Playwriting

What is a dramaturg?

 “One of the most consistent challenges of being a practising dramaturg is convincing other artists of the usefulness of my being in the room.” Dramaturgy in Action, Beccy Smith, 

It is a funny word with more than one spelling and more than one pronunciation (turg or turge?) and a pretty unhelpful definition in the dictionary.  I like the list that the LMDA provides. The act of dramaturgy and the job of dramaturg is something that has made a surge in recent years, many companies have a dramaturg on their payroll, you can even get a degree in dramaturgy. But what is it? What does it mean to the playwright and the play?

Depending on the situation, a dramaturg can take on a number of roles.

  • In a production capacity, they often take on a research and advisory role. They become an expert and advocate for the play.
  • As a member of a company they may be the person who reads and responds to new submissions.
  • They may also work with playwrights developing a new script.

It’s a job that is sometimes maligned, there is a notion that dramaturgs have too much of a thumb on a playwright’s work. That they try to hone in, re-write, take over. Playwrights didn’t used to work with dramaturges, they used to write their plays and that was that. What do we need them for?

I have had the opportunity to sit on both sides of the table. I have worked with dramaturges on my scripts and I have been the dramaturg. Most recently I worked with a group of begininng writers who were writing plays for an historical house tour. I love it. The job really satisfies the analysis side to my nature – when I was an an actor my favourite part of the process was the script analysis – more so than being on stage! I once worked with dramatug whose description of his job has always stuck with me, to the point that it’s what I’ve adapted into my practice as a dramaturg. He said:

I want to know what your intention is with the work, and then my job is to make sure the play meets your intention.

I love this because it states, rather efficiently and effectively, that the job of the dramaturg is to help you clarify what you want out of the play. To help you be your best. Not to be the writer. Not to re-write. To honour the quality of the work. I like to picture the dramaturg as a coach. Everyone believes that teams or individual athletes need coaches, right? No one thinks that coaches try to be the athlete – they are there to make the athlete be the best they can be. Why can’t a writer have the same experience? Certainly there are good dramaturges and bad ones, just as there are good coaches and bad. But we can all use a hand in helping us perform at our best.

The dramaturg is an often discussed job in the theatre with many advocates and many detractors. Sometimes dramaturgs themselves aren’t exactly clear on what the paramaters of the job are.

What are your experiences with dramaturgy?

About the author

Lindsay Price