Finally, after for years of hard work, I have turned in my final written assignment at Boston University. Of course, that assignment happened to be one of the most challenging: a dramaturgical dossier containing documentation of one’s process when acting as a dramaturg on a contemporary play. In honor of my work, I have compiled a list of ten questions that everyone wants to ask their favorite dramaturg but doesn’t below:
When do you decide that you’ve researched a topic enough?
In a world where there are experts on nearly every subject known to man, when does one decide to stop doing research and move on? Considering that the role of a dramaturg in the room is to assist everyone involved in a process in understanding the world of a play, I can infer that what’s most important to bring to the table is the information a playwright, director, designer, or actor needs in order to bring their part of the world to life, but how do you gauge that? Everything in moderation I guess…
How many plays do you read in a week? A month? A year? Fidel Castro’s reign?
From my perspective, it seems that most dramaturgs know every play ever written, and if they don’t, they know the playwright, where the playwright was born, and the genealogy of performance the playwright is working in. All of that said, humans forget things. Personally, I don’t remember what the play I read two weeks ago (granted it wasn’t that interesting) was about. So, how many plays do you read, or reread? Too many. If you ask me.
How do you know to research something in the text if you don’t know that thing in the text is something you need to research?
Maybe you’ve noticed that those you work with are often dumbfounded by your ability to pick out a random word in a full-length play and discover the action of said play at the click of a Google search button? Maybe you’ve sat in a classroom and asked your students to unpack the fact that the play they were assigned was set in a house with a side-facing door? Yeah. How? Also, why?
Have you ever considered not knowing the answer to a question?
I can’t imagine the multitude of processes dramaturgs have been in that haven’t valued them as the fairy godparents they are. So, I wonder, do you ever just give up? I mean, we all know you know the answer. But like, do you ever sit there and think, “Hmmmmm. Susan was so rude to me during the first read-through. She can figure that one out by herself.”?
Do you often find yourself wanting to take over a production?
In my artistic career, I have found myself in a number of rooms that have a director or producer that is a little less collaborative than hoped for, and yet, is not as good or intelligent as they think they are. I truly believe that those processes—and eventually, products—would have been stronger had the dramaturg taken over.
What’s the average number of times you have to repeat yourself to an actor?
Actors are the worst. We’re egotistical, overeager, and have a tendency to step on toes. Yet, one of the biggest clichés that theatremakers of every kind echo when asked about their relationship to actors is, “I love being around actors.” In conversation with the idea of dramaturgs being under-appreciated, how often do you find yourselves wishing an actor would just disappear from a process? Or better yet, what’s your advice for those actors who don’t want you to think of them in that way?
In a traditional hierarchical structure, do you have any say in a production’s casting process?
I, unfortunately, already know the answer to this question. That said, because of my strong belief that processes that involve dramaturgs are just…better, if you could forward those in charge of casting at the theatre companies that employ you to my list of five reasons why casting directors everywhere should hire me, please do so. Thanks!
Do you ever get tired of being asked: “So, what do you do?”
Let’s be honest here: a dramaturg’s job is so multi-faceted that I don’t find it that difficult to understand why so many people don’t know what a dramaturg is. Is that something dramaturgs like? Is there an underground movement for better representation of dramaturgs to the American theatre audience and beyond? We should have a Dramaturg Appreciation Day? OMG IS THERE A DRAMATURG APPRECIATION DAY THAT I DON’T KNOW ABOUT?
Follow up: Do you ever confuse yourself while answering that question?
I confuse myself when I’m answering that question. But I’m not a dramaturg. It’s probably funnier (and sadder) if dramaturgs confuse themselves when answering that question.
Have you considered becoming a therapist?
When it comes down to it, dramaturgs do a lot of handholding. And listening. And offering advice. And facts. Dramaturgs are the best friends immature people don’t want because they don’t like to be put in their place. The friends we don’t necessarily invite to the crazy party Gordon threw last Saturday but definitely need when we get sick but don’t know what to do other than die because we don’t have healthcare. You’d all make so much more money if you were therapists. Tbh.