Envisioning Myself as a 21st Century American Dramaturg
by Gaven D. Trinidad
This list is inspired by dramaturg Leon Katz’s 1984 essay “The Compleat Dramaturg.” I have adapted his piece to fit my own needs and skills that I believe are necessary for me to be an effective and impactful queer feminist dramaturg of color in 21st century United States. All words in parenthesis are Katz’s original words, the rest are my own.
This list is continuously changing. As the world changes, my role as a dramaturg evolves. This version was created on 01/29/18. Please do not share parts of this document without proper citation.
The Complete Dramaturg...
looks at art in all its forms, seeing every medium as possibilities to explore all facets of the human experience. Have the critical sensibility, coupled with the ability to write clearly about the relationships of global artistic expressions, to address how important it is to know and affirm all forms of performance and art;
stays informed politically and culturally;
writes for a community that is meaningful to them. As a person of many intersecting marginalized identities, I always try to be conscious how mainstream theatre and its scholarship in the United States has historically been exclusive to certain demographics. Rattle the system, and write for a more inclusive world.
makes work that is pertinent to the political and cultural now. Remember, you can even make the most overproduced Shakespearean play be relevant to a community. Overall, make the work that moves you and helps you better understand the world and its issues.
Yes, I agree with Katz’s statement: “A thorough knowledge, in depth, of the dramatic repertory based on a wide range of reading in dramatic literature, scholarship, and criticism in all periods and genres of drama with special areas of expertise of his own.” However, I would add that dramaturgs should remind themselves that Katz’ world is Am-Eurocentric. Fuck that. Think globally.
“The ability to do scholarly research, plus practical experience in tracking down scripts, options, copyright information, and publication as well as production histories of plays.”
is knowledgable of other languages and cultures. If you feel you are fluent in another language and so taken by it, adapt and translate the foreign texts into “stageworthy dialogue in English.” If you feel it would be a fulfilling endeavor AND it would push theatre into the direction you imagine it should go, why not do it? Or maybe you don't need to translate and challenge mainstream American audiences to see shows in multiple languages.
finds time to attend theatre. It’s understandable that lack of money is a hindrance to this lofty goal, but seeing theatre helps in knowing the zeitgeist of artists of the now. Do not also box yourself to seeing only one type of theatre. See anything you can! Experimental, realistic, documentary, queer, etc. The list goes on!
interacts with other studies and disciplines, such as science and EVEN sports! Broaden your world.
challenges themselves and attend events that might not be their cup of tea. Surprise yourself.
reads new scripts intelligently, and always finds the special nuggets/potential of a new piece no matter what genre it is written or performed in. Have the ability to summarize and appraise “them with professional competence.” Find ways to always support playwrights that you believe can have a positive impact on others.
“The ability to cut scripts knowledgeably, with an understanding of how to do so without destroying their logic or losing their essential dramatic and theatrical values.”
knows how to make a dramaturg’s protocol with the historical, cultural, and artistic background that all collaborators need to better understand a play and the team’s overall aesthetic vision. Also knows how to implement the protocol digitally and find various ways for your research to be disseminated to multiple intelligences. Maybe a traditional protocol book might not be necessary. Would a website be a better option? It’s up to you.
finds ways to make available and digestible dramaturgical information for various public audiences. Always take into consideration the different intelligences in a room. What are the multiple ways you can make knowledge accessible?
is familiar how other artists approach their work. For example, if you work in theatre, learn how directors, actors, and various designers approach their work, respectively. If you work with dancers, take a dance class. This approach only sharpens your skills to speak with other artists and make collaborative efforts enjoyable. Knowing and sharing common artistic languages goes a long way.
“Experience and expertise in collaborating with directors and designers to create a production concept, or, if a specific ‘concept’ is not to be employed, an approach to the play and an articulation of its goals in production.”
learns how to stand your guard and fights for the integrity and truth of a play, playwright, or any other fellow artist that needs support. It’s ok to ruffle the feathers of collaborators, but do it only when necessary. There will never be a shortage of egos in the arts.
learns how to collaborate with artists within a space. This is your artistic process: to know how others work and how your vital input can be best given to collaborators. “Know at what points in the rehearsal process your notes are of value, what sort of notes are useful at different stages of the rehearsal process, and what sort of notes have constructive value together with what sort do not.”
knows how to create a community amongst your production team and guest artists. The dramaturg is a vital collaborator as sometimes seen as that “outsider” in a production. This is a place of power if you consider how this outside position allows you to see the relationships in the room. If you are a libra, this is a perfect job for you. Moderate that shit.
“In [collaborating] with playwrights, the ability to break down a script, analyzing its structural strengths and weakness, and make constructive suggestions for revision.”
In a similar vein, do the same in different genres of artistic expression (dance, digital media, music, etc). Unlike the U.S., many other cultures actually employ dramaturgs in all types of art and performance art. The U.S. needs to catch up.
“Training and experience in appropriate writing styles and formats for program notes (which should reflect the director’s concept of the play and production and provide audiences – even critics – with a relevant context for viewing the play-in-production), newsletter articles, interviews, and publicity releases.” Yeah, I got you, Katz. Write!
know how to archive their own work and others work properly so that future artists and collaborators (and even yourself) can go back to your past productions and work. Always think how your now becomes history every second that passes.
has the ability to engage audiences in various ways that can be as inclusive as one can be. Always fight for accommodations for audience members who need support to experience and share in your artistic endeavors. Post-show talks, meet and greets, discussion circles, pamphlets, websites, translators, ASL interpreters, etc.
has something to believe in and fight for. Own your identity(ies), and push for more inclusive theatre. Your artistic visions help shape not only the future of performance art, but also the political and cultural structures of the world. Live in the world now that you imagine. Fight for gender equality, sexual revolutions, etc. You are a visionary of the future. #makeamericaQUEERagain
believes and defends the statement that dramaturgs are artists. They are chameleons and can take on other roles in the arts. There are dramaturgs who have become playwrights, directors, and actors. You can do a lot of things. You are an artist! Maybe you can do a one person version of The Phantom of the Opera. Just kidding.
“Above all, to have developed [their] individual “idea of theatre” out of which he would, if this earth were heaven, map out seasons of repertory to advance that particular idea; and even if this earth is not heaven, to have developed the determination to work tirelessly toward advancing such a theatre, or orienting a theatre in which he works toward his artistic goal.” Create the theatre that speaks to you emotionally, mentally, and physically. If your theatre rattles your soul, I’m sure it does for others as well.