I am a Theatre History/Criticism major, and a chunk of the work I do involves an art form (and yes, I said art form) called Dramaturgy. American Dramaturgy today tries their best to recreate the successful models found in Germany and Europe, however this makes our jobs vast, ever-changing, and difficult to define. Out of all of the published definitions I could find, Dramaturg Mark Bly (The Alley Theatre) describes the job best in the introduction to the book, The Production Notebooks, Theatre In Process:
The Primary task for a dramaturg is to aid the artistic director in creating a long-ranging artistic vision and plan for their theatre and then implement short-range action to accomplish that goal… The dramaturg supervises the commissioning of new plays, cultivating relationships with the playwrights; and rereads the classics, searching for those works that make deep cultural connections. The Dramaturg takes the lead in season planning helping to select plays that fulfill the theatre’s commitment to its artists and its overall vision. Dramatugs work with directors to challenge fixed notions about new plays or classics being considered for staging. When possible, the dramaturg assists in picking the artistic team for each production…. [and] also serves as a resource and active collaborator during the planning stages of a production and throughout the rehearsal period. The production dramaturg is optimally that artist who functions in a multifaceted manner helping the director and other artists to interpret and shape the sociological, textual, acting, directing and design values. (Bly, xxii-xxiii)
Bly goes on to explain about dramaturgical work in text preparation, production casebooks and actor packets, and the necessity of attending rehearsals and previews so that, “The dramaturg will know the source of the creative choices. This will inspire ‘doable’ note or staging solutions and not merely obvious diagnostic commentary.” He then goes on to sum up his task during the rehearsal process into to words, “I question…I strive to be a supportive but questioning force, never an ‘echo’” (Bly xxiv).
(“HAIR” Actor: Paris Remillard)
This summer I had a chance to talk to a few actors from the musical, “HAIR”. I asked if they had a theatre historian work with them, or if they had a dramaturg (doubting that they knew what a dramaturg was). To my surprise, not only did they know what dramaturgy was, but they said that their assistant director was the one who took on that role. I have only been to one Broadway show recently that had listed a dramaturg in the playbill and that was “August: Osage County”. Roundabout Theatre Company, located in NYC, has a dramaturg for every production. The dramaturg also does presentations for the audience prior to the show every Tuesday night. I discovered this when I went to go see “Hedda Gabbler”. The dramaturg did a short presentation where he spoke about the playwright, talked about the society of the time, and conclusions made by cast and director on why Hedda was the way she was. I unfortunately missed the Dramaturgy presentation for “Waiting For Godot” a few months later, so if you are able to see a Roundabout show on a Tuesday and are interested in dramaturgy, be sure to ask when the presentations are.
This semester I will be the dramaturg for Sharron Pollock’s “Blood Relations,” directed by Keegan Bushey. “Blood Relations” is a play about Lizzie Borden and the events surrounding the murder of her parents. The playwright poses the question, “If you were in her place, what would you have done?“ This is an exciting opportunity for me because I was a part of the Play Selection Committee last year and was able to voice my love for this play. I presented the faculty with a list of things that could be done for this production with research and publicity. I was excited to hear that the play had been chosen for the season, and that I would be involved in the show. “Blood Relations“ is this year‘s Student Honors Production. Students submit resumes, go through an interview process and are selected to be lighting, set, and costume designers, directors, dramaturgs. Our crew is made up of students as well. It is essentially our first steps, with our mentors beside us to catch us if we start to stumble. I had the pleasure of working with a fine group of peers for last year’s Honors Production, and I am excited to work with the brilliant minds of this year. We do have some Faculty designers involved this year, which makes the experience even more interesting, learning from those who have had many years of experience.
Next Step, Auditions.
See you there.
Bly, Mark. The Production Noteboks, Theatre In Process. New York, NY: Theatre Communicaions Grop, Inc., 1996. Print.