The speed of change in the beginning of the 21st century remains in a steep curve. The needs of the society--and therefore the demand for skills--have never been in such flux. As new technologies emerge, new ways to solve old problems keep the workplace in a rapidly changing state. One thing remains unchanged though--the thirst for even more innovative ways to enrich our lives. Creativity, the flexibility to adjust in a fast changing environment, the type of abstract thinking who allows workflows and problem-solving strategies to move from platform to platform have become the most sought after skills.
While a basis in science, technology, math and engineering may provide skills that are needed in today’s job market, the addition of the arts with its highly metaphorical, critical and abstract thinking provides a framework to give the students the needed flexibility to move learned skills from an existing platform to one that has not yet appeared.
In 2015, NJIT and MCVTS began a collaboration to explore solutions to young artists’ preconceived notions of writing rules, of what stories they were allowed to tell, and of limitations, many of them self-imposed, on their creative process.
2. THE EXPERIMENT
We chose dramatic writing as the creative form that this experiment would take and charged the students with generating a final collaborative product--a few pieces of dramatic writing, which would be staged.
The STEAM Panel collaboration with NJIT reverberated greatly with our students. Because there were several presentations, different students took different approaches in their creative processes and a few plays came from this experience.
One in particular proved enduring and fruitful, the presentation of NJIT professor Simon Garnier and his ideas on swarm theory--in particular how simple organisms achieve complicated ends by self organizing.
From that germinal idea, students and I began to devise a series of rules, prompts and limitations to decentralize the creative process, take away personal investment in story, and crowd source material before a rigorous editorial process begins--what the students called The Swarm Plays process.
The process was whimsical, filled with false starts an invigorating.
In its basic structure the students generated an open source document and established a set of random rules and limits which allow writers to input, edit or delete material in a random pattern. As this process developed, participants agreed to avoid discussion of plot, theme or concept, thus shutting away social hierarchies and pressures. Eventually, we devised a way to use Google Docs itself to make input anonymous.
The process went on for two months. After that we “harvested” material and began the editorial process.
What we would like to let you experience today is the effect of the beginning process the students used to generate a “seed” document, using one of the random feeders and a very basic set of rules.
Even in a small workshop, participants may experience the liberation of using words as building blocks, unlocking creativity, and generating unexpected material before a more conscious process begins.