Edinburgh Fringe 2013
This insightful documentary, directed by Paulette Douglas, takes us on an odyssey through TEAM’s three year collaborative process to create their multi- award winning production, Mission Drift.
In 2011 I went to review Mission Drift and was bowled over, so bowled over that I went to see it again, not something I normally do. How did they do it? How did they achieve such extraordinary impact? How was the play made?
If you want to know how Mission Drift was made or simply are interested in the process of how plays are made, then you need to see TEAM Makes a Play.
Back in 2009, TEAM (Theatre of the Emerging American Moment), a theatre company dedicated to making theatre about what it means to be American today, started making a play about what defines American capitalism. Paulette Douglas, a filmmaker, came along for the ride to make a film about the process, an activity she thought would last for a year. Three years later after following the company through thick and thin, through loss of funding and company members, through creative stasis and restarts, Mission Drift came to fruition and Paulette had her film. It is a film that anyone who is interested in devised theatre should see.
t starts with the company in Brooklyn researching the play; they know nothing at the outset about economics, they read, they talk to economists, they talk to each other. they move on to workshopping the play – ideas, fragments, searching for direction. It’s a musical and they’ve never made a musical; they involve a musician, Heather Christian. They make a super quick draft. 30% ends up in the final play, Rachel, TEAM’s creative director tells us. From there on in, it’s a roller coaster journey with workshop residences, loss of finance, runs of the work in progress, audience feedback, back to the drawing board and on and on. It’s the bravery of experimentation, of daring to stand on the edge of a parapet and take a step forward, to fail and to keep on trying with the end held firmly in mind.
Paulette Douglas takes us on a journey with the TEAM. As the film progresses, if I hadn’t already seen the play I would have wondered if it ever came to fruition so fraught is the path with obstacles. Paulette, as filmmaker is with them all along the way, the observer in the room, a role she discharges with respect for their process. It’s a story about collaboration, and she manages to hold that in the frame, focussing always on the process and the collaboration rather than the individuals, though inevitably individual stories shine through.
It’s a searingly honest portrait of a company working together, handling the unpredictability of the creative process. You see the company struggling with the ideas, with each other, with the process of trying to find their way and make a show from fragments. You see the difficulties of working together, of needing to be honest and yet inclusive and supportive of each other. You see people not finding what they need to hold onto the play and believe in it, and needing to leave. You see attempts to move the play on, some succeeding and others not. And at the centre of it all, at the eye of the storm, you see Rachel, the creative director, bright and incisively intellectual, holding on, keeping it together and moving it forward, creating a place of safety from where all will be well.
Paulette Douglas has made a film that goes as near to being part of the creative process and understanding it as any observer can do. And as well as being about theatrical process, it holds lessons for any of us involved in collaboration and partnership working. The film is about that ‘What are we doing?’ place, that place of fear and uncertainty and the ability to go on from it that is at the heart of great work.