Today on the phone at work (by day, assistant manager in a box office, by night, dramaturg) someone asked me if I was an actor. My response was with the same gusto as many people use to tell their captive audience that they used to play football or do gymnastics or compete in those super marathons (as though acting was an exercise that wore on your knees) (though it can be an activity that wears on those joints, but that’s aside the point) (haha, get it, aside?)
“Oh I used to be an actor, I mostly work as a dramaturg now.”
You can see where this is going.
The first time I encountered the word “dramaturg” was in high school on my twelfth grade production of Twelfth Night. I was playing Olivia, and I didn’t need any help from the dramaturg, my ex-boyfriend, who’d only gotten the opportunity because the assistant director role was already cast. I was eighteen, I’d been in a number of Shakespeare plays, and I was reading Stanislavski’s “An Actor Prepares” and sobbing to myself backstage, getting into character. I didn’t need a dramaturg. So I very maturely decided to refer to him as the “dramaturd”. In all rehearsals, in all conversations, every note session, he was the “dramaturd” (why yes we had a terrible messy break up, what makes you say that). Because I made all of the programs, this was also his credit in the program.
Call it divine comedy, providence, karma that I ended up in this field, and now the d-word is so much a part of my life.
Referencing my post on What is a Dramaturg?, if we accept the idea that the dramaturg is the “mystic responsible for both metaphysical and physical content”, I often draw on the physical content to tell people what I do. “Oh, I’m installing a lobby display this weekend,” “Sorry, can’t get drinks, I’m writing an actor packet,” “I’m communicating with playwrights,” etc.
I dropped the d-word for the first time to my chiropractor at my last appointment when I was talking about what I had going on.
“Nothing much, just working on these dramaturgy packets.”
“I’m sorry, your what now?”
“You just dropped that word on me like everyone knows what that means.”
I think one of my biggest problems as a theatre artist is that I am so involved (and lucky to be so), that I often struggle to conceive of the world that does not revolve around renewal season, reading scripts, budget deficits, whether or not something fits a mission statement, seeing theatre, critiquing theatre, performing in theatre, endless conversations over coffee or wine about story structure, character development, and a general sense of perpretrating existential angst created though the idea that I live my life in a medium that people say has been dying for close to 400 years.
Because we all remember a time before we knew what this was (or some of us do, my first memory was my pre-school field trip to see Once Upon a Mattress) and that kind of theatrical innocence sparks such a joy in me. Because we all remember our first reaction to theatre that made us say “this is it, this is what I want to do”. And it’s it beautiful when we can help spark that joy in others. There is no feeling like sitting in a darkened theatre watching a jester pull comically sharp objects out of a bed, just like there is no feeling like crawling onstage in an Old Green Grasshopper costume to an auditorium of screaming children thinking one of these kids in here might fall in love with this.
Which is why I’m always so thrilled to get to explain what a dramaturg is. Because it’s a moment where I get to illuminate, a task fitting for a mystic.
William and I decided to learn French together (because I’m a history nut and he eventually wants to move us to Montreal so he can be in Cirque de Soleil) and just the other day he came across the word for playwright.
“You’re just a playwright with a funny accent.”