1) Noun: as in ‘what’s a dramaturg?’
2) Verb: as in ‘let’s dramaturg this mother!’
insisting on the presence of crayons in the rehearsal room/
Having an idea and wanting to make it into a piece of theatre is like taking K’NEX, Meccano, LEGO and Stickle Bricks and sellotaping them all together into something you hope someone else will recognise. ‘Oh, it’s an aeroplane’, ‘My, what a lovely truck’, ‘Gosh, what a fascinating reimagining of Krapp’s Last Tape as a giant music box’. In a big way, my job is to make sure that what leaves the rehearsal room is a single thing. Working with a writer/performer and a director, devising the show at the same time as writing it, shaping material at the same time as cutting it – there’s a lot of disparate stuff that gets thrown into the cauldron. The challenge to the dramaturg is deciding what is allowed. Does this make sense within this piece? (Maybe.) Does this scene have too much lime jelly? (Not yet.) Have we gone mad after spending three weeks in constant contact with each other? (Definitely.)
spending 10mins adamantly defending the position that only one audience member can be a robot/
I’m working with Josh Coates and Anna Ryder, on Get Yourself Together. Making a show about depression, we spent a lot of time talking about the phenomenon of ‘a Mental Health Condition’. In the context of a neurodiverse society, are some people’s minds the wrong shape for the society we have? Is our society the wrong shape for some people’s minds? Being designated ‘ill’/ ‘not well’ means the two are not working well together. What responsibility/possibility is there, then, to bridge the gap? At the end of the day, aren’t we all just lumpy shapes bumbling around, hoping at some point to fit somewhere?
Being a dramaturg is to be in the business of attempting to make the show the right shape. We’re making a show, and we want the gap between the audience and the show to be as small as possible. Small enough for them to work together. Small enough at least to speak across, hold hands. Problem is, your audience isn’t going to be homogenous, you’re never going to have the same audience, let alone have a show that won’t change between performances.
doing research the audience will never see/
A dramaturg is not an outside eye. A dramaturg’s eye is about as inside as you can get. Let’s all agree right now that objectivity is a pointless pursuit. No one’s going to see an objective piece of theatre, mostly because such a thing can’t exist and also because it did we wouldn’t notice it happening. Dramaturging is about being as subjective about everything as you possibly can, whilst trying to drag from the resulting mess the subject you’re trying to view from. It’s about looking out and in at the same time as looking down to make sure your feet are still on solid ground (If they’re not it’s generally a safe bet you can scrap the previous 4 hours’ work – unless you’re doing yoga, then your feet can end up anywhere).
explaining to relatives/friends/the internet what a dramaturg actually is (and not knowing yourself)/
The same time you’re doing all this work to try and wrassle your way into a solid relationship between your piece and its audience you’re aware the whole experience remains fluid and unpredictable. As much as they might want to be, a dramaturg is not at the eye of the storm. They’re off in one of the windy, messy bits, crashing into witches on pushbikes. The best you can hope for is to pull the shutters closed before there’s too much debris to fit in the cellar. Then try to find somewhere comfortable for the audience to sit.
I’m currently dramaturging (and being a nice chap) on Josh Coates’s Get Yourself Together, directed by Anna Ryder. It’s on at Camden People’s Theatre in November.
Please note, I did not write the book on dramaturgy – if you think I’m totally wrong, please come shout at me on twitter. If you think I’m totally rad and right, please come shout at me on twitter.