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The Soul Through a Slit Lamp

The view through a slit lamp is equal parts intimate and clinical, often quite awkward. It’s an ophthalmological tool, used to examine the exterior structure of the eye. The gateway to the soul we are so crazy about.

In the theatre world, we talk a lot about the different “hats” we wear, but I’m finding that a less and less apt metaphor for what I do.

I’m currently pursuing my MFA in Theatre Education, through the lens(es) of Playwriting and Dramaturgy. Because of the nature of the class and blog, I am most often wearing my “dramaturg’s hat” when you encounter me.

But this process feels more like operating behind one of those ophthalmological tools with multiple lenses (called a “slit lamp”) that you can add or subtract, focus or blur. Needless to say, that often feels equal parts intimate and clinical, often quite awkward.

In my work  thus far, the two mediums of playwriting and dramaturgy have been inseparable, two overlapping lenses I look through to reveal a complete picture (of my soul).

This can be a blessing and a curse, depending on the project, and depending on the day.

A play starts as a dramaturgical moment in my brain. That moment in the middle, as I shift the lenses back and forth, when an idea exists as both a breath of literature and dramaturgical puzzle, is the magic place. The challenge for me is to inhabit that space of blur without pushing it to be in sharp focus yet, and allowing the magic to live.

Honing this process—

(which I expect will take my entire life so by no means interpret this as the writing of someone who has the answers)

—has been a negotiation not of “split focus” but of learning to operate with a “synthesized” or “dual” focus.

Despite all this, the two mediums serve each other well, as you might imagine. For example:

  • Being a playwright who is also a dramaturg has given me the courage to trust my instinct when it dictates I manipulate and break traditional form and be more creative in the presentation of dramaturgical material.
  • Being a dramaturg who is also a playwright has given me insight into the viscera of the plays I examine in that role, enabling me to pull out the emotional and instinctual threads along with the intellectual (not always mutually exclusive, clearly).

To this end, the operative lens in this process has been my instinct

(For me) In a primarily playwriting process, instinct will fight for dominance until it leads the way, until the analytical brain turns off and gives way to whatever rising tide of expression is driving the piece. Its why I often start with a lot of reading and research, because there will come a moment when all that groundwork will be swept away by the instinct to just write the damn thing.

(For me) In a primarily dramaturgical process, I can only tease out the magic, strange, and essential information through trusting this instinct. My playwriting, literary life helps with this, as many times the web I am weaving is predicated on the interconnected dramaturgies of different literary mediums.

  • Note: Perhaps that sounds too didactic. If so, by way of example I offer that in my current dramaturgical process, we were able to identify common characteristics between Chekhov’s three sisters and the three Bronte sisters—a connection that only comes from me trusting my instinct and internal literary milieu.

While it can be challenging to negotiate these lenses, to get them to focus in tandem, I value that negotiation as an artist, because

the magic happens in the middle,

and the middle is where the lenses meet.


“Grey Whale Eye” Photograph by Lucy Molleson

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