How does the dramaturg fit into a creative collaboration? I’ll start again from number one….
The Dramaturg and the Creative Collaboration.
1. The dramaturg and the Creative Team must be on the same page.
Before the workshop began I had two meetings with the Director (Allison Williams, who many of you know as the author of Hamlette, Mmmbeth and Drop Dead Juliet) and two Associate Directors. In these meetings we clarified the theme, clarified the wants, and clarified what they wanted an audience to get from the show.
The most important aspect was clarifying the theme. This is not a traditional play, so there needs to be something to explore, something to shape. Otherwise it’s just act after act after act. And by clarifying the theme, every time the group sat down to write during the workshop, we could focus the writing toward that theme.
This is when creative collaboration works, when all the writing, all the improv’s, everything is focused toward one goal. It’s easy to wade through material and decide what’s right for a show and what’s not if you have a big shiny theme.
2. The dramaturg make a Plan.
Four hours of every day were devoted to writing. That’s a long time to have a sea faces staring at you. Every day there was a plan of what exercises we were going to do, how they related to the theme, why we were doing them and how long they might take. This way, there was no dithering about or wasting time, especially when the space is rented and the clock is ticking.
The great thing about a plan is that it gives some structure to a process that is decidedly unstructured. It gives a beginning and end, sometimes people need that. Everyone approaches their creative mojo in different ways.
Having said that, sometimes we completely deviated from the plan. That’s important too. There’s no point in sticking to a plan if something wonderful emerges in the middle of the process. That’s why creative collaborations happen, so that people can, you know, be creative.
On day two one of the performers led the group in such a cool warm up that we threw everything out the window and came up with exercises based around that warm up. And because of that, the opening of the show appeared.
3. The dramaturg writes everything down. Everything.
Often times the writing exercises were verbal. Improvs, round exercises where the performers spoke their thoughts instead of writing them down, conversations, discussions on what the performers just saw or heard.
When you’re dealing with the creative collaboration these moments can be just as important as the written exercises. These are when performers are being themselves, being real, when something leaps out of their mouth which they didn’t intend, something perfect for the show.
The problem is how do you get that magic on paper? You can’t break the moment and have everyone diving for their laptops. Nor can you ask them to write as they think – that’s how you get douchebag writing.
It’s the job of the dramturg to write down these moments. Word for word. It’s their words and it’s important that it remain their words. This way, there is a record of the moment, it’s impulsive and real. More creative material for the pile.
For example, there was an exercise where the performers narrated what was going on in their heads, while they do their act. The exercise resulted in some brilliant insights but as it was in the moment, couldn’t be written down. (Hard to write when you’re upside down on the aerial silk) Unless there was a handy dandy dramaturg taking notes.
4. The dramaturg Encourages every word on the page.
Otherwise known as, ’embrace the suck.’ The thing that stops non-writers from creating material is a fear that their writing will suck. Or that someone will tell them that they suck. Or there will be that horrible silence after they’ve read something aloud because the entire room is silently chanting ‘you suck’ in their heads. More often than not, non-writers assume their writing sucks before they’ve written a single word.
The thing they don’t know, is that every writer, even those who have been doing it for years suck at some point in the process. We all have sucky drafts. I never show anyone anything I’ve written till draft three. You know why? Cause there’s lots of suck going on. And once you realize it’s going to happen, that the suck will come and it will go, it’s easy to let go of the fear and write away.
Creating an ’embrace the suck’ atmosphere is vital in a creative collaboration. There needs to be a freedom to write whatever, however, without judgment. (Well, not whatever, whatever. Whatever in line with the theme and the goal.)
Further to that, you don’t know ahead of time when a bad monologue will have a moment, an exciting line, a vivid image which can be the jumping off point to something wonderful. It’s been my experience that there is always something worthwhile so long as it’s working toward the goal of the overall project.
And that’s another job of the dramaturg. Seeing the trees through the suck forest. And to speak out loud when the trees are real pretty. More than once a performer during the workshop was surprised when I would complement their writing. Sometimes non-writers don’t know when they’ve done good. Don’t we all want to know that?
5. The dramaturg must feel free to also suck.
Dramaturg’s suck too. Not every exercise is a gem. That’s parts of the process. Some days during the workshop we’d do an exercise and it just wouldn’t turn out the way we imagined. Or we’d go into an exercise and front load it with a ‘we know this is goofy, we want to try it, go with it as though it isn’t goofy.’ When there aren’t any defined rules as to how the show is going to be put together, sometimes you have to try goofy things to see if they work. Again, that’s creative collaboration at it’s best: when no one is afraid to suck or to be goofy. That’s when you find theatrical wonder.
I know that some of the performers were really nervous going into the workshop. Not so much for their particular skill, but few had spent a lot of time put their act into the kind of words that might be interesting to an audience. By the end of the week, every performer was writing up a storm, it was great to watch. There was a ton of material to hand over to Allison and I can’t wait to see how she crafts it all together.