Pennsylvania State University: Lessons Learned

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Process lessons

Student Perspectives:

“The semester I spent redesigning it turned out to be one of the most valuable opportunities I have had in this program. I learned about materials and construction, collaboration between various teams, as well as theory and precedent.”

“This process taught me a lot about the importance of craft and craft. Construction was also a new experience for me. I became a certified welder across campus, and am proud of the level of quality and technique I have accomplished. I used more tools in the wood shop and metal shop than I even knew existed. “

“One of the most valuable aspects of this studio was the opportunity to collaborate with students and professors from various fields in our university.”

“Working with and organizing discussions with engineers, dancers, and architects was a much more difficult task than I thought it would be.”

“I’ve found out that this process is extremely challenging yet satisfying to see designs brought to life at this stage in my career. Through collaboration between architecture, engineering, landscape architecture, and dance majors, it helped bring a rich variety of perspectives on ideas and input into the design build process.”

“I felt like there was a lot of pressure on us dancers to do really cool things with the projects. I felt like the public and audience were judging our dancing but did not have the knowledge that we didn’t have the proper amount of time to work with the projects. I felt like it was unfair to us as the dancers to be put in a situation where we did not have the proper time to come up with material on the projects to present to the public.”

“I think we ran into even more problems when we lost half of the people in the project because they went abroad the second half of the year. I know the dancers had to make a full year commitment, and I think it would have been best if everyone were required to make the same commitment if they wanted to work on this project.“

“I have learned a lot from the process of working with different students studying engineering, architecture and landscape architecture, more dancers within the program, and let’s not forget the professors and artistic collaborators from Diavolo!”

“Besides having a large part in the dance portion of the project, I also helped strip wires and learned how to solder wires together so Joe from engineering could hook them up to lights that responded to sound.”

“As soon as we would get excited about an idea, a professor would shoot it down. I feel like due to the amount of talk about doing things versus actually doing things inhibited the dancers from making more integrated choreography specific to the structures built with the exception to backpacks ‘You Move I Move’ by Veronica Patrick.”

“Too much talking about ideas and not enough building is what happened. I thought an entire semester was wasted talking and coming up with various ideas instead of building those ideas and seeing if they actually would work for a final performance.”

“When an entire dance company at Penn State and directors of Diavolo were saying to teachers and students alike that we cannot give you feedback or create dance with materials we don’t physically have, it was obvious to me that some people were doing their own thing and not ‘collaborating’.”

“By the end of the second semester when nothing was really completed except a few projects, this is when the dancers of Penn State all had to spend our outside time away from our majors and work to help finish projects that we were not supposed to have to worry about.”

“I think the most frustrating thing with this project was having a week before the final performance at the Arboretum and having to throw choreography and an entire show together. If the dancers were given the structures and designs when they were due, we may have had a stronger performance.”

“One thing I have learned is that collaboration is a hard thing to do in the real world with so many opinions and great ideas. But I truly enjoyed working on this project which to me was the highlight of my year. “

“Rehearsals were crazy, trying to figure things out and tweak choreography… we couldn’t without the designs and structures. In the end, we had beautiful weather (for one day) and a great turnout.”

“By the end of the year we were left with so few projects, the dancers barely knew what they would be able to work with the day of the performance. The final product was gorgeous and fun by itself, but it could have been so much better. The amount of ideas and the elaborateness of the ideas that were coming at the beginning of the year were amazing. I was so excited to start and play with crazy inventions. But most of these things never happened. “

“The end result of the backpacks was phenomenal. I was so impressed by all of the different ways the dancers and inventor found to move both using public space and not using anything but people. These would be a cool invention to elaborate and make very precise and clean.”

“It would have been very helpful to have the wheel earlier, and Jones earlier so that we could have made a big spectacle. Yes, the end result caught everyone’s eye, but we know it could have been even better. “

“By the end, I was nearly a master of kerfing, rolling, bending, shaping, grinding, and forming steel, terms that only existed as thoughts in my mind before undergoing the fabrication. As my knowledge, skills and abilities of manufacturing and crafting the steel grew, so too did this steel creation start to grow into a reality. This was an entirely new type of design work that I had never experienced before: designing on the go.”

“When I tell people that my major is architecture and my minor is dance they usually smile and say how interesting that combination is, because the two seem so different. To me they’re not very different at all because design is design and it doesn’t matter if you are designing with human bodies or wood and steel. In design, there is always a concept, an experience, and a final destination. The big finale of a dance performance is no different than the experience of entering the most special space in a building. It’s all about dynamics and taking the viewer on a journey.”

“To be honest, when I signed on to this project I guess you could say I was expecting a lot more opportunities for the dancers to have structures to work with and choreograph on. Yes, we did get a lot of opportunities to work with structures but they were all extremely last minute, and not all of the dancers had the opportunity to use them.”

“On the collaboration side of things, it was very frustrating that this project was only a half-year commitment for most of the designers. It created an awkward disconnect between semesters and it was like we had to start over with everything in January.”

