So, ok, you’ve got yourself a dramaturgical appointment—with a reputable dramaturge who has clean ears and a clear mind, hopefully— but just what are you supposed to do?
Today a friend of mine sent out an email to all her play-writing friends requesting tips and information on how to best handle your dramaturgy sessions. And it strikes me as a very more-ish subject. I’ve had all sorts of dramaturges work with me on my writing. From the writer’s perspective, what are the hot tips on being able to navigate a dramaturgical relationship?
As my friend put it: ‘Getting ‘turged’
If you’re new to playwriting or new to a dramaturgical experience, it can be right scary to think that some kind of professional story-picker, so-called dramaturge, is going to be discussing your work with you. Questions, questions, explain this, justify that….
But a dramaturg can turn out to be your champion, your mentor, your BS detector, your foot in the stage door of that theatre company you have always wanted to produce your work, your best pal.
Listen, I’ve had a share of unhelpful dramaturges. They weren’t bad listeners or control freaks or dodgy operators (although that too can happen); it was just they weren’t the right fit for the project. An unhelpful dramaturge is one who doesn’t get the vision, who isn’t on the same page (or script)and one that for whatever reason doesn’t inspire your trust or confidence.
Dramaturgy is not a prescriptive block of learning and it is not one single approach. There are some schools of thought, but little in the way of absolutes. You can go to dramaturgy school (and in Australia, there are quite a few universities now offering it), but it can be as variably approached as directing and acting. With all the various ways of ‘turging, it stands to reason then that some dramaturges will be useful for your work and some not so much.
How are going to make the most of the experience? How are you going to make sure you remain true to the story you wanted to tell, but remain open enough to allow another set of eyes help improve your story?
- Know your vision. Be prepared to express that vision to the dramaturge so she or he can understand what you’re aiming for. Write down what you know about the work so far: where you’re coming from, what you’re aiming for, how you want your story to impact, what you hope it inspires, how you see the life of the script panning out—that’s your vision. Have your vision in note form and take that along to the session.
- Know what you want. Let the dramaturge know what you’re looking for specifically. If you have a draft already, make sure the dramaturge gets a copy of it well beforehand, along with a few notes from you about what you think you’re looking for. If there is no draft and it’s just an idea and half a page of scribbled lines, let the dramaturge know that you want to sound out the idea and get some feedback. Even when your dramaturge totally surprises you with things you hadn’t thought of before (which is in part their job), it’s good to walk into the session with a voice on what’s needed.
- Be open. Remind yourself before any conversation with a dramaturge that this is just a conversation. The questions posed by the dramaturge or the counterpoints he or she puts forward are not personal challenges—they are a means of making sure you have considered all the relevant points. Breath. Take a step back. Allow the flow of the conversation. Whatever your dramaturge is asking/saying is only prompting you to think more deeply and accurately about the story, and that’s a good thing, right?
- Think broadly. What your dramaturge talks about may be way off script—literally. Some dramaturges I’ve known will just seem to chat about a variety of subjects that don’t feel especially relevant to what you are writing about. Don’t panic if this happens. This is a ploy by damn clever dramaturges to loosen your imagination for the topic. It may seem counter-intuitive to be jumping far and wide in topics, but in my experience, an intelligent rummage through left-of-field ideas can reveal some terrific new approaches.
- Write stuff down. Make an effort to record at least the salient points of the session. You may think you’ll remember this conversation, but you won’t. And make at least 30 minutes afterwards to write some more about what was said in the session. Consolidate your thoughts. Use the notes to springboard new ideas—get your money’s worth by stretching those key dramaturgical points further.
- And possibly my hottest tip, is claim as yours everything that you think will work, whether you thought of it or not. That is to say, if you spend an hour with a dramaturge who has inspired you with some great new points and approaches, say thank you very much, go home, write them into your script and don’t think twice about it. Your dramaturge is your muse, but you are still the writer.