Playwriting

Running Away With The Circus: Part Two

This past week I acted as the dramaturg for a new Cirque type show. They want to be something quite different than Cirque, but it’s the easiest picture to put into your heads.

What is a dramaturg? When are they necessary? When are they a pain in the butt?

Three excellent questions. Let’s discuss.

Look up dramaturg on dictionary.com (have I ever mentioned how much I love this website – why yes I have) and this is what you get.

Dramaturg: A specialist in dramaturgy, esp. one who acts as a consultant to a theater company.
Dramaturgy: The craft or the techniques of dramatic composition. The art of the theatre.

Oooooh, dictionary.com has a new thing where they show you what the word means in other languages. Love that. I especially like:

  • Swedish: dramatiker
  • Italian: drammaturgo
  • German: der Schauspieldichter (which if you put into babel fish comes out ‘the play poet’ Swoon.)

The origin of the word dramaturg comes out of Germany in the 1800’s but it’s the last twenty years where the word and the job have become part of theatrical lingo. And yet, not everyone is clear on what the dramatug does. Do they work for the theatre company or the playwright? Are they researchers? Are they playwright minders? It seems that every theatre company has a dramaturg in their back pocket and every playwright is supposed to pass their play by one. Playwrights for hundreds of years did just fine on their own, did they not?

To my mind a dramaturg assesses the intention of the playwright and makes sure that intention comes across in the script. The dramaturg does not write, the dramaturg does not create. The dramaturg responds, asks questions, gives feedback. The dramaturg is a support beam.

When a dramaturg is good, they are very very good. They act as an outside eye, an audience member, a way for the playwright to see how the play is interpreted from the outside. It’s so easy to get caught up in the internal web of being inside a play.

When the dramaturg is bad, they are very very bad. When the dramaturg starts to think themselves part of the creative process. When the dramaturg starts to suggest changes, rather than creating an environment to allow the playwright to make changes – that’s when they become a huge pain in the butt. Playwright’s of the world! No one has the right to change your play but you! Don’t let the prospect of production cloud your vision! You are the writer!

Ahem.

Ok. New twist. This circus show is a creative collaboration. How does that work? And what’s a creative collaboration?

Excellent question. Glad you asked. Let’s discuss.

When I write plays, I’m working alone. I’m the driving creative force. I come up with the idea, I write the first draft, the second draft, third, fourth, and so on. Even when I take the play into a school to workshop it, or give it to a school to produce – I’m still the only one in charge. I’m the only one who gets to make changes. Nobody else creates material for the final product. It’s all me. Ha.

In a creative collaboration, there is more than one individual involved. There are many voices ‘creating’ the product. There is usually a common goal and or a common theme, but there are multiple voices involved in the creative process. Creative Collaborations are usually formed from a group of like minded people bringing their own input, thoughts and ideas into the mix.

There are pros and cons to the creative collaboration. It can be exciting to get a variety of voices, thoughts, ideas, right from the get go. It can also be overwhelming and hard to focus. Too many cooks in the kitchen can lead to a vague, ill-defined product.

And this is why creative collaborations need dramaturgs, or some other outside eye.

Cripes, this is getting long! I’ll break here and on Saturday talk about how the creative collaboration process worked hand in hand with dramaturgy in the circus show. And then next Tuesday, I’ll talk about how you too can engage in creative collaboration…

About the author

Lindsay Price