Lessing and Dramaturgy Lesson — dramaturgy , Gotthold Ephraim Lessing , Hamburg Dramaturgy — AAPEX

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Lessing and Dramaturgy Lesson

For 35 years, I have been repeatedly asked the obvious question - " What is a dramaturg?" It's the obvious question because in this country, when you tell someone that you are a dramaturg, they have no idea what you are talking about. 

And it's a strange word; definitely suspect. Sounds communist. 

There is one country, however, where almost any 15 year old could tell you what a dramaturg is. That's Germany. 

Germany is the homeland of the ur-dramarturg, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

Honestly, dramaturgy has been around as long as theatre has been around. It took dramaturgy to get Oedipus Rex on it's feet because what dramaturgy is is the process of getting the script ready. Ready for the actors, ready for the audience, ready for the critics. The two primary divisions of dramaturgy - script development and production research - are inevitableBut in Lessing they jelled and became a profession - in Germany, a very honored profession. (I can think of worse things to be referred to than Herr Dramaturg. And over here, I have heard some of those "worse things" beginning with dramaturkey - and you can take it from there.) 

Here's what happened. 

In Lessing's day, Paris ruled when it came to theatre, much like the influence that Broadway and NYC have on theatre in this country today. If theatre wasn't "frenchified" back in 18th century Europe then it wasn't valid. 

This did not sit well with Herrn Lessing, who saw perhaps a deeper purpose to the theatre than his colleagues. Lessing wanted to see a theatre which was rooted in the German language, and so, among other steps, he wrote some very interesting plays of his own in a style that had it's rhythm, meter and syntax taken from the German pallet. Soon Schiller and Goethe would follow. 

Lessing also generated what has come to be known as The Hamburg Dramaturgy. As a German major at Chapel Hill, I read excerpts in German when I took a course on Lessing, but it's not the kind of thing you'd find on the New York Times bestseller list. 

Or is it? Because now, thanks to Dr. Wendy Arons of Carnegie Melon and Dr. Sara Figal of Vanderbilt University, there is about to be an annotated, English translation - and before the book, these two scholars are, thanks to this marvelous age of the internet, sharing their project with the rest of us as it evolves, via this link: http://mcpress.media-commons.org/hamburg/ 

Highly recommended reading for anyone who wants to ask that question - 

"What is a dramaturg?" 

Jaz Dorsey 
Director of Education 
The Actors' Reading Room 
Nashville, Tennessee 

Come to Nashville and Go to the Theatre! (I'm pretty sure that's what Lessing would say.)

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