Jaz Dorsey: Objectives of Dramaturgy or How to talk to a dramaturg over coffee at Starbucks — Jaz Dorsey — AAPEX

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Jaz Dorsey: Objectives of Dramaturgy or How to talk to a dramaturg over coffee at Starbucks

Maybe the day will come when Americans will know what it means when some one says that s/he is a dramaturg - or a day when American children answer "I'm gong to be a dramaturg" when asked that iconic question of childhood - What are you going to be when you grow up?"

According to something I read recently, the profession of dramaturgy began to take serious root in our country and our culture around 1980. I was shanghaied in 1978 to pioneer the graduate dramaturgy program at VCU in Richmnd, Va which makes me an early member of the Dramaturgy Generation. And while I was blessed to study this fascinating field in an academic setting, I have met other dramaturgs who came into the fray in a variety of different ways.

Today there is a small but potent army of dramaturgs marching into the battle of making theatre as important in our lives and society, as it is in the minds of dramaturgs - of urging everyone around us to join us for readings, workshops, showcases and productions of new plays.

It is a fool's errand but it is not a losing battle and in fact we now have in our possession the tool which is putting new contours into the furniture of our minds - and that is the circular saw of cyberspace.

The first objective of dramaturgy is to get people to think about theatre.

Cyberspace and the internet open cosmic doors for that task.

You might become an actress for fame and attention. You might become a director to fulfill your inner obligation to interpret for others. I think people become producers because they are trying some other field of theatrical endeavor and come to the conclusion that if they want it done right, then they must do it themselves - and do it by empowering others.

The second objective of dramaturgy is to empower others, from the playwright to the audience.

I do not know why anyone would choose to become a dramaturg and that's odd because it seems to be the choice I have made.

At the moment that I grasped the scope and awesome potential of the dramaturg's mission, I knew that dramaturgy would never be a "job" but that it would either be a career or a destiny. In my case it turns out to have been the later.

But why does one - would one - decide to become a dramaturg? What is it? What the hell IS a dramaturg?

There's an answer and to the degree that it impacts on the gestalt of the American theatre, it is a dangerous and uncomfortable answer and that might be getting in the way of dramaturgy taking root, because on the whole, the psychological and economic geography of the American Theatre is one of poor soil, lacking the social nutrients necessary to allow our national theatre to flourish.

In this gestalt, Broadway is like the Queen in Snow White - she rules but in order for her to do so, all threatening entities must be suppressed. Ergo Artistic Directors at regional theatres do their casting in New York to the detriment of local talent. I say detriment because in the unhealthy gestalt of the contemporary theatre, it is necessary for these "Broadwayists" to undervalue the resources around them and to taint local talent in the eyes of the Powers that Be. I saw this over 10 strange years in Atlanta. It creates a "class" system almost to the degree of a caste system and the bestowment of grant monies has usurped the idea of patronage and validation from an aristocracy.

Have you ever tried to write a grant? I would just as soon have to learn Chinese in a week as to spend one minute of my precious life and time even reading the guidelines for a grant. Of course, thank God for grants and for the people who write them, but as all us artists know, the allocation of grant monies is not an authentic barometer of what's really happening in the realm. Two things true art does not wait for - permission and money.

The theatre is a mirror of us and therefore much bigger than the area around Times Square. Broadway stole the show - the whole world show - throughout the 20th Century and Broadway will always be our Mecca, but it is a silly and unrealistic tool for defining the theatre in all of us.

Professor Vardac opens his book Stage to Screen noting that art does not ever exist in a static manifestation. This echos philosopher Morse Peckham's thesis in his amazing book MAN'S RAGE FOR CHAOS.

What both men are saying is that shit happens - constantly - and that art is the species' nervous response to perpetual, relentless evolution.

The third objective of dramaturgy is to keep up with the current and impending madness and, through theatre, help others do the same.

These are heady phenomena to contemplate and can lead to molecular breakdown if you open Pandora's Box of Reality in a moment of frailty.

As a human being I'm still more concerned with finding a good parking spot than I am trying to understand that there can not be an end of the universe. But as a dramaturg I still might find myself working with an actor who is playing Einstein - we call this "production research." If neither I nor the actor has a mathematical mind, then we will have to go in search of some fellow human who does have a mathematical mind and is able to impart clues to the character of Einstein.

The fourth objective of dramaturgy is to discover, uncover and recover the gestalt of authenticity sought by the collaborators in their quest to produce the play.

Literature exists in all languages and one characteristic of the dramaturgical profile is the ability to function in some other languages. Those dramaturgs who have these skills bring a special resource to the table - the potential for diplomacy.

The theatre needs this - unfortunately, while there is a lot of highly skilled sucking up going on in "the Theatre", I have been sad to discover that both diplomacy and tact are qualities that seem to be lacking in far too many comrades in the trenches of legitimate theatre.

The fifth objective of dramaturgy is to empower diplomacy through theatre and in the theatre.

I can not claim any authority that justifies my points. It's just that 32 years ago, someone conked me on the head with the iron skillet of Dramaturgy and my ears are still ringing- but maybe I am beginning to understand the chaotic harmonies that I'm hearing which make up the back opera of my particular pilgrimage - because the one thing that I do know for sure is that to pursue dramaturgy is to join a quest that best has it's mirror in Cervantes masterpiece DON QUIXOTE.

The sixth objective of dramaturgy is to tilt with the Windmills (of our minds).

So if you run into a dramaturg at Starbucks, whether you're in NYC or Birmingham, Ala or Seattle or Baltimore or - hey! - Nashville - you'll know what to talk about over coffee. Esoteric today but maybe not tomorrow.

Jaz Dorsey
The Nashville Dramaturgy Project

Come to Nashville and Go to the Theatre!

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