Madeline Taylor – “Does this work?”: A close study of collaboration in performance making


Madeline Taylor


“Does this work?”: A close study of collaboration in performance making

Collaborative skills are recognised by educators, economists and creative industries practitioners as integral to 21st-century employment. This capacity is considered especially vital within the performance industry, which is regularly positioned as an inherently collaborative art form. However, outweighed by the ever-present need to “get the show on”, to focus on the product rather than the process, when collaboration is discussed – if at all – it is generalised into aspects such as trust or good communication, aspects that don’t talk to the unique and material nature of performance making. In the absence of specifics about the collaborative process, collaborative skills are learnt and practiced tacitly, ingrained through observation and repeated practice, rather than explicitly communicated as part of a practitioner’s skill set. This research attempts to answer not only: How does collaboration work? but also make clear the emotional intelligence and creative judgement required by collaboration in performance making.

This research subjects costume design realisation and the collaborative partnership of designer and technicians to a detailed examination. Through close linguistic analysis, combined with the application of design theory from a broad range of fields, of 22 weeks of ethnographic research in the costume workshops of Sydney Theatre Company, Melbourne Theatre Company and Queensland Theatre, this research identifies several consistent mechanisms of collaboration. It argues that creative relationships and a shared understanding of the performance world are created simultaneously in an active collective process, that tacitly relies on collaborative mechanisms, or structures of behaviour. It further argues that explicitly understanding these mechanisms allows for a smoother, more cohesive production, knowledge that has implications and applicability far beyond the costume workshop.

Madeline Taylor is a creator, researcher and teacher in theatre and fashion. A lecturer in Fashion at Queensland University of Technology, and a PhD candidate at University of Melbourne, her research focuses on contemporary costume practice, the interpersonal dynamics of collaboration, and fashion performance. During her 15 years’ experience as a practitioner she has worked on over 85 productions in theatre, dance, opera, circus, contemporary performance and film around Australia and the UK. She is a co-director of The Stitchery Collective, a Brisbane based design group, and was Australian Editor for the World Scenography Project Vol II – 1990 – 2005.