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Inviting Dramaturgy into School of Theatre Productions

The other day in class the topic of dramaturgy in the School of Theatre came up — specifically, that we do not have a standard way of working with a dramaturg on SOT shows. This comment was off-hand and we did not delve deeply into it, but I have been ruminating on the subject for the last couple days and I am interested in exploring further what standardizing dramaturgy on SOT productions could look like.

When this subject was mentioned in class, it was proposed that because we do not have a dramaturg on every production, we have not grown accustomed to working with one and generally don’t know how to when we do have one (and that similarly, the dramaturgs themselves can be unclear about their role). I have often been surprised in class by the vast ideas of what a dramaturg’s role on a production can look like because I have never seen a dramaturg involved to that extent in my limited SOT experience. I don’t think that it is anyone’s fault that we do not use dramaturgs and dramaturgy to their potential in this school, but I certainly think we can do better.

Let’s start with the fact that we do not have a dramaturg on every production. While this is true,  I don’t think it is an excuse for not doing dramaturgy on each production and standardizing somehow what that could look like. We do not have a lighting designer on every show, for example — and yet nearly all productions we do have a lighting design (or at the very least, theatrical lighting). So how could we manage something similar for dramaturgy? When a production (often those in 855) does not have a given designer, if necessary the role is taken on a single ensemble member, a committee within the ensemble, or the ensemble as a whole, albeit in a more informal way than if the show did have that collaborator. I propose that we try something similar with dramaturgy. Perhaps one cast member takes on some dramaturgical responsibility or a committee from the ensemble works together to create a lobby display. Or maybe it’s even enough for the entire ensemble to agree to collectively take on the challenge of thinking and working dramaturgically in the rehearsal room. I’m not sure what could work until we try it!

An additional challenge of dramaturgy in the School of Theatre regards who has the opportunity to be a production dramaturg and when. While I think it’s okay for students to dramaturg smaller productions before they take the course, I believe it should be something that students are encouraged to pursue anytime and not just if they are sophomore theatre arts majors looking for a quarter 2 production assignment.

Ultimately, I think much of this comes down to us as a school taking dramaturgy and the role of the dramaturg more seriously. We should make a greater effort to encourage students to try out dramaturgy. We should guide students who choose to pursue a dramaturgical role on a production. We should work together to learn how to best work with a dramaturg on productions and give the dramaturg the space to best serve the production. Let’s do better, SOT.

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