COLLECTIVE ACTS: Beginning with Questions

January 05, 2015

  • #Collective Acts

In the beginning, there are questions.
• What makes people come together to collaborate?
• What is an Ensemble?
• Who makes up an Ensemble?
• What kind of work does the Ensemble make?
• Why does the Ensemble want to make their work?
• How does the Ensemble make their work?

This Network of Ensemble Theaters already has a history of assembling folks together to inquire, discuss, and share in person – we want to try and find our space in cyberspace as well. This NET blog: COLLECTIVE ACTS is a conversational space, intentionally inclusive of a broad field of ensembles and the people who are working in ensembles to animate field discourse around these questions and others.

Our point of entry and inquiry is one of practical details and ideological breadth.
• If we inquire together – can we create, discover and name a more extensive definition of ensemble?
• If we inquire from several points of origin – will we reach the same conclusion or discover multiple new trajectories and possibilities for how communities are coming together to be creative problem solvers artistically and beyond?
• What best practices, tools, strategies or methods are important for us to note? Replicate? And expand?
• How does the flavor of an ensemble change when it is assembled around a concentration of one specific style, teacher or artistic methodology?
• How does that flavor differ from ensemble flavor crystals seasoned with multiple artistic genres, training styles and/or disciplines?
• Does location or place impact an ensemble’s work? If so, How?
• How does artistic rigor and community process morph or blend to create new explorations of critical societal questions?
• How do ensembles make work within the financial realities and resources available to them? How do they subvert or modify those realities?

As this blog’s curator, I enter as someone who has collaborated in ensembles of all shapes, sizes, durations and tasks.  Last summer at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, I hosted a screening of a short music film The Cotabato Sessions -  a music meets cinema collaboration featuring Susie Ibarra and National Heritage artist Danongan Kalanduyan and his family of Cotabato City in Mindanao, the Philippines, directed by Joel Quizon. The film and album documents the musical traditions of one of the oldest forms of Filipino music practiced by one of the oldest ensembles in the Philippines: The Kalanduyan Family. These instruments and their rhythmic cycles are part of an ancient soundtrack that continues to live on and find new resonance and complexity with each generation. 


As part of the post-show performance and collaboration – I asked Danongan, aka Guru Danny, about his process for learning the different gongs, drums, stringed and wind instruments that are part of the Kulintang ensemble of instruments. He smiled and said something like, “well, my mother told me that I had to become good at every instrument, because if I only knew how to play one well – then I would have to wait my turn if someone else was playing. But, if I know how to play any instrument well, then I can play at any time because I can fill in or sit down where there is a space.“

And just like that – Guru Danny gave me language as someone who sometimes feels like an ensemble of one walking through the world. With each new project or collaboration, I figure out which instrument I will play or where is the space that I will fill. There are times when I focus on just one instrument – but there is also the freedom to explore, inquire and dedicate myself to a particular passion. I am excited that this blog will help me to explore many roles: curator, facilitator, reader and inviter of the larger field of experts currently working with ensembles.

This blog is an inquiry into the many ways of doing, being and making work as an ensemble – our Collective Acts. Please consider this your invitation to join us as we explore the beauty of how artistic process, internal structures, decision-making, conflict resolution, resources and aesthetic valuing combine and interplay with the magical fact that an ensemble can become greater than the sum of its parts.

Over the course of the next several months, we will be sharing original content each week. Some interviews, some invited posts, some volunteer submissions. We enter at this moment in time, building on the conversations and inquiries that have come before, excited to contribute to those to come.  Collective Acts pushing us forward into the next set of critical conversations for our sustainability, our artistry and our impact.  I appreciate that the experts in this online space will come from the practitioners that we know – and those we have yet to meet. I hope that you will help us by continuing to expand the pools of knowledge, exploration and resources to engage the larger ensemble field as a whole.

And that’s the thing about ensembles – they require people engaging with each other.  Won’t you join us?  We can discover so much more together.
What does ensemble mean to you and why?

Alison De La Cruz
Curator, Collective Acts