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Defining the Dramaturg

Defining the Dramaturg

The Dictionary defines dramaturgy as "the art or technique of dramatic composition and theatrical representation". But perhaps the best way to think of a dramaturg is someone with varied skills and broad intellectual oversight, or simply, a resident scholar. In Europe, the dramaturg’s role may diverge from that of the American counterpart. Here are some of the duties dramaturgs have been known to assume:
  • resident playwright
  • critic
  • liaison with other playwrights
  • verifier of authenticity
  • deconstructionist
  • adviser on repertory
  • text preparation and oversight
  • translation and adaptation
  • pre-production and rehearsal work on issues of design, direction and performance
  • contextual research
  • program and study guide notes and preparation
  • conducting audience discussions and related work in conjunction with the marketing and media departments
  • script evaluation and communication with writers and agents 
In her very definitive and comprehensive work in the field of dramaturgy, Dramaturgy in American Theater, A Source Book, Susan Jonas states the following in defining the dramaturg:
The primary job of a theater’s production dramaturg is to focus his or her energies and those of the artistic director on long-range research and development and on artistic planning. The dramaturg must ask important questions -- of both the theater and his or her artistic collaborators. These questions will determine what lines the theater plans along and what kind of plays the theater will eventually develop and produce. These important questions begin with the most fundamental ones: Who are we as artists? What are our theatrical or extratheatrical models and our ideals? What kinds of work do we respond to? Who is our work for? What is our theater’s community in terms both of artists and audience? As these questions are discussed and addressed, an artistic philosophy will be shaped and discerned. In the end, artistic policy is of course defined by the repertory itself. It may or may not be stated in programs or grant applications, but it is always evident on the stage.
The production dramaturg’s role is to develop repertory material that will express the theater’s artistic purpose. The dramaturg will need to find, develop, and possibly even create plays by contacting writers, commissioning plays, researching lost or little-known plays in libraries or archives, and occasionally compiling texts as an editor would from other existing library or non-literary sources. The aim of this work is to present the artistic director with a slate of plays for inclusion in the season that embody the theater’s artistic purpose. The creation of this slate of plays requires experience in two areas of the repertory: the first includes classical plays and revivals, and the second area comprises work on new plays.
The Dramaturgy Pages, a popular website for the topic, engages the question of "What is Dramaturgy" by enlisting the varied perspectives of at least three practitioners in the field on a webpage of its website which can be found at http://www.dramaturgy.net/dramaturgy/What.html. The Dramaturg’s Network, an organization based in London, sees the role of the dramaturg in the following way:
    * Reading plays
      Old and new, British and foreign; rediscovering old treasures, digging out forgotten plays and helping you to choose the best for your theatre to make an interesting season.
    * Translating or re-translating plays
      Or help to find good translators for a play; to help you to get the best out of a foreign writer’s work.
    * Encouraging new writing
      With events, awards, festivals, or providing one to one support, feedback and advice.
    * Devising new work
      Through vigorous questioning and research we can help you to find the core of the work and to find your way through the devising process; from generating texts, through structuring the texts and finally through the post production changes
    * Adapting
      A piece for other media (novel for a stage; stage play into a radio play etc.)
    * Analysing
      Your chosen play, looking closely at the text as a structure and its meanings and discussing it with you, to help you to develop your conception of the production before you start rehearsing.
    * Editing and cutting
      Helping you to shape the drama that you want to stage.
    * Research
      Providing you with all the background information needed for successful rehearsals and to carry out production research, audience research etc. for your theatre or production.
    * Advice
      Helping you to co-ordinate your rehearsals and to balance the different facets of the play (space, time, text etc.)
    * Assisting
      Helping you to keep sight of the concept of the play throughout the rehearsal process, preserving the core ideas of the theme and the writer’s aims.
    * Compiling the programme
      To help your audience grasp your message. 
In 1767, the first known dramaturge, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, was hired by a group of Hamburg businessmen to be an artistic adviser for what they hoped would become the first German national theatre. In today’s Germany, there is a network of some 200 government-funded theatres with large permanent ensembles staffed with salaried actors. These resident theatres, found in every major German city, have two- to four-person dramaturg staffs that organize and plan the repertory for these important state-subsidized institutions. These theatres have established histories in their cities and perform for audiences for whom theatregoing and knowledge of the theatre is a tradition and significant to social status. After its birth in Germany, dramaturgy is believed to have spread to England, France and America, or whereever theatres were similarly organized. In Europe, the chief dramaturg is usually an elder statesman of the theatre who presides over the artistic and literary aspects of the theatre.
During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, English actor/managers, from John Philip Kemble to Harley Granville-Barker, functioned as dramaturgs. They reinvented the classical repertory and interpreted and adapted plays to reflect preferences of the day. In the tradition of Shakespeare, these actor/managers were men of the theater with an understanding of acting, writing, and how plays work for audiences. Often they knew a wealth of anecdotal information about Shakespeare and his plays. Some of the more recent and well known dramaturges are Bertolt Brecht and Kenneth Tynan.
One of the earliest known uses of the term "dramaturg" in connection to the American theatre appeared in the annual report of the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in 1968, which had begun assigning people to perform dramaturgical functions at its annual playwrights conference. At about the same time, Robert Brustein, who became dean of the Yale School of Drama in 1966, introduced a dramaturgy program there. The other major center of dramaturgical training has been the University of Iowa and, more recently, the American Repertory Theatre Institute for Advanced Theatre Training at Harvard. In today’s modern day academic programs students are trained both as institutional dramaturgs, delving into artistic policy and its communication and implementation (a producer who might interface more with creative staff rather than financial backers), and as production dramaturgs, supporting the rehearsal process.

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Last modified on Friday, 14 August 2015 05:36
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