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The Western Washington Dramatic Collective

Abby Sarah's picture

The Western Washington Dramatic Collective

The following is a (theoretical) plan to create a theater collective in western Washington state, one to explore ecological thinking and living through a live-in community striving to form connections with each other and the land by creating on-site theater. I had originally hoped to write this plan in the form of a grant proposal, but without more specifics, this proved difficult. Instead, this will just be a general proposal.



The Western Washington Dramatic Collective, a cooperative venture, would establish itself as a non-profit in the state of Washington. As put in its mission statement, this organization would aim “to foster social, environmental, and emotional responsibility within its members through the combined goal of living together in a rural setting and producing theatre.” The work that would be created by this collective would not follow one specific goal, such as restaging classic works, but would rather create work that reflects the needs and interests of both the collective and the community in which it is situated.



Ecological thought means acknowledging and working with the knowledge that all living things are interconnected. The tools to actuating such a philosophy we believe lies in discovering and uncovering one’s own connection to their environment, both in terms of physical location and within the community and culture of people in which an individual is situated. On the surface, the goals here are simple:  create and sustain a livable community and contribute one’s one talents and efforts towards a single goal of producing several live theatrical productions. To accomplish this, however, each member and the collective at large must relate, must listen to themselves and their surroundings, acknowledge their connections and their differences, and demonstrate responsibility to something that is greater than themselves. In this vein, this theater collective would hope to not only offer the community in which it is situated opportunities to see live theater, but more pressingly allow its own members to engage in what is hopefully an ecological connection to themselves and the world they inhabit.



The collective would be led by two Co-Coordinators. Although it seems at first that communal, consensus based decisions would make sense, having established leaders would allow the collective to function more efficiently without abandoning an ecological approach. Co-Coordinators of the collective would help to organize and plan the actions of the collective and to facilitate day-to-day operations. As the title indicates, these individuals would be responsible for coordinating the many moving pieces of a community and theatrical production. All large decisions, like the works to be produced and performed, would still be decided in a more collective manner. The Co-Coordinators would also be responsible for conflict management and for addressing issues that community members are unable to resolve independently. Instead of filling this role themselves the Co-Coordinators could alternatively identify a capable individual to serve as an assigned Conflict Manager. Outside of the on-site community, there would be a Board of Directors, as dictated by the collective being a non-profit, composed of several individuals invested in the mission of the organization. Their role would be to help oversee the more business elements of the collective, and to step in if a conflict arose that was truly unsolvable by those living within the collective. The Co-Coordinators would be nominated by the members of the collective, and voted in by the Board of Directors, and would serve as the main liaison between the two.  

Physically, the collective would be located near, but not in, a rural community. Ideally, the campus would include housing for the members in the form of a multiple traditional single or multi-family housing unit.  Most gathering space would be located outdoors, as rehearsals and other meetings would be held outside as much as possible. The actual theater space itself would depend on the location, and possibilities include creating an outdoor theater or repurposing existing infrastructure on the campus, such as a barn or garage. All spaces would be shared, except for rooms of the members, which would be considered private.  Chores, such as cooking, cleaning, maintenance, and gardening, would be equally divided among the members, depending on preference and specialty.  

In terms of members, the goal would be not just to attract performers, directors and other artists. Those interested in arts management, fundraising, marketing, technical theater, etc. would be just as encouraged and welcomed. The running of a theater is not confined to those onstage or even immediately off stage. As a collective, members are equally responsible for the business side as well as the artistic side, and are, in ecological fashion, encourage to play multiple roles if capable and the situation is reasonable.  The make-up of the collective is expected to be mostly young professionals who may not have a long resume but demonstrate an interest in creating work within a community and exercising creative freedom.

Each calendar year, the collective would put on at least one show to be performed for the public. For the first season, a good goal would be between one and three productions, depending on talent and monetary resources. Assuming the collective could sustain itself for another season, more productions could be added depending again on resources. Each member of the collective would be expected to contribute something to each season, whether overall (in a position focusing on marketing, for example) or on a production basis (such as an actor or director). Each production would be headed by a director, who would express their interest and what work they intended to create in advance of each season, and would be voted in by a majority vote within the collective. Specific positions for the season or production would be decided by Co-Coordinators after a consultation with each member and the directors.

Outside of the rehearsal and producing of theater, other activities would be a key part of the life and culture of the collective. Attempts to make the collective sustainable would be encouraged, such as gardening, waste reduction and limiting the campus’ ‘carbon footprint.’ Addressing the issue of the sustainability of traditional theater (especially on a professional level) would be a topic for conversation and hopefully inspire creative solutions—how to deal with massive amounts of printed scripts, high wattage stage lights, and costumes, sets and props often only used once and then discarded. Discussions about environmental issues in addition to social, political, philosophical, or anything that the community designates as relevant would be encouraged and possibly even formalized into a weekly meeting of members of the collective. Additionally, since the collective is not meant to be insular or an isolated, excursions would be planned as often as possible to engage with the larger environment, whether this is achieved by  visiting more urban settings or more wild, rural settings, to do things like hike, volunteer, or see other artistic endeavors.



Funding for this collective would rely on two major sources: revenues and grants/donors. Realistically, revenues from ticket sales would not be expected to cover much of the total operating cost. Ticket prices would be determined more than likely based on the median income of the community in which the collective is located, to ensure that the work being created would be accessible to the community it is being created in. The hope would be to find donors willing to contribute to the collective based on its philosophy, from small personal donations to large corporate ones. Grants from the State of Washington and the National Endowment for the Arts would also be pursued, as well as those from large, private corporations in the Pacific Northwest.

There would be no pay offered to the members, but room and board would be covered through the nature of the collective. The eventual goal would be to provide a stipend to individuals within the collective. At the beginning of this endeavor, however, the philosophy and the goals of the collective would have to be enough to attract interested individuals.



If the Western Washington Dramatic Collective were to establish itself as a producer of dramatic works in its community and could receive and generate enough funds to be able to expand, it could do so in several directions. 

One direction could be in education, offering acting camps and classes, especially for elementary, middle or high school students. This would provide an opportunity for individuals who are unable to make a commitment to living on-site for an extended period of time the opportunity to still engage with the possibility of ecological living and thinking in this manner. Living on-site even over a summer and cooperating with other individuals to create even one production could have significant and lasting impacts on the students passing through.

Touring shows could also be a possibility, although the works produced by the collective are meant to arise from one particular environment. Like mentioned before, the collective would not exist in a bubble, and just because certain themes are explored in the community of the collective, does not mean that other communities may not find them relevant. It could be an enlightening and worthwhile investment aligned with the goals and philosophy of the collective to tour a successful production elsewhere in the state or beyond.