The power of a mutual language

Converting thoughts

Working in the theatre brings us together with a high diversity of people, all of which embrace different tasks, ideals, viewpoints, and – as a result – also different languages. And by „languages“ I don’t only mean English, Russian, or Chinese. I mean a specific way to choose and apply words for converting our thoughts into sentences.

Cultural codes

Initially, different tribes, clans, or groups of people developed specific languages to facilitate achieving their common goal – finding food, building a shelter or surviving the winter. And since these tasks involved different facets for each group, languages emerged unequally: In some areas, people needed to differentiate between various types of snow while in others they needed to focus on coping with extreme heat and sandstorms. The words that a society uses, therefore, reflects their issues, tasks, and relevant topics.

Cultural codes in the performing arts

The same principle can be noted in the performing arts. Every department deals with different assignments and, consequently, develops various languages. This involves not only technical jargon but also how strict or polite members exchange, the kind of slang they use, their verbal sense of humor and much more. Everyone uses language in a slightly different way depending on their individual background.

Misunderstandings and verbal culture shocks

When these uneven worlds come together for a shared work process – as it happens in every stage production – it often results in misunderstandings, lack of clarity, and puzzlement. Still, all backstage departments must work in the same direction. The director’s original idea should be both perceived and carried out in the same manner and independent of personal preferences or niche-specific approaches. And since creativity often involves producing something that does not yet exist, we can’t even fall back to common or already established language templates.

Bridge the gap!

So, we need to find ways for people to speak of the same literally. And the most effective way to do so is by learning the language of our partners. This might involve taking Spanish classes, but just as much finding out more about the worlds of our associates. What kind of terminology does my composer use? How would our designer describe her costumes? Which information would be helpful for our dancers? Some people prefer talking in images, while others need lists and numbers. In some cases, you might need a mood video or music track to exemplify a feeling. In others, it is more helpful to present a few single catchwords instead of lengthy descriptions. Whatever way you may choose, the focus needs to be on finding the best input for your partner – instead of going through with your own preference.

Creating a culture

By doing so, you not only rise chances that you will be understood correctly. You also present yourself open, caring and interested. By making an effort to synchronize with other members, you make them feel welcome and appreciated. This has a direct effect on all further creative steps as well as the general quality of cooperation within the team. More on that topic can also be found in Chapter 3 of “Collaborating Backstage”. There, I explain how to define production related vocabularies and create a common (work-)culture.

But what are your experiences in finding a mutual language? How do you shape your creative inputs? Let me know your ideas and help all of us to improve our exchange!