Affirm the function, explore the practice, and promote the profession of dramaturgy.
This is how LMDA (Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas) describes advocacy and I have made this my mantra as I continue to challenge myself throughout my career.
I have been working as a dramaturg professionally for almost a decade, but it was not until about two years ago that I began to be embraced by ensembles who do work together consistently. At first, I approached their processes in a very traditional way by coming to rehearsal armed with research, a pad and pen, and an open mind. These groups always started with a warmup of games and songs; not something I was ever comfortable participating in. I thought, “what would the process gain by my singing or clumsy game playing?” I was protecting myself from being seen in a way that might look silly or, to be painfully honest, vulnerable. This was a wall that I had built and at some point I knew it had to be torn down. So this time when I was invited to sing and play I took a deep breath, jumped up, and joined in. What did the process gain? My presence, and thereby, dramaturgy; as I carry it with me in everything I do. If you want dramaturgy to be a recognizable asset within the creative process then you have to actively engage in that process. I will affirm the function of dramaturgy by demonstrating how it runs through everything; all work can be informed and supported by dramaturgy.
Resident Dramaturg Lynde Rosario
I am fortunate to have been invited into several rooms, recently, with ensembles devising new work. At first I was trepidatious about participating as a creator instead of as an observer. It was very daunting to be seen by the group; having spent years behind the table or in the darkness, as an in-house audience member. However, during those observational years, I began to notice a pattern in the ways I was being perceived and treated. There was a general distrust of my work by the other artists in the room; actors specifically. They would believe my research when I presented it (after some wikipedia ‘fact-checking’ of their own, just for verification) but they were hesitant to trust my responses to the work being generated in the rehearsal room. I realized that this was because I had not yet made any artistic offers of my own, in real time, with the rest of the group. My work all seemed secretive to them; being curated and disclosed only via late night skype meetings with a director or an internal email thread with a set designer, sharing research. Some actors have expressed that they felt their access to the dramaturgy had been restricted; and I realized that my physical position behind the table reinforced that. So, once recognized and acknowledged, I set out to change the way I engage in the creative process with other theatre-makers. It was scary to be artistically exposed but when vulnerability becomes a shared experience a bond is formed between the participants. Being seen builds trust. I explore the practice of dramaturgy, as an ensemble member.
Lynde and Resident Set Designer Sarah Edkins experimenting with storytelling techniques
during a rehearsal for No Man's Land (2016)
As a dramaturg I explore and present: the author of the play & the world of the play. Devising with an ensemble is exploration done collaboratively. Collaborative creation helps us break down and unleash cultural discoveries. By embracing the visual advantages of tableaus, presenting in the abstract, and playing games, we are able to seek and present pathways into the world of the play we are creating. Building compositions allows us to conceive the forms of the play as it grows. The Anthropologists embrace “storytelling through movement & dance, research & rigorous dramaturgy” and so we are all the author of the play as it is being devised. We investigate the material and further our exploration together. The world of the play is revealed to us in a tableau or a piece of found text or mask work or a group improvisation. It is an added joy to be able to point out a moment in the performance that I had devised. For example, at our first showing of This Sinking Island, our director Melissa incorporated an actor-manipulated live sound of water sloshing in a plastic bottle. This came out of a sensory improvisation I did in the rehearsal room where we had the group sit with their eyes closed as we presented a soundscape; mine was the water in the bottle. The ensemble was affected by the sound, and so it stayed. It is not often that a dramaturg can physically point to something on stage and say “that was me.”
Dramaturg Lynde Rosario (far left) with the ensemble
during an investigative rehearsal of This Sinking Island
Of course, it cannot be all process. If you love the work, profess that love; but it’s important to recognize when it’s time to be the outside eye. There are deadlines to our work; rehearsals must lead to production which must lead to performances. Therefore, just as the actors must readjust to their characters, dramaturgs must repurpose their newly developed devising skills while we conceive the forms of the script as a script, help the director do casting, help the marketers and developers, and cultivate cross-sector partnerships & civic engagement. I confidently take my place in the audience, in support of my fellow ensemble members whose place is on stage. So when the time comes for post-show programming, like talk-backs, the ensemble will join you with the same enthusiasm that you joined them in the rehearsal room. As an ensemble we trust each other, we cheer each other on; and when our collaborators are in other rooms they will remember those shared experiences and be advocates for dramaturgs in the future. I promote the profession of dramaturgy by inspiring others to be advocates.
This is the first post in a series by Lynde. Future posts will address Research & Development, Production and Audience Engagement.