As a young dramaturg, still learning what it is that I actually do (which seems to change on a daily basis), the book The Process of Dramaturgy was an interesting approach to what we’ve been talking about, and a resource I will cherish for a long time. As I finished reading it, I also felt that I had finally learned what a dramaturg really did: digest.
In the book, they refer to the information gathering process as “hunting and gathering,” but I think a more apt description is “devouring.” As I’ve been researching anything and everything that has to do with the production of A Delicate Balance, the first step is gathering, yes, but the unnamed second step is consuming, all of it. Over the past week I’ve been immersed in piles of papers, script pages with alien markings, and books. On the side I’ve been watching interviews, turning tired eyes to JStor, and frantically turning to Google to save me. All the while, I’ve been devouring, and learning, and ingesting information at a rate that can sometimes cause indigestion.
“Digestion” is the exact word I think best describes what a dramaturg does. Anyone can eat: some do it better than others, some do it competitively, but everyone does it. In a production, everyone should be doing some research on their element, from design to acting. The dramaturgs role, then, is that of the stomach. Their job is to digest, find the useful nutritious bits, send them where they need to go, and get rid of the waste (forgive this vulgar metaphor). As a dramaturg, one of the weirdest concepts is that out of everything you know, everything you devour, only some of it will be useful, and even then, it will only be useful at the right time and to the right person. The artistic process can be so easily overwhelmed with ‘fun facts’ and timelines, and a mind clouded by lines from books can sometimes be so over stimulated that it impedes the artistic process.
The hardest thing to learn as a dramaturg, for me anyway, is how to digest. The process of selecting the important information, the things someone has to know before proceeding, and getting it to the right person at the right time is so difficult. I get excited over new information. I love learning, and reading, and I love sharing what I’ve learned with people who can talk about it with me. The lesson I’m still learning is when to mull it over a little longer, streamline it a little further, and deliver it in a nugget that is more useful than it is convoluting.
One of the most important skills in dramaturgy is the finesse to be able to wade through what you’ve learned, find the stuff that’s worthwhile, and get it to the right person at the right point of the process. Dramaturgs devour, digest, and deliver, and their role, though flexible and difficult to define, can’t be undervalued.