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On Dramaturgy


dramaturgy is nimble, expansive, thrilling, agitating, full of discovery, nuanced, specific.

dramaturgy is engaging (and it is responsive to the people it is meant to engage.)

dramaturgy can exist in a play bill, but if that’s it, ugh.

dramaturgy must be done by everyone working on the production.


the dramaturg is an igniter.

the dramaturg is not “the holder of all research.”

the dramaturg knows the room better than anyone else.

the dramaturg says what people are scared to say.

the dramaturg makes people laugh.

the dramaturg listens.

the dramaturg is easy to approach.

the dramaturg takes care of the room.

the dramaturg sits in the circle.

the dramaturg speaks on behalf of the production.

the dramaturg knows the audience.

the dramaturg is not responsible for providing answers.

the dramaturg asks questions.


(Image Credit: Model for the curtain in the first act of “The Firebird” by Stravinsky: The Enchanted Forest, 1945. Marc Chagall, 1887–1985.Collage with paper, watercolor, gouache, and pencil on paper. Private collection.)

One comment on “On Dramaturgy

  1. First Time Being a Dramaturg! Ah Scary.

    Night Owl: https://vimeo.com/218082778
    Citizen: https://www.amazon.com/Citizen-American-Lyric-Claudia-Rankine/dp/1555976905/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1505964534&sr=8-1&keywords=citizen

    I believed, before this summer and this class, that a dramaturg was vital to the creation process, but was not an artist. I believed that a dramaturg did research, and put together a packet of information for the cast and crew. The end. Dramaturges did not go to rehearsal, were not allies to the creative process beyond their necessary function of helping the cast and crew place a production in a specific, fleshed out context.

    This summer, I agreed to dramaturg for Christian Scales’ short film, Night Owl. He already had a version of the film completed from the end of sophomore year, but was looking to expand and deepen his work. Since the spring, I was compelled by the project. I accepted when he asked me to join, and questioned if it was responsible for me to do so. I don’t know much about film as an art form. I don’t know the history or the methods for production. I could learn, but I already felt like I was ten steps behind the rest of the team.

    We talked about the various relationships a dramaturg can take on when working with a new work, and a new work’s author. I ended up not giving many answers, but ended up asking a lot of questions. City montage? Is the city a character? What are we seeing specifically in the city? What part of Allston? The bar scene? Rats? Trash? An advertisement? Does it serve the message we discussed at the beginning? What about the two characters’ transformations? What bus stop in Boston are we shooting at? Does it have any historical weight in relationship to gender and race in America? Where are these characters going? What audience are we trying to reach? Who is our protagonist? What does it mean that she gets to leave at the end?

    My questions tended to spark more questions. I also became an audience member and a part of his experiments. He would have me look at film techniques employed in movies he admired and clock my reactions. I went on set and was a resource for actors or if things changed. If I wasn’t on set and things changed, I was given a briefing and together we worked through how that would change the actions and shot techniques for the end.

    In this instance, I needed to be a sounding off board that was one phone call away. The main research I did was provide material I thought connected to our early pre-production conversations, like Citizen by Claudia Rankine. Specifically related, the differentiation she makes between our personal selves and our historical selves. Similar to Rankine’s book, which she called an “American lyric,” Christian’s movie utilized music, action and imagery to tell a story of fear and violence. Citizen is a compilation of powerful images and of the most economical form of literary story-telling, poetry. It was a match!

    What I want to do/remember as we continue the post-production/ when I dramaturg again:
    Be more pro-active in my dramaturgy. Call him to check in and schedule meetings. That way there is no opportunity for miscommunication or either parties inability to make a meeting. NO LAST MINUTE MEETINGS! (Okay, well some last meetings are fine I think, but ORGANIZATION! Yes!)
    Share a common visual representation of the work (a storyboard?/something to reference when we don’t have anything actually filmed yet.
    Develop a shared vocabulary. LEARN THE TERMS OF THE MEDIUM I AM WORKING IN.
    When you take a break, actually take the break to refocus. But don’t take too many breaks so that the purpose and urgency are lost.
    Get to know the people that you are working with! The dramaturg is needed in the room too! The dramaturg is important!

    I hope that I can bring more to this creative endeavor with skills and ideas I am learning in this class.

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