Tuesday, 5 March 2013

How To Survive Creative Group Work Without Killing Everyone

For some reason. The drama department at my University has a liking for putting already proud, egotistical, slightly maniac people into groups and watching (and presumably, cackling madly in delight) as they ask them to create work that is traditionally done by one person: An hour long play.

Don't get me wrong, plays are great, and there are many that are written by more than one person that have done quite well. Dual authored plays tend however, to not do too well, though some have slipped through the net and had success. Our blockbuster musicals and sell out shows more often than not have a team of writers and producers that are behind the production's narrative. Alas, for your typical play it is a sole writer, alone in a Coffee shop (presumably on break from their shift, ha-ha) toiling away at their masterpiece.

So imagine the profile of your typical theatre student: egocentric, hilariously confident in their own genius and stupendously lazy. Stick six of them in a room, and then tell them to create an hour long play amongst themselves. Sit back and enjoy the fireworks, you sick bastard.

So here are some tips to help survive these terrible, harrowing situations. If you're reading this, you're either about to embark on this venture, reflecting on times gone by, or just like reading blogs about these things for some reason. Either way, good luck and may these pointers serve you well on your ensemble's journey to find the holy grail of the wordsmith.

(Be warned, I have no interesting pictures to use to break up the walls of text, so amusing stock photos will do.)

You were warned.

1. Reign your genius/ego in, just for now.

This is probably the most important one. You are brilliant and you know it. Every word you write is perfect, your wordsmithing talents know no bounds. You are god's gift to the earth and you have come to breach unto the peasants of the world what it is to be perfect.

No. Heel. Bad drama student. Stop.

You may be confident in your own abilities, but confidence, while a necessary attribute for any creative student to have; can easily come across as arrogance and the last thing you want is working with a group who hate your stuck up guts. You need to be able to pitch your own ideas but also learn to listen (and I mean listen, don't pretend) and to consider everyone's ideas as if they were your own. So what if you don't like Jenny because prior to working with you she criticised your taste of green tea? Regardless, if she's coming up with great ideas that are of benefit to the project you're working on then you need to consider these ideas like you would your own.

Summary: Your genius need not be known in a group context. Everyone else's ideas are just as important as your own (and quite often, other's ideas are better).

This is an angry baby, fear their fury.

2. Patience is key.

Depending on the size of your group, and how lucky you are with your placement, you are very likely to find someone in your group very annoying. Everything they say is like razors in your ears, they're very presence on this earth really steams your clams. They spend every session pouring their own ideas into the group with no regards to everyone else's input, they didn't heed the advice of the first rule, obviously. These types of people are the worst, yes, and you will want to shout, scream and smash your fists into them till they are no more.


Hold your tongue, with drama students especially this can be incredibly hard. If you've got to spend the next few weeks in close proximity with someone, what use is making it awkward for everyone else? You may have to start up yoga or drugs as a means to release your stress, but biting the bullet is good for you in the long run and more importantly, the project.

Summary: You will deal with many infuriating people in your academic and professional life, University is a great time to start building up your tolerance levels, a baptism by fire is what you need. Never lose your cool, find your happy place, never crack.

Angry or summoning poseidon? You decide. 

3. Your ideas aren't all that.

You may think your ideas are gold-dust, and they are. Your ideas, if you believe in them enough are good ideas. No one can tell you that they suck. When they shoot you down in class you need to retune 'your idea is bad' to come back as 'your idea is not appropriate for the project', you may be working with peasants who know nothing of your genius, but what good is fighting? Bench your ideas for now, they are not worthy for those peasants anyway, and continue onwards. If you really think your ideas are amazing and appropriate, think laterally. You're in a room of people doing the same project, all of them are disagreeing with you, if your idea was as perfect as you think it is; they wouldn't all be siding against you.

Summary: Accepting that your ideas may not be as brilliant as you first think is a hard but important lesson to learn.

According to Google this justifies 'anger'... you be the judge.
4. Be Flexible.

If your lesson is only once a week and you know you need to meet outside of class, be flexible. The worst type of study partner is someone who is only available at 2pm on a Friday for 15 minutes at a specific place. We may have all different priorities in terms of what we think is important, but when you're working on big creative projects the priorities should be academia and work, nothing else. If you're putting off working on your project because you have to see your girlfriend/boyfriend/friend/pet then you're heading towards angry course mates who will complain to a sympathetic teacher. Your marks will suffer, make time.

Summary: Ensure that you push aside other commitments to work on your projects, it is important time to make a lot of ground. Facebook can only do so much.

How these stock photo websites make money is beyond me.

5. Project Is Priority.

If you're getting marked or paid for it. Above all things the priority should be on the project, not on your dates with pretty people or societal commitments. University comes first, period. That's the attitude your tutor will take and also anyone who is sensibly minded in your group. If you find that people in your group aren't pulling their weight, complain to your tutor, it's not fair on you or everyone else that they're not doing what they need to do to get things done. These are your marks, additions to your degree, a society play or a meeting with friends is not going to repair the damage done to your final marks, neither is it as beneficial either.


Group projects suck, they do. A lot of the time you work with people you don't know, or don't like, or know but hate their work ethic. The keys are patience, humility and flexibility. Save your frustrations for your housemates/mum/councillor and not the targets of your aggression. Not caring for a project is not a good enough reason to stop putting in effort, when you're actually getting paid to do this you may have to work on many projects you really don't give a shit about. Since you're paying £9000 a year just to be here, if you're going to start changing your bad habits, now is probably the best time.

Thanks for reading, as a treat, here is one of the strange stock photos I encountered while sourcing the pictures for this article.
Hilarious or terrifying? You decide.
Alex is a person who likes to write things that may be of interest to you. If you enjoyed this, or you're morbidly curious as to what this idiot is doing with his life, I... ahem, he, has a Twitter you can follow to your heart's content.

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