Dramaturgy and PR

Plays are part and parcel of their productions. Zeitgeist, site-specific elements and the actor/producer’s explicit talents and ambitions all inform the reality.

Does the “event” of the production have any historical importance to theatre or the world? The “audience” of this event is not something that will be measured at the box office or necessarily in popular success.

Jarry’s Ubu Roi and Chekhov’s The Seagull both premiered in 1896 to disparaging audiences. In most ways contrary to one another, both plays went on to become important seminal works.

Imagine being the dramaturg in 1896 commissioned to champion these plays into historical importance. Your work with the playwright would have nothing to do with “the script” and everything to with the “signature” production and its aftermath. Perhaps that would mean engaging Jarry in his lifestyle of drunken anarchy and talking pataphysics late into the night. Or perhaps, more soberly, coaching Chekhov not to express his loathing for Stanislavski’s performance as Trigorin and encouraging him to consent to the newly founded Moscow Art Theatre as producer of his plays.

Although none of us will likely be involved in such historically significant productions as these two, we need to approach each script and production with an expectation that the event will capture the Zeitgeist of its locality. Same as the local hero is more vital to the community and our lives than any American Idol could ever be, theatre is most potent when striving to be specific and relative to the ambitions of its particular family, kinship, and tribe.

In my practice, being a dramaturg means also being a producer, so I am often collaborating as diligently on PR as I am on analyzing or collaborating with the artists on the script and other production design elements. Finding an audience is not synonymous with achieving a box office. Stardom seeks and produces fan-dom, but theatre seeks a more engaged and critical participation from its audience. So PR should be as centered on the dramaturgy of a new script as the production is. Similarly to how a production might put out a casting call seeking specific actors for specific roles; the audience sought should also possess a particular and detailed character.

SlowLearner and DevilVet have suggested a public production process both as it fits within this realm of promotion and as civil discussion point in the theatrosphere on aesthetics. I am not convinced that we are actually interested enough in each other’s artistic processes that we will closely read one another’s posts and comment in depth, but I have been publishing part of my dramaturg’s protocol and other collaborative aspects of our ensemble’s process at our theatre’s blog in hope of such an interaction from fellow theatre peers.
Design Proposal/Collaboration
The Big Suit
Gestus for characters

In his series of posts DevilVet aptly asks: Is It Worth the Risk – Documenting Creative Process.

The primary risk of course is that any public representation will negatively affect either the process itself or the future relationship between working peers. The secondary risk is that because any documentation necessarily highlights only certain aspects of a production, the reception of the work by critics and audience will be prejudiced by this prior representation.

The new play we commissioned from an Austrian playwright was written for a specific ensemble of four actors. The play has already been performed before an audience in Germany and America, in both languages, but in our October mixed-language production in New York, we have begun exploring the script at a more complex level than previously, deliberately employing certain facets of Brechtian performance and production techniques.

I am especially interested in the dilemma posed by one particular word in the script and production. The N-word from an actor/character on stage reads differently in Germany than America. By “publishing” our ensemble’s deliberation in this, I am perhaps unduly highlighting an element in the script that may have relatively minor significance to the overall production, but could easily generate a controversial debate.

The N-word is probably the most politically potent word in America today. Of course that potency is mostly diffused if its utterance arrives on stage only from within the crippled psychology of a particular character. But it speaks to the power of words in our social relationships, that even within the safe haven of “it’s the character saying it, not me”, Roger as actor has been struggling to spit it out in some “natural” way. If the N-word were taken out the safety box of naturalism and employed as gestus, the whole of the production would need to struggle with its presence.

I put this question of the N-word in front of the private/public list-serv of dramaturgs of LMDA. I have received private email on the dilemma from the listserv but no one has yet answered in front of others. This speaks to the volatility present in any discussion of the subject. (Update: Meanwhile a few ‘turgs have braved comment but the aura of taboo surrounding even the mere discussion of this subject in public remains strong.)

The potential for the theatrosphere is that it not just supplements the criticism, review, documentation, and other theatre-talk of print publication, but supplants and leads toward a new representation of our art that has a more in depth and interactive relationship with our peers and audience. I appreciate the various Chicago bloggers (Paul, Tony, Don, Bob) taking the lead and exploring the most difficult and complex new relationship posed by artists reviewing/commenting on other artist’s work or process. There will be no easy answers or codified rules in this new relationship to our work and our peers.

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