something that sparked another person, and a stream of solutions and ideas would begin to flow; entire storyboards would come to life. This process sometimes took up to 12 hours while Eisner was working with the creative team, but they always prevailed.

Disney has most likely changed their ways of creating since 1995 (I wouldn’t know I don’t work there personally) but the process still applies to the way we create theatre as a collective. If everyone has around the same amount of experience it’s possible that there is less showing-off or “seniority” to establish, but there are definitely talents being flaunted, ideas that are shot down, etc. After all of this though, if your team is there for the long haul and determined to commit to the project, eventually everyone loses their pride and is able to work together on a level playing field. And it’s out of THIS that an orchestra of beautiful ideas erupts. The beginning tension is truly all a part of the process – a kind of necessary evil. Theatre is so cool.

So, if you are teetering with the idea of starting a collective or collaborating with a group of people (this could be just 2 people, if you aren’t doing it alone it’s a collaboration) I suggest you just go for it! Create! Lock yourselves in a room (with the needed amenities of course, and bathroom breaks)! Have faith in your collaborators’ passions and stick through the wanting-to-kill-eachother phase until you can find the ideas that spark amazing theatre in eachother. And once you’ve done that, submit your masterpiece to The Muddy Mary Project’s 2015 Festival HERE! 😉

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