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Notes on things to do as a Production Dramaturg at BU

What follows started as a reference list for me, but I think it could be useful for me to be transparent with what I’ve learned in the hope that it can make the role of Production Dramaturg easier on other students.  I am not doing this work perfectly.  That’s part of why I’m writing it all down.  

I’ve worked in the role of Dramaturg on three productions at BU’s School of Theatre since starting my MFA, and I’ve learned a few things about some of the communication that needs to happen in order for me to be a successful dramaturg in a room with people who have generally never worked with a dramaturg. Most of what I suggest is logistics based and some of it will inherently possess my artistic views on how processes should run.  This post is by no means exhaustive and should be tailored to the needs of the play, the needs of the production, the artists, etc.  As you will see, my work as a dramaturg is entirely relationship based and requires generous communication with the team.  All dramaturgical decisions should be made in collaboration.

(This reads a bit like an advice column.  Just know that I’m talking to myself.)

Have an initial conversation with Director touching on their relationship with the play. Get a sense of why they picked it, why they feel the story is important, what drew them to it in the first place and how it’s living with them now.  Ask all those fun Dramaturgical questions that feel right to you.  Try to get a feel for how they imagine your role in the room.  Be transparent about what you’re excited about in terms of the show and the process.

Questions for the Director before rehearsals begin:

  • How do you want to run the first week of rehearsal?  
    • How do you want to handle the cast’s first encounter with the script? What role can I play?
  • What is the best way to disseminate dramaturgical information for this show?  A private FB group? A public blog?  Physically, in the room? A combination?
  • Set up a weekly director/dramaturg check-in, preferably over food/drinks.
  • Will there be a program? (Initial thoughts)
  • What do we want our audience’s experience of the lobby to be? (Initial thoughts)
  • Are we interested in doing any post-show conversations/experiences?

Find out, by talking with the Director and Stage Manager, how to be included in all Outreach and Marketing conversations. The Dramaturg can be a great resource for bringing in guests, experts, anyone that can enrich the experience for the creative team, cast, or audience.  The Dramaturg can also keep an eye on how the show is being projected to the world and if it fits with the actual production.  Here is a list of things to ask for:

  • Please include me in all conversations regarding the development of the poster.
  • Is it alright if I run the design and content of the program? At BU, we often only get a small half sheet, but let’s see how we can use it.
  • Please include the line “Dramaturgy by Corianna Moffatt” on the poster as well as on any Marketing materials, including the FB event and the show info posted on The Bridge.

Don’t be afraid to dramaturg the set-up of the room.  Stage Managers often set up tables and chairs for the first read, which may or may not be useful for the show.  SMs also often set-up tables and chairs for the Director and team to sit behind during rehearsal.  That may or may not be useful for the production.  Check-in with the director about how they best work and what they envision.

Be friends with the SM team.  Help them learn how to work with a dramaturg.  Here is a list of a few asks to make:

  • Please cc me on all rehearsal reports.
  • Please add my name to the heading of the rehearsal report under the Director’s name, ie. “Dtrg. Corianna Moffatt”
  • Please cc me on all notes that are emailed out to cast members, particularly text notes.
  • Please keep me in the loop about all Production Meetings.  This includes letting me know when they are happening and cc’ing me on any notes that are sent out. *Try to be at as many Production Meetings as possible.  Important dramaturgical decisions are made at these meetings, ie. What does blood look like in this world?  What color palette do our costumes live-in?  These are artistic and dramaturgical conversations.  Let the artists do their work, but the dramaturg is an expert on the world of the play.  Take part in the conversation.

It is important to be credited for the work you are doing as the Dramaturg.  The little things matter and it’s an act of activism to help build recognition and appreciation for the work of the Dramaturg.

Tips for rehearsal:

  • Let there be food!  Is the first cast meeting a brunch date?  Is the first read a potluck?
  • Find ritual in rehearsal.  Do you always begin with a short check-in?  End with reinforcements?
  • Build in at least 15 minutes for warm-up in every rehearsal.  Invite everyone in the room to join the warm-up, not just the actors.
  • For runs:
    • Check in with the Director about what they would like you to keep an eye out for or what to listen for.
    • Ask how the Director would most like to receive notes. Emailed after rehearsal?  Short chat?  Would they rather receive big picture notes?  
  • Before the show opens check in with the Director about any “Thank You”s they would like to send.  Ideally, any celebratory notes to the cast and crew will be delivered co-signed by the Director and the Dramaturg.

What would you add to this list?  Feel free to send me an email at cdm@bu.edu or comment below.

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