“I wish that Jones could have come more often throughout the year, not just the week before our performances. I am curious to know what we could have come up with or tried if we had more time with Diavolo.”

“One thing that was lacking throughout the process is communication. Communication between the dancers, engineers, architects, and administration was often not there, resulting in misunderstandings and many delays. Projects were not completed in a timely fashion so that the dancers could practice using them and come up with choreography. Dancers only had less than one week to practice with the structures at the arboretum performance. If they had more time with them, the performance could have potentially been a lot stronger.”

“I think that the backpacks were a success. Veronica had the backpacks finished before we left for winter break, so when we got back we were able to start choreographing right away. Veronica came to our rehearsals and we had plenty of time to develop different ways to utilize the backpack.”

“One thing that upset me about this project was that deadlines were not met. The structures were not completed until about a day before the performance. Because we had absolutely no time to practice on the structures, I felt that our performance was limited. If the projects were completed sooner, then we would have been able to explore all the possibilities. I believe that people were hesitant about dancing because they did not know all that they could do on the structures and also what would be too much so that the structure would break. “

“I am only just about to complete my first semester of college, and before SLOPS I had never done any sort of planning from the architectural perspective. It was a lot more than I expected. Throughout my life I have made things with my hands, so for me this sort of thing is intuitional. In this class there was not time for trial and error, and so I was thrown into the world of ‘design.’”

“We went through various prototypes before we came up with our final design. The trial and error method of discovery being the reason why they weren’t completed in time. I have heard that a lot of art and design and architecture and such is experimenting with different materials.”

“It was a little frustrating working with our collaborators. There was some miscommunication on some of the administrative side for each department, and it made it difficult for the students to truly get anything done. The deadlines for our two big projects, dance vehicle 1 and dance vehicle 2. kept getting pushed back, which made all the dancers nervous. It’s very difficult to plan any kind of choreography if you don’t really know what the final product will look like or how fast it moves, or even how well it moves. It was a little frustrating that we didn’t even know what the arboretum was going to end up looking like until a couple of days before the show because everything was so backed up.”

“Working with Diavolo was really beneficial. They work with big, moving props all the time, which was something very different for us, and they were really helpful with the short timeframe that we had to pull everything together. It was also really nice to see their premiere of Transit Space while they were there because some of our dancers had done some similar choreography with them during the summer and we had given them feedback on parts of their piece in the fall. It was a great experience to really work with a professional company.”

“It was difficult but it pushed me to work harder and it gave us a crash course on how to incorporate structures into our dance performances. When we got back we shared our gained knowledge with the rest of our company and started collaborating with the architects and the engineers.”

“We incorporated the backpacks into a dance for the show. It was great working with the backpacks because we had them in time to develop the material.”

“As the semester continued on, it became clear that certain projects would veer off into being specifically more design oriented, dance oriented, or engineering oriented with not much stake in the other disciplines. I believed fully that the themes and basis of the project were valid and important and was determined to take full advantage of it, so I worked hard to try and maintain a project that incorporated all these elements.”

“I think the best decision I made all semester was to start going to the dance companies’ practices with devices, ideas, or to seek inspiration for the mere fact that it kept me involved in their world and them involved in mine.”

“It was difficult to breach the gap of the disciplines’ intrinsic differences. By going back and forth between the disciplines I had the benefit of hearing both sides of arguments. From the dancers’ point of view, they expressed it was frustrating that the designers weren’t making anything they could use, and many felt that their part in the project couldn’t properly begin because structures weren’t finished until a week before the performance. From the designers’ point of view, it was frustrating that the dancers were treating them almost like “clients” rather than partners, to make things and hand them over so they could dance on them. These were not things the students were used to designing and they needed the dancers’ help and knowledge of movement to create and tweak them. Communication needed to be a lot better and could have greatly improved peoples’ experience with the project. I wish I had come to these realizations before just now… then I could have helped to facilitate this interdisciplinary communication more.”

“Another aspect that would have improved the project would have been if Diavolo, our artistic partner, could have been involved more directly and frequently. The few times they could visit (coming all the way from Los Angeles) brought about pivotal moments in the project, such as their feedback on our projects from a professional point of view and even our feedback on their upcoming world premiere performance. These interactions were critical to the essence of collaboration, reinvigorating the potential of combining disciplines, and we could have benefitted from having more of them.”

“Realizing that a number of students were scheduled to study overseas for the spring, I was very surprised that new students, bar two architecture, had not joined our studio in the Spring. More surprising still was that we never once met as a group other than on the Friday Idea Lab sessions, and even then I am not sure that we ever really met as a group. In many ways, it feels like both the premise and function of the Design section, along with most of the interdisciplinary collaboration, was lost somewhere. “

“At the very end, just a week or two or so prior to our deadline, it seemed that I was all of a sudden supposed to salvage my collaborative ties with the dancers, which surely could have worked smoother if done sooner. I also feel that I was heavily pushed in very distinct directions during the entire year-long studio, which I found to be extremely manipulative and mentally taxing, taking away much of the enjoyment which should have been associated with such an inspirational and unique opportunity.”

