• amyfawcett4

Dramaturgy: what the hell is that?

I have always loved being in a rehearsal room. Watching scenes and being able to offer outside eye feedback. I also found a passion for reading scripts and giving notes back to my writer friends. I didn’t feel ready to become a director, I didn’t feel like I could be a writer so I didn’t know what career to pursue in the theatre industry. I was explaining this to a mentor one day and they suggested dramaturgy as a good route for me to explore. I had literally no idea what this was. They gave me a rough explanation of it and I was gifted a hefty book on all things dramaturgy and got to researching.

I then came across the call out for a director for the R&D week for Lavender as part of the Exeter fringe festival. I was apprehensive about putting myself forward as the director as I hadn’t had much experience directing previously but decided to put my name forward anyway. I had a zoom call with Finlay (the producer) in which I wanted to know if the project would be interested in having a dramaturg, mostly helping the writer and offering feedback on various drafts. I then had a chat with Finlay and Holly (the writer) just so I could meet her and discuss my role further. I was so excited to get started as this was my first professional dramaturg job.

Dramaturgy feels like a very person specific job. Ultimately if you are working with a writer you want to help them write the play that they want to write. The way I went about doing this was having various zoom calls with Holly to find out more about Lavender. Where and how did it begin? Where is it going? How is it getting there? Then it was reading the first draft and writing out notes. Before doing this I made sure to ask Holly what kind of notes she wanted. Did she want me to be extremely picky, writing down every piece of feedback I wanted to give? Did she want a more brief version, only giving feedback on the big stuff? The reason why it is important to check on this first is because as a dramaturg, you are there first and foremost to help the writer. You may think it’s useful to give extensive notes but this could be overwhelming and ultimately unhelpful for the writer.

Luckily for me, Holly wanted it all. And so I was able to really dive into the script. One of the best pieces of advice I was given when I was trying to understand what a dramaturg does was that a dramaturg simply asks questions. Now, of course this is an extremely condensed version of what a dramaturg does but it was super helpful when giving my notes to Holly. For example, instead of writing a note that says ‘Nancy should hug Lucy’ I would instead write ‘What if Nancy hugged Lucy here?’. Posing your notes as a question is an offering. You are not telling the writer what to do, you are simply posing a question that they can either listen to or not.

After I had sent over my written notes, Holly and I would have a zoom meeting to discuss them. It is also important to check in with the writer about how they like to receive notes. If you write paragraphs on paragraphs of notes but the writer finds it difficult to receive written notes, this isn’t helpful for anyone involved. Having the zoom call allowed me to explain some notes that may have been confusing and allowed Holly to talk about the decisions she had made and why she made them. This process happened maybe 3-5 times across the different drafts. It is incredible to see just how much the play has developed and the things that have been added and the things that have been taken away (I won’t get into the time Lavender almost involved having a tank).

And then finally, the final draft was written and signed off. This was such an amazing achievement and a beautiful moment to reflect on the journey that Lavender went on. This is how I approach working with a writer as a dramaturg but dramaturgy doesn’t have to stop there, it can also happen in the rehearsal room. Similarly to how you might work with a writer, the dramaturg can work with the director in creating the play that they want to create. As hard as it can be, once the script is handed over to a director it is now theirs. The writer often has little to no say in the director's vision of what the play will become.

A couple of weeks before the Lavender rehearsals started, I had a zoom call with Sophie (the director). In this call I wanted to ensure that it was clear that my role is to be the most helpful person I can be for Sophie whilst in the rehearsal room. With this I simply asked her how I can achieve this. What is the most helpful thing I can do? What would you like me to do in the space? She told me what she would find helpful and we came up with a small plan of how I would spend my time in the rehearsal room. I also let Sophie know that I am aware that things could change once rehearsals start. What we think will be helpful a few weeks before things get rolling might not be helpful once we’re actually in the room.

A lot of dramaturgs don’t spend an awful lot of time in the rehearsal room. Oftentimes a dramaturg may just come in at the start of the process and then once more at the end. For me, this is because it is important for a dramaturg to watch things from an audience perspective and give feedback as such. It is easy for actors and a director to be so caught up in the process that things that may make sense to them, may not make sense to an audience member. A dramaturg makes sense of the play. Does the pacing work? Do the scenes make sense? Does anything feel out of place? This feedback, in a similar way to the feedback given to the writer, can also be posed as questions. Why have you made this decision? What would happen if this scene happened here instead? etc. Again, these are only suggestions and never have to be taken on.

Being the dramaturg for Lavender has taught me a lot. I am still new to the world of dramaturgy and know that my practice will only grow and develop over time. I also understand that someone could read this and have a completely different view of what dramaturgy is and how it is approached. That is absolutely fine by me. The beauty of dramaturgy for me is that because everyone has their own understanding of what it is, it can be fully molded to suit you. You could tell someone how you work as a dramaturg and they will either like how you work or won’t. You are fully in control.

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