My Love of Theater and What It Tells Us About the Art of Connection

The ultimate collaborative experience

Photos: Marc Brenner

Communal emotion is one of our most primal needs. From the hunter chants of tribal Africa to the chorused choirs of gothic churches, humans have always craved connected emotion. That is why movie theaters survive, even in our somewhat disconnected, tech-obsessed world. It is also why people who attend concerts tend to be healthier than non-concertgoers, and why the theater world continues to grow despite the constant expansion of free content. It's also why brands are turning to experiential marketing to connect with their audiences. As humans, we want to feel together.

For me, this fundamental truth has always come to life in the theater, and despite my passion for our brand-centric work, my first thespian love is what continues to inspire and energize me, ever forward. Unlike other storytelling art forms, the theater is exclusively collaborative, a point which I find inspiring beyond measure.

As the wonderfully talented Paula Vogel once said, "If I wanted everything to be exactly as it was in my head, exactly word for word, I should be writing novels. The play doesn't belong to the playwright." But it doesn't belong to the actor, the director, the set designer, or the audience, either. The beauty of the play lies in the collaboration of many talents, all essential to the success of the whole. And that success lives and breathes in reaction to the audience itself because there really is no way to passively consume a play. How much more communal can an experience get?

My most recent moment of gut-wrenching inspiration came from seeing The Jungle at St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn. It was truly a masterpiece; all areas of the product excelled and each supported the brilliance of the others. The directing was genius, the rhythm was impeccable, the acting was splendid, the set, costumes and lighting were striking, and the writing was seriously deep and relevant. The topic may be grim—refugee camps and how to create a home in impossible environments—but the message was elevated to remind us all that we are social animals and that we cannot survive in a silo.

Based in my home country of France, where refugee camps have become a constant unaddressed problem, the audience meets a group of hopeful, resilient "temporary" residents of The Jungle. From the characters' connections, the audience uncovers the rules of the self-governing society that emerged from the insanity of the sprawling refugee camp in Calais. This could have been a dark story, but instead of pulling us down, the story feeds our souls, reminding us of our need for shared human connections.  

The perfection of theater productions like this one inspires me. Its focus on excellence through collaboration is what motivates me. It is the same focus I found here at Gradient, where we embrace "whole brain" integration—when every member of the team is challenged to carry the excellence forward through their own expertise. That, too, is inspiring to behold. My "right brain" creative thinking is balanced by our strategy team's focus on results and data. Our production team's focus on excellence in execution is balanced by our account team's focus on client needs. It's yin and yang to the nth degree. 

I may not be designing stage sets anymore, but the communal creativity we collectively develop to create shared experiences is just as inspiring. And when I need just a little extra kick, I head back to the theater. That constant access to inspiring talent is the whole point of paying NYC rent. 

Profile picture for user Jennifer de Fouchier
Jennifer de Fouchier
Jennifer de Fouchier is executive creative director at Gradient.

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