1592. The Plague arrives and theatres shut. Actors and writers depart Shoreditch to begrudgingly WFH (or worse, tour the provinces). Despite the enforced cultural vacuum, it was a lucrative time. Shakespeare banged out his 1,200-line epic poem Venus and Adonis during lockdown. It was a runaway commercial success, the work he was most famous for during his lifetime; but you won’t see Richard Curtis adapting it any time soon.
Creativity demands focused physical interaction; the walk around the block with someone brilliant; the flat white with someone who disagrees with you; the Guinness at The Owl and Pussycat; and the acceptable silence between two people that is anathema to Zoom (or worse, Teams).
There’s been money to be made during our isolation: endless pitches, account moves, sales, mergers and cash-outs. But no agency has made its best work remotely. Collaboration has never been harder. The creative process has never felt less enjoyable or fulfilling. We’ve barely taken pause to celebrate wins. It’s just deck, deck, deck, deck, deck, deck, deck. Mr Blue: “How many decks is that?” Mr White: “A lot.”
Not surprisingly, it’s Shakespeare’s dramatic works that have stood the test of time. Works that demanded tight, prolonged, face-to-face collaboration; actors, writers, musicians and set designers all coming together with a shared vision.
In fact, throughout the Renaissance, dramatic works were acts of such collaboration that the idea of a single playwright having their name in print or lights would have been seen as decidedly gauche.
Roll on 1595. Plague’s done, back to London lads. Shakespeare drops Romeo and Juliet and then reloads with A Midsummer Night’s Dream. IN THE SAME YEAR. The guy was a coiled spring. After dormancy comes creation. After stasis, action. After not having Guinnesses in The OAP, having multiple Guinnesses in The OAP.
This autumn, collaboration is back. We can hang out with colleagues again, safe in the knowledge that the bottom won’t fall out of the agency should we decide to work from home. Or Ibiza. No smart agency is returning to the office full-time. And there’s no such thing as a creative ‘virtual’ agency.
This autumn, our working lives change forever. What better time to remember why we got into this game? Forget about authors, or working for a name above the door (cringe). Reacquaint yourself with the intense joy in talking for hours with people you admire about the thing you absolutely must make. Then the joy in explaining to a client why they absolutely need the thing. And, finally, the joy of making the thing.
Someone once wrote: “Joy’s soul lies in the doing.” There’s never been a better time.
Joe Mackay-Sinclair is founder and creative at The Romans