Guest Blogger: Anna Holloway, Company Dramaturg
Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre (CityRep)
In every play produced in a theatre, dramaturgy takes place. It’s the research and background that helps the director and the cast create the world of the play. It includes the history of the play itself—the development of the script, earlier productions, author background and intentions—as well as the material any given production may need to build a believable experience for an audience.
Sometimes dramaturgy is handled as part of the director’s job—she may do months of research in the process of deciding how to present the play. In some companies, the cast of a play will spend a great deal of time in “table work”—rehearsing the play from the script while sitting around a table—and that may include using resources to flesh out characters or determine set and costume design. In other productions, the research is handled by a dramaturg.
Dramaturgs also often handle literary management, and literary managers sometimes function as dramaturgs. Literary management often focuses on the work of analyzing and selecting scripts for production; it may also include providing support for playwrights as they construct a play’s text for production.
In Oklahoma City, several companies either employ a company dramaturg or hire a production dramaturg for each show. Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park and Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre (CityRep) have company dramaturgs, and Oklahoma City Theatre Company usually employs a dramaturg for each production. CityRep has also provided a supervised internship for students interested in dramaturgy.
Don Jordan, Founding Artistic Director at CityRep, likes to focus on dramaturgy for both the cast and for the audience. He has said that “good dramaturgy helps the audience enter more fully into the world of the play.” He’s referring to the lobby display, but also to the research material given to the cast. This material helps the cast to create a deeper, more believable “world” in which the story on stage can unfold. CityRep’s recent production of David Mamet’s November included a display of personal political memorabilia from a former state Senator and information on the history of the Oval Office.
Dramaturgy is taught in all the local university theatre programs, often as a part of script analysis. Some schools have coursework dedicated to dramaturgy as part of a degree program in theatre. OU also offers a Master of Arts with a focus in Dramaturgy. In American theatre, the job of dramaturg and/or literary manager is becoming a more common position. Since theatre companies that receive federal money are also required to have an education component, the dramaturg may also be listed as education coordinator.
When you attend a play, look in the program or around the theatre for notes and displays about the writer, the play, the setting, the actors—anything that contributes to your understanding of the play. Someone did the work to make that information available to you. That’s the work of the dramaturg.