Dramaturgy. It's a word that throws people. So much that unless I know someone really well or am introducing myself to another theater or performance person, I avoid it altogether. Which leads to confusion as to *what* I actually do, but that's for another topic.
I wrote a post a while back that has proven to be the most popular of this blog. It seems a lot of people google "What does a Dramaturg do?" or "What is dramaturgy?"
What is Dramaturgy?
I'm stealing this from Dramaturgy Northwest, because, quite frankly, I couldn't put it better myself.
Dramaturgy is three things: a characteristic, a role and a function. Beautiful, right? When talking about the characteristic of dramaturgy, we're talking about the play and its story and how it all goes together. When talking about the role of dramaturgy, we're talking about the person who id's as a dramaturg and when talking about the function of dramaturgy, we're talking about connecting the characteristic of dramaturgy to the process of putting a play on the stage.
You can still - and will still- perform the function of dramaturgy even if you don't have a person identified as a dramaturg working on a production.
What a Dramaturg Does
Dramaturgs tend to wear many hats at a theater. There's the production dramaturg, who does research on a specific play, helps with casting, and as one of my professors liked to stress, makes sure the play's story comes through loud and clear. A dramaturg situates herself in the world of the play; I guess you could say she acts as a gatekeeper or protector of the play, though that has weird connotations that I'd rather not connote. In addition to researching the play's story and world, the dramaturg also researches the play's performance history (ie what did other productions do with the play?) and response (criticism) to the play. Dramaturgs work directly with directors and help designers with research as well.
Dramaturgs also create ways to help the actors and audience into the play. This includes actor packets, which are full of research tidbits and pictures, and a program note and lobby display. Some dramaturgs do a presentation of all their research at the first rehearsal.
Dramaturgs sometimes also fill the role of literary managers at a theater. Literary managers deal with script/play submissions. Many theaters use some sort of database to track play submissions, LMs are responsible for maintaining that database. They read new plays or at least delegate the reading of new plays to script readers and respond to playwrights with either a yes or a no or a not this play, but do you have others? Literary managers help to choose the theater's season, help to arrange readings of new works, and work with literary agents and playwrights.
Some dramaturgs are also straddled with the role of education director. Dramaturgs who are also responsible for a theater's educational department arrange for school groups to come in to see the plays, create study guides for students, and lead talk backs and discussions.
Dramaturgs are also occasionally given the task of translating and adapting a work, which is my favorite aspect of dramaturgy.
I hope this description is helpful for all who are looking for an answer. If you want more information on dramaturgy and literary management, Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas is a great resource.