Team Leadership Perspectives:

“There is much to be learned by working across colleges and at the boundaries of disciplines.”

“Working through the logistics of class scheduling, course assignments, etc. is much more difficult than we originally imagined.”

“Different faculty have different research and teaching expectations in different colleges, and aligning them all within a single project takes considerable effort.”

“Talking about the strengths and weaknesses of different disciplines is one thing; understanding them and leveraging them into a successful project is another thing altogether.”

“Language matters: being referred to as a ‘consultant’ on a project sets a different tone and expectation from being a ‘partner’ on a project.”

“Make sure that resource and budgetary allocations align with faculty expectations.”

“Find out about the people you are to be collaborating with. Do not accept that all people would be involved in a project for the betterment of their students.”

“Do not trust that by moving forward in good faith you will be able to find common ground.”

“Ask simple questions of the faculty team such as: ‘What are your feelings about the performing arts?’ ‘How often do you attend the performing arts?’ ‘What is your vision for how the arts should be viewed/presented on campus?’”

“Do not do a project simply because it has the potential to be a ‘good opportunity’ for your students. Look at the big picture and make sure the cost of time, energy, and stress is worth the experience.”

“The (dance) students are able to go further and be pushed to new levels.”

“Make sure the faculty team has the needs and best interest of the students in mind.”

“Do not work with faculty members who are interested in advancing personal agendas (‘vendettas’) over student growth.”

“Do not work with faculty who cannot complete simple tasks such as return emails and show up for meetings.”

“Choose a faculty team that is interested in fulfilling the mission of the Doris Duke Foundation through this project.”

“Put a structure and work plan together that allows the team to see the big picture and stay on track with the timeline.”

“Don’t assume anything in terms of discipline transference and translation.”

“Have a PI/Project director who is in touch with how this process should unfold. Someone who is a strong leader interested in a deep, rich experience and not the showy, ‘sexy’ aspects of the project. Project director should be a good communicator, an ethical administrator, and able to facilitate the difficult points of collaboration.”

“There is a distinction between collaboration and cooperation. Collaboration requires openness, humility, and tempering of authorship ego in order to enable a creative product which surpasses what any one partner may have been able to do independently. Cooperation allows each partner to work independently, buoyed by the efforts of others, and often within a linear framework.”

“There is a distinction between working in an interdisciplinary way and in a multidisciplinary way. Interdisciplinarity means moving between disciplines and only occurs with collaboration. A multidisciplinary project is possible with cooperation; this is typical of most complex projects.”

“If one is to undertake collaborative efforts, it is vital to clearly define roles, responsibilities, and expected outcomes / products for each partner. Talking generally is typical – partners do not know the outcomes yet and thus are reluctant to commit to specifics. Using scenario planning alleviates these limits by allowing discussions of ‘what if?’ rather than committing to ‘what will be.’”

“Making things together is better than talking about them. A variation on scenario planning. ‘Making’ requires insight and action which can then be jointly evaluated. Perhaps the hallmark of creative activity, making requires partners to understand each product as a prototype – a possible solution – rather than as a fait accompli held up for critique.”

“Distance collaborations paradoxically require more time together. This one-to-one can work via distance communications such as Skype or conference calls, but the value of regular, in-depth working sessions cannot be underestimated. Plan for more of these than are thought necessary.”

“Clearly distinguish between ‘business’ coordination meetings and creative production times. It is easy for pressing business matters needing quick resolution to expand into time allotted for discussing the holistic view of the project. Schedule and enforce attendance at regular common meeting times. Not everyone need attend (again, the distinction between the management and creative sides is important). Collaboration happens best in person; schedule a regular, common time for all parties involved to meet and work, not just have coordination meetings.”

“Having a central project manager coordinating the business side of the project is very helpful. Make sure that communication is two-way: rather than simply collecting input, the summary of collective participation should be recirculated back to the group at large at decision-making time or after a decision has been taken.”

“Make sure all partners allot regular time for doing works on the project in addition to the time commitments they make for coordinating the project. This helps alleviate the busy person’s problem of doing work at meetings rather than getting work done and then reporting at coordination meetings.”

“Establish clear definitions of collaboration from the outset. The enthusiasm and excitement of the team disguised the varying agendas/definitions of collaboration until the process was far along.”

“Include funds in the budget for each faculty member to pursue opportunities that arise as a result of the work in this project – opportunities to extend the reach of the project beyond the final performances.”

“From the outset, establish and secure agreements from all involved about the level/depth/frequency of communications among the team.”

“More carefully investigate each team member’s motives, abilities, and needs before committing to a long-term project with them.”

“There are many wonderful partners who are looking for opportunities for large-scale projects. Penn State is a rich and fertile institution for these kinds of projects to continue.”

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