When the clock tolled to ring in 2020 I would have told you that I was very happy with what the year was probably going to look like. Overshadowed had grown. We had a new group of volunteers. We made changes to have some of our newer volunteers take ownership in areas that we consider ministry. I had become a better planner and marketeer. We had a record number of season ticket holders and a fantastic season planned. In short, we had met every one of our goals for the year!
And then COVID. (I know. You are sick of hearing me say that, but honestly I have no other words.)
When COVID shut us down I went through almost depression. I lost my focus. I honestly didn’t have any idea what God wanted me to do.
Slowly, I started to use the time to LEARN. I joined Ken Davenport’s THE THEATER MAKERS. I took an instagram class (Not quite finished with that yet.) And I attended (Virtually) a Writer’s convention (She Writes For Him). All of this was life-changing for me. It sharpened my focus and gave me a little drive to put things into place so that I can be a better leader when we fully open again.
The most important lesson I learned? My voice hasn’t been silenced. I may not get to act/direct right now, but whether I write an email or a blog post…it is still my voice. God gave me lessons and stories–I should share them.
Lesson Two. I’m behind social media wise. I knew that of course, but if I want people to hear me I was told I have to catch up. So. I was encouraged to start a You Tube Channel. This was a big jump for me, but a group of very inspirational people gave me some great advice. Here’s hoping that together we can create content that will inspire others. By the way, it will really help me if you become a subscriber. At present, From the Wings doesn’t even show up in a search. Help!
My blog will still be once a week. My YouTube will probably be more like once a month. Today’s blog contains the first video. As an actor it is important to know the purpose of the spotlight, but are there dangers that you can avoid?
I hope you will support me in this new venture! Please make sure you become a subscriber! If there are topics you’d like to hear us explore please let me know!
I’d like to give a special thanks to Aaron Brewster and Abby Wilken for creative wisdom. I’d like to thank Yohannan Lee for his design of my new logo and for his help and artistic wisdom in getting everything set up. I’d like to thank Mike Larsen and Rebecca Leland for their support in lighting and recording. I’d like to give special thanks to Brianna Valentine for her leadership, organization, and direction and editing. I am so fortunate to have an incredible team.
As always the more you talk about what we have going on here-the more other people will hear.
I’m not so sure why this week’s blog was so difficult to write. I’d love to say that it’s because I wasn’t a history scholar and perhaps I’m afraid of saying something wrong.
I’m afraid it runs much deeper than that.
I have told you before. I was raised to be deeply patriotic. My dad fought in three wars and spent twenty-five years in the military. He loved America. He saw the faults, but loved this country and by his example, I did too. I feel privileged to be raised an American. I’m proud of my dad. I’m proud that he would risk his life to protect the freedoms that we all enjoy. Have you ever thought that there are reasons people put their lives in danger to try to make their way into our country and escape their own? I think we have it pretty great.
And yet….we are a divided country right now. We are torn politically. We are torn because of the virus. And we are torn on other levels as well.
It isn’t the first time we’ve been divided. When the Continental Congress declared their independence from the British during the reign of King George the III not everyone was in favor of that decision, but TOGETHER we fought for freedom. Our country has been torn during the Civil War and again during the Vietnam War when people avoided the draft and escaped to Canada to avoid fighting for something they didn’t believe in.
For years, people disdained a person who avoided the draft in such a manner. Now, it makes no difference to most people.
For a time we loved the freedoms that this country fought for and in turn granted all those who were citizens.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” – The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
What are the freedoms we are granted?
Freedom of speech
Freedom of religion
Freedom of the press
Freedom to assemble peaceably
Freedom to petition the Government.
With these freedoms we become the most free people in the world.
When do you get those freedoms? Do you have to work for them?Or be of legal age?No. You are granted these freedoms the day you are born. It doesn’t matter politically what side of the fight you are on: Republican or Democrat, you can use the freedoms you are given to push for change or oppose it.
Wow. You. Me. We. have the freedom to push for change. And I am so glad we all do.
Did you know that, John Adams, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, wrote that the 4th of July should “be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty!
So you might be thinking….what does freedom and what people have fought for have to do with Hamilton?
During this time of celebration by many Americans, the Broadway musical Hamilton is making it’s screen debut and I think we can learn a lot from the production as well as the man.
Timing is everything.
Could this musical be a source of healing? Is there a way to look at the moral vision of the show, and in some way, come together as a county? Instead of allowing our differences to destroy us? Could there be an intersection between faith, arts and change?
I have to admit, I didn’t know much about the musical when I first had the opportunity to see Hamilton! I thought it was full of rap music and had a story line that I wasn’t super crazy about, but I wasn’t going to miss the chance to see something that was such a work of art. Hamilton won 11 Tony Award in 2016, including best musical. I now know it is a work of genius.
