Monday, April 26, 2010

Dramturg Things to Look Out For

Thought I would make another attempt to let this blog live up to its name. I don't mean that I'm going to start writing about how great goldfish are (as in the crackers, though the living ones are pretty cool too. I had a goldfish that lived for years and may have lived longer had my little brother not dropped a toy bus on it). Instead, I thought I would offer some common sense tips on things to look out for when and if you get offered a gig as a production dramaturg.

My first few dramaturg gigs were quite off-putting. I am not talking about the internships I had at established theaters, where I sat and read scripts and drafted letters to playwrights all day. I mean the times I agreed to be a production dramaturg.

Here is what went wrong and what I learned:
1. Never accept a dramaturg gig on short notice. By short notice, I mean the day before the show starts rehearsing. Here's why: the director, designers and playwright (if s/he is around) have already done the grunt work, the research, the processes. I took a gig like this once and ended up just repeating the research the playwright had done. Sure, I learned a lot about topics I didn't know about, but by the time I was able to compile and present the research, the show was halfway through rehearsals. I felt completely worthless as a dramaturg and couldn't shake this feeling that the director just felt a lot of scorn for me.
Instead, look for a gig that will have you involved from the get-go. Participate in selecting the play if you can. I don't want to encourage nepotism, but really, work with a director you know and trust. Which brings us to:

2. Trust. As a dramaturg, you have to be willing to throw your two cents in at the appropriate times and the director has to be willing to trust your opinion and to accept that you will be stating it from time to time. I've thankfully not had a problem with director/dramaturg trust, but I've had friends who've reported directors freaking out and panicking on them because they thought the dramaturg was about to drop a bomb, note-wise, on them. I'm not saying you need to fall backwards into each other's arms, but establish boundaries and expectations from the start.

3. Working with an uber-experienced director. When I was a student dramaturg, I had the chance to work on a classic play with a director who was an expert on the play's author. It was exciting but in the end I felt like I really didn't have much to offer in terms of comments and information. I'm not saying you should turn down a gig with a super talented, famous-ish director because you'll be somewhat inferior, but rather that you should not let the director's knowledge and talent put you to shame. If they didn't need you, they probably wouldnt' have hired you.

Which brings me to point 4:

Never work for someone who doesn't actually need you. Dramaturgy now is more common and expected than it was when I first started, four years ago. People don't scrunch up their noses so much and sound out the word when I tell them I'm a dramaturg and that I have a master's in it (Ok, people in the theater world. Non-theater people, well, I just skirt around the word.) This presents a few problems: one, that you'll be offered a gig with a company that thinks they *have* to have a dramaturg and two, that there will be confusion and resentment on the part of the cast and crew. While presenting research at a rehearsal one time, I nearly broke down because I looked at the cast member's faces and they seriously all looked like they were going to die of boredom. It was an alienating experience. Of course, this was the same show where one of the actors came up to me at the end of the rehearsal and started asking me about fliers. Because the dramaturg is in charge of the show's posters.

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