Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Thoughts On ‘Dramaturgy’ from the Dramaturgy Corner...

Rachel Miller who recently worked with Rorschach on Arabian Night returns to Dramaturg the hell out of Rough Magic. I wish I had a better picture of her than the one at your left but times is hard here in the hood. Besides Cesar's expression makes hers seem normal. Any way, Rachel has taken some time to write us a love note of sort on dramaturgy, a term I am sure many of you non-theatre types have often heard but ignored completely. This is timely, because our story features a Dramaturg with wonderful powers, but I will let Rachel explain all of that. Enjoy!

This is Rachel reporting from the Dramaturgy Corner of the Rorschach Theatre’s production of Rough Magic. Yes, I am the dramaturg of the play! Not to be mistaken with Melanie (played by Tracy Lynn Olivera), the dramaturg in the play who has the magical ability to set characters free from dramatic texts. Now I do not profess to harbor any powers like hers– and if I did I would probably feel compelled to cast all dramaturgical aspirations aside and spend my days being fed Chilean grapes by Duke Orsino as Viola skulked in the background playing Mozart Concertos on the harpsichord. (But that’s just me.) Fortunately my commitment to dramaturgical practice remains in tact as I exist (in the literal sense at least) sans magic.

In the context of this production, my job is to perform research and text analysis for the director (Jenny McConnell Frederick) as well as the cast and design team. Part of my job is also to help set the scene for the audience by assembling a stellar lobby display out of construction paper and scotch tape and posting self-indulgent – yet informative– essays/musings on the Rorschach Theatre Blog. Let’s dive in, shall we?

The subject today is Dramaturgy! (Who would have guessed it eh?) After littering the paragraphs above five million times with that word, indeed, I am here to shed some light on the subject. It is, after all, the true profession of our protagonist and quite possibly (as this humble student of the play would argue) the source of her powers.

So, most people who have any familiarity with the word “dramaturg” (and seriously, there are many out there who hear the word and are like– “Isn’t that a dirty word or something?”), but most people recognize it as the person in a theatre production whose job it is to look up all of the references within a text and provide background information to the director and cast. That’s part of it. The role of the dramaturg within any given theatre production can actually vary quite drastically depending upon the type of play being put on and the type of theatre producing it.

According to Celise Kalke’s description of
The Dramaturg’s Role in a Production, a Dramaturg’s responsibilities include but are not limited to:

“ 1. A thorough text/story analysis.
2. Research into the prior productions of the text as needed.
3. Historical research of various sorts.
4. Attendance at at least one quarter of the rehearsals, the first read-through, and as many run-throughs as possible.
5. Oral or written notes for the director.
6. Attendance at some pre-production meetings.
7. A loyalty to the basic mission and ideas of the production and the text. Maintaining that loyalty in the midst of technical difficulties.
8. Program contributions.
9. Flexibility.”

Kalke goes on to list several other additional responsibilities that are usually contingent upon the play itself or the venue. For example, if the play were an Ibsen or a Chekov, or based upon a work of prose, a Dramaturg would be highly instrumental in adapting the text for the stage or at least working with the “translator/writer” throughout the adaptation process. Productions of Shakespearean plays depend especially upon a lot of dramaturgical attention throughout the process of cutting the script to best realize the director’s artistic vision while still staying true to the text. Many large theatres will employ a full time Dramaturg to fulfill more institutional functions such as organizing play-readings, selecting the season or providing input for marketing purposes.

Though Dramaturgy has a strong and well established history in England and Europe, it is still considered very much a burgeoning field in the United States. The introduction of one of the quintessential text books on the subject,
Dramaturgy in American Theatre , talks about how the need for Dramaturgs began to emerge some thirty plus years ago as the Regional Theatre Movement began to take hold throughout the country. Over the years, Dramaturgs came to be relied on heavily by theatres to provide support and constructive criticism to directors and to help foster artistic development in up-and-coming playwrights. Also, many dramaturgs have come to play key roles in upholding and reinforcing their theatre’s mission, which is important especially for not-for-profit theatres.

You’ll find in Rough Magic that very little of this background detail about the field of dramaturgy really gets explored. And that’s okay. And it isn’t because the fact that Melanie is a dramaturg isn’t relevant. Quite the opposite actually.

Very early on, after reading the script for the first time, I found myself asking the question “why a dramaturg?...Couldn’t an actor, a theatre director, a librarian, a Shakespearean Scholar with a PhD just as easily assume this power?” Perhaps. But the unique thing about the role of the dramaturg is that it is her (or his) job to know the text, to understand it and support it so that the playwright’s vision can literally be brought to life on stage. Seen from this light, magic and reality blur together as we begin to recognize how Melanie’s power to set characters free from dramatic texts is deeply akin to her work in the theatre. The only difference is, with her magic, all of New York is a stage.

No comments: