If you are following this blog you will remember my last post about advocacy. I started there because I feel advocacy is the most important thing in service of the profession of dramaturgy. You will see that theme come up again as I see advocacy running through everything I do; including pre-pre-production; or as we call it in the biz, research and development.
Before we even get in the rehearsal room there is another slew of things to be done. We explore and present the script’s (or event’s) history and relevant criticism. The great thing about the ensemble devising process is that all artists come with some knowledge. We all get to share in the joy of dramaturgy as well as all other disciplines; collaborative research with the director, designers, and actors. All of us share source material; exploring current social issues and highlighting themes as they relate to the piece we are creating.
Group brainstorming and image collection at rehearsal.
Dramaturgy can very often be a department of one, but as part of an ensemble, we can divide the work based on our own personal interests and motivations.
In addition to the hours of online searches and library visits, making art based on current social issues can lead to excursions in the field; such as attending events that are also dealing with these issues. Our Artistic Director visited the UN to listen in on planning for The Ocean Conference and later to see a screening of the new documentary Chasing Coral; I attended a performance and lecture series focused on the refugee experience; a founding company member marched for environmental justice in Washington; our artistic associate engaged a local community member who is part of the Citizen’s Climate Lobby; our scenic designer discovered a collaboration between science and art that was shared via technology - exploring the After Ice app.
Once the ensemble has amassed a healthy amount of materials (which will inevitably generate an equal amount of questions) we are put to the task of curating rehearsals. The research is brought into the room for a specific purpose. The ensemble finds songs, pictures, stories, videos; we gather and arrange images, sounds, and ideas for devising. Ideas are presented via tableaus, compositions, dance, and any other form the deviser chooses to utilize.
While in the rehearsal room it is about activating the research.
In order to get the whole group involved, we start and end in a circle conversation, as a framing device, where we popcorn thoughts and ideas. We then animate the static; making the intellectual exercise physical.
Next comes the ‘What If” -Taking specific research and a series of assumptions (e.g. “these 3 predictions all came true” - if that’s the case, what would that look like?) we start positing solutions (i.e. desalinating salt water to make it drinkable).
The content created in the rehearsal room, including movement, images, tableau, etc., is compiled and organized in our ‘Content Dictionary’ which is shared with all the artists. From here we can start developing the script as a map to follow the narrative.
The ‘Script Map’ is a basic outline of the content we would like to incorporate in any given iteration of performance.
Lynde (R) and performer PJ Johnnie (L) translating text into movement during an Investigative Rehearsal
For This Sinking Island, we had an opportunity to have two completely different performances for completely different audiences. The first was an audience of all adults and focused more on the refugee crisis as it applies to climate change. The second performance opportunity we explored how small children could learn empathy for refugees and how we talk about climate change to the next generation. These performances were both highly informative research exercises to fully discover what content resonated with which audiences and how to marry the themes to the structure and storytelling.
Left: Our work-in-progress showing at FEAST: May (Under St. Mark's)
Right: Our workshop performance at the Uptown Arts Stroll (Washington Heights)
After a series of meetings to unpack what we learned as an ensemble, we start the process of devising a full production. Stay tuned for my next blog - A DRAMATURG DEVISING: PRODUCTION DRAMATURGY. The best part, for me, is knowing that when these associate artists walk into other rooms they will not only know what dramaturgical research looks and feels like, but will be an advocate for that work in the field.
This is the second post in a series by Resident Dramaturg, Lynde Rosario. Her previous post addressed Advocacy; her next post will explore Production and Audience Engagement.