What can we learn from this musical?
Hamilton is the retelling of a time in our history, but brilliantly deals with the social issues that we face today. Hamilton was an immigrant from the Caribbean and a major theme of this musical is his fight for dignity and equality.
The story also centers on grace, forgiveness, death and redemption. Themes that a person of faith rests on, but ones that we all should remember. Those themes should give us hope and show us what life might look like. Those themes open the door for us to have discussions about faith and hope and how we all need God’s Grace in our lives.
The musical includes scripture that impacts as it tells the story of the past. Did you know that the song, “One Last Time” contains a phrase from the scripture that George Washington used in his personal writings throughout his life? Historically, the most famous use was at a time he used it to express hope that Jews would flourish in America.
“May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants–while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.
May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy.”
4. Did you know that Hamilton, like many of our founding fathers, practiced a real faith in God.? He even wrote hymns and poetry when he was a boy. Here is a few lines from one of his most quoted:
“Hark! Hark! A voice from yonder sky, Methinks I hear my Saviour cry, Come gentle spirit come away, Come to thy Lord without delay.”
5. Hamilton tells the story about a man who was ambitious. It has been said that the poorest man has the chance to be a millionaire in America and indeed, “Hamilton didn’t “Throw Away His Shot.” By the time America was formed, Hamilton was the second most powerful man in the United States.
6. Hamilton teaches forgiveness. His wife, Eliza struggles with forgiving Alexander for an affair and the chorus sings, “Forgiveness, Can you imagine?” Can we, in our country, forgive each other? Can we take a moment to listen and understand the pain and forgive? Can we follow Christ’s example? 70 x 7?
7. Hamilton broke the “rules.” It is full of hip-hop, rap, poetry and it is the first musical to cast people of color to play characters who historically were not. Hip-hop and rap has traditionally been known as music of rebellion. To place it in a musical about a revolution is brilliant and eye-opening. Then the original casting hopefully opens our eyes to a new way of thinking about things and new possibilities. There is so much to learn from that.
Are we listening?
8. It is a story of heartbreak and redemption. Hamilton receives the honors of war and yet becomes a political outcast. He loses a son in a duel and ultimately dies the same way. And yet, his wife redeems all the hurt. In the final scene Eliza sings about her new calling to start the first private orphanage in New York. She sings:
” In their eyes I see you, Alexander. I see you every time.”
And she looks up to heaven and smiles.
When we celebrate July 4th this year I am going to be thankful for my country, my freedoms, my friends (both the ones who share my beliefs and the ones who don’t).
I’m also going to be thankful for God’s work of redemption. At times, the world seems full of sadness and suffering. May we each have the courage to speak out and spread the hope the God gives. May we have courage to be a catalyst for change not just a bystander. I am going to be thankful for my freedom of speech (even though sometimes I’m afraid to take the chance to express myself.)
I am also thankful for musical theater!
I hope you can enjoy your families, friends and FREEDOM! Happy 4th of July!
Please let me know your thoughts! Has the time of unrest in our country sadden you? Or do you see it as a wonderful catalyst for change and discussion?
Don’t forget to subscribe to this blog so you never miss a post!
I am really jealous of my oldest daughter in one specific way. She seems to be able to make time to read…like really read maybe for an hour or hours a week. I’m not sure how she does it, but thinking back….there was a period of time in my life when I did the same thing. I’m desperately trying to regain that desire/ability, but still struggling a little.
A couple of year’s ago my daughter, Becca author of the Blog, Daily Joy, read the book Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull. She told me that I really NEEDED to read the book. To be honest, I kinda blew it off. Why did I want to read a book about the President of Pixar?? My mindset was that Pixar wasn’t Disney and I was too old for cartoons. So, when my daughter, Ashley, gave me the book for Christmas, I put it away.
Enter Covid. (Is it strange that every one of my blog posts lately say…Enter Covid? Life changing for sure….)
With Covid my world stopped and I tried to recreate good habits and get rid of old bad ones. I had previously made a New Year’s Resolution to read at least one book a month during this year. After a few light reads I decided to pull this book off the shelf.
Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull, co-founder (with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter) of Pixar Animation Studios, the Academy Award–winning studio behind Inside Out and Toy Story.
I cannot believe I waited this long to read this book. It was inspirational, motivational, entertaining and educational. This book tells the story of a man who had a dream and worked hard to build a company that set a new standard for a creative culture–believing at all times–that it is important to do the best work possible. I started reading it thinking that it was a great book to tell the story of Pixar, but quickly began telling my friends and anyone who would listen about the lessons I learned each day.Lessons that applied to me as a writer, director, story-teller, leader, President of a non-profit and maybe even just a person. I started taking notes realizing that this book is for me. Ed would tell stories about how they would write their scripts and I would find myself realizing that his struggles were things I needed to learn from.
