John Collins

Doris Duke Artist Award, 2014

New York, NY

John Collins is the founder and artistic director of Elevator Repair Service (ERS), a theater ensemble based in New York City. Characterized by its mash-up of hi- and lo-tech design, literary and found text, and innovative choreography, ERS has created theatrical adaptations of mainstays of American literature in GATZ (2006), a real time reading of The Great Gatsby; The Sound and the Fury (April Seventh, 1928) (2008), a take on the first chapter of William Faulkner's novel; and The Select (The Sun Also Rises) (2010), based on Ernest Hemingway's novel. Other recent work includes Arguendo (2013), a piece based on the 1991 Supreme Court Case Barnes v. Glen Theatre and the premiere production of Sibyl Kempson’s Fondly, Collette Richland. Among his many honors, he has received a 2009 grant from The Foundation for Contemporary Art, a 2011 Lortel Award for Outstanding Director, a 2010 Elliot Norton Award for Oustanding Director, as well as a USA Fellowship (2011) and a Guggenheim Fellowship (2010). Collins and ERS were honored in 2012 with an Obie Award for Sustained Excellence.

  • Photo Credit: Ariana Smart Truman
  • John Collins- Arguendo (2013):
    Arguendo (2013)
  • John Collins- Gatz (2006), The Sound and the Fury (2008), and The Select (The Sun Also Rises) (2010):
    Gatz (2006), The Sound and the Fury (2008), and The Select (The Sun Also Rises) (2010)
  • Photo Credit: Mark Barton
    Gatz (2006)

What fuels your impulse to make creative work?

I love a good problem to solve. In fact, I trust a problem more than I trust a plan. As a director, I’ve got some responsibility to bring a plan to the table. I work with an ongoing ensemble, and they rely on me to provide a spark when we’re getting started on new work. But any plan I make is always, in some sense, a hoped-for failure. I don’t seek failure, but I anticipate that the best successes come from my original plans falling apart. Plans suggest a pre-ordained vision for a specific outcome, but when a plan devolves into (or even begins as) a seemingly impossible problem, I feel most at home creatively. A problem to solve is infinitely more fruitful in my work than a plan to execute. A new problem calls for a new process and tests my skills and intuitions as a theatre-maker. A solution to the kind of problem I like can only be attained through work and experimentation with my ensemble. When plans give way to interesting and compelling problems, then I’m in a good place to work.