My lessons didn’t stop there because Creativity, Inc. is also a book for managers who want to lead their employees to new heights, and create a working environment that is successful, safe and causes each employee to also strive to be better.
Here are a few of my favorite quotes:
“If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something better.”
“You are not your idea, and if you identify too closely with your ideas, you will take offense when they are challenged.”
“Failure isn’t a necessary evil. In fact, it isn’t evil at all. It is a necessary consequence of doing something new.”
“If you aren’t experiencing failure, then you are making a far worse mistake: You are being driven by the desire to avoid it.”
“Getting the right people and the right chemistry is more important than getting the right idea.”
“When it comes to creative inspiration, job titles and hierarchy are meaningless.”
“When faced with a challenge, get smarter.”
“Fear can be created quickly; trust can’t.”
“Craft is what we are expected to know; art is the unexpected use of our craft.”
“Making the process better, easier, and cheaper is an important aspiration, something we continually work on—but it is not the goal. Making something great is the goal.”
“What is the point of hiring smart people, we asked, if you don’t empower them to fix what’s broken?”
“Always take a chance on better, even if it seems threatening.”
“You’ll never stumble upon the unexpected if you stick only to the familiar.”
“Be patient. Be authentic. And be consistent. The trust will come.”
“The future is not a destination – it is a direction.”
“We must remember that failure gives us chances to grow, and we ignore those chances at our own peril.”
“We want people to feel like they can take steps to solve problems without asking permission.”
“THERE IS NOTHING quite like ignorance combined with a driving need to succeed to force rapid learning.”
“Quality is the best business plan.”
“it is not the manager’s job to prevent risks. It is the manager’s job to make it safe to take them.”
The title, “To Whom it May Inspire.” is taken from a section of the book where Ed is talking about something he created called, “Notes Day.” He warns that things change and that they should and we shouldn’t be afraid of that change but instead approach it with fresh thinking. Ed received a letter from one of his animators, Austin Madison, which started, “To Whom it May Inspire,” He stated that like most artists he constantly shifts between two states. The first is white-hot, “in the zone.” A place where everything flows creatively. He says it only happened 3% of the time. The other happens the other 97% of the time and is when we are frustrated, struggling and throwing ideas out the window constantly. His advice?
PERSIST on telling your story.
PERSIST on reaching your audience.
PESIST on staying true to your vision.
That’s what we do. Keep on keeping on. Stay focused. Don’t give in.
I think there is comfort in the fact that we will always have problems: some we see right away and some that come out of nowhere….like COVID.
It isn’t the goal to avoid the problems or even to make things easier. The goal is to rise above the problem with excellence.
Who is this book for? EVERYONE. Honestly, do yourself a favor and read it. It isn’t a quick read because there is sooooo much to think about. You might be surprised. You might even shed a tear. It’s that good.
This quarantine has provided me with some rare opportunities as I’m sure it has to you. (Positive thinking, people!) Maybe you found time to finally deep clean the garage or that closet? Or…just to sleep! I’ve found time for two of my favorite things: cooking and reading (make that 3 – eating – let’s be real). In addition to my favorite genres, history and fiction, I’ve been reading more plays (and eating more…and…riding my bike more – gotta combat the COVID 20!…Pounds that is).
I´ve been thinking about how I would stage and develop these plays (I have a few shelf fulls I´ve been working my way through). In thinking (and eating, of course) during all of this, I discovered the topic for this blog!
Cooking up Characters with Kady! (did you like that alliteration?) Seriously though, there are so many parallels between cooking and directing that once I started, I just couldn’t stop seeing the similarities. So, here are some ´tasty´ thoughts about how to ´cook´ up and serve characters and actually, the whole show, as a director.
First, and absolutely the most essential, is the visualization. I have always been fascinated with the process of taking raw ingredients and reshaping them into a new cohesive whole, which is why I love cooking. (plus I love eating, gotta be real folks). Taking ´raw´ ideas and reshaping them into living breathing characters in a ´real´ world is why I love directing. Both cooking and directing spring from visualizing the final product.
An important caveat: I make no claims to be a professional or even a remotely good cook! (and definitely not baking – I have not conquered the opera cake yet – plus I haven’t deboned a duck…let alone a chicken) And I am most definitely not a Broadway director. I direct summer camps for Overshadowed and direct my school´s drama program/plays. Broadway someday? I can dream. But in the meantime, I absolutely L-O-V-E what I do. So back to it.
I almost (not completely because I l-o-v-e to eat) enjoy imagining the combination of flavors, texture, and plating more than creating the actual dish. Why? It’s the wonder of possibilities! It’s the magic of ´before´ reality hits and all the obstacles jump up to bonk you in the nose. As I read a script, the same thing happens. Oh the possibilities! I imagine the world with the movie or I should say, the ´stage of the mind´. And while the show plays, I ask questions: What do I think the forest of Oberon and Titania actually looks like?Should the 39 Steps be staged as a radio drama or can it be ´live action´?And Jane Eyre..modern or historical?How should Don John hide his perfidy from the characters but not the audience in Much Ado About Nothing? How would an audience react to a production of Raisin in the Sun?How actually should I create the creatures of The Hobbit? (that one was answered brilliantly by my creative team!)
Sometimes the visualization doesn’t start with a script. It sometimes happens like my grocery shopping (especially when I´m hungry). Sometimes, I will see a unique ingredient (like a kumquat) and think, ´I´ve never cooked with that before. I wonder how it can be used and what other ingredients will go with it?´ Then, I pull out my phone right there and look up ideas, nutritional facts, and common or unique ways to cook it. And then into the cart it goes and the adventure begins! Sometimes I´m introduced to a new idea I´ve never used before, or a story I´ve never heard of, or a design element or tool I’d absolutely love to use. The research begins and ´Oh the possibilities´!
And once the mind, and sometimes the heart, are full of all the possibilities, I have found I need a lot of help to make that dream a reality.
Which of course leads to the next step: the collaboration.
With the ´recipe´ of the visualization in hand, I turn to my team. As a director or the visionary of any creative endeavor, this is the most essential task – getting your vision, ideas, tastes, textures, mood, hopes, fears, wish lists, and the world across to your creative team.
Not just so they understand what is being created, but so that they catch your hunger; so that they take ownership of the vision as well. Any chef knows the explanation of a recipe must be absolutely clear or what will be presented to the diner will be a muddied catastrophe. The director must be absolutely clear in establishing the framework and details the world his/her team is to work within. They become your sous chefs in their respective areas of expertise. Lighting, costuming, makeup/hair, sound, house, set, props, stage crew, marketing – you name it. This utterly essential team must hunger for exactly what you´re hungering for. If you pick well, as I have thankfully often experienced, they will love your vision as much as you do. And as such, will willingly share in the burden of creation.
The creative team is not just there to share in the burden, they´re there to add to the dish. Having other’s input adds flavor, shape, and foresight or resolution to problems you couldn’t see (I tend to dream big, my team helps keep my feet on the ground). Plus, someone else’s creativity and skill can make all the difference. That doesn’t mean the recipe loses its intrinsic value, its central identity, or that the director loses ownership. It simply means a new perspective of costuming, some expertise on how to actually make those puppets work, a composition of the mood you wanted to convey through music, or a unique way of enhancing audience interaction will all help create an authentic performance. That is simply invaluable. This team will become your fellow visionaries, and in some cases, dear friends with whom you can share and bolster the creative process through all the possibilities.
The third step (which I adore) is the preparation, or the creation of the characters. This is the step of pulling the characters from the page into the world that has been envisioned and is being created. This step requires reliance on the sous chefs/line cooks.
I think actors generally fall in the range of both. (I speak as an actor as well). What I mean is this: My niece is 14, precocious, opinionated, very chatty, beautiful, creative, and did I mention opinionated? My nephew is 16, tall, handsome, a sweetheart, intelligent (single) and follows instructions well. (I love them…clearly) When my sister and I cook or bake (Which we love to do! She could open her own restaurant), we do enjoy making it a family affair, which means pulling my niece or nephew into the adventure. Both enjoy cooking in my sisters kitchen, but one is a sous chef and one is more of a line cook. My nephew takes the instructions and performs with minimal questions. Need something diced? Grilled? He’s on it. If he doesn’t know how, a demonstration or explanation is given and he’s good. My niece, on the other hand, needs to know why. Always. ´Why not julienned instead of diced? It will look prettier, Aunt Kady!´ Oy vey! I have learned that after explanation, and after she has defended her point of view (vociferously), I have a choice. I can modify per her suggestion, or if that modification takes us outside the parameters of the recipe, I can choose not to. But I had better clearly explain why not to her before she is willing to move on. And she does, and dices with absolute precision. She does so because she owns her understanding of why. It’s now her mission, her task, her recipe too. Now I know sous chefs are second in command in the kitchen. I´m not saying actors are assistant directors. But, when it comes to character creation, the directorial vision has to be handed over to the ´assistant´ creators of those characters – which is the actors.
I have found that despite training (Meisner, Method, College degree, or complete amateur), actors generally land somewhere between my neice or my nephew. I enjoy both the line cooks and the sous chefs. Those like my nephew take the instruction and go with it. If they need direction they ask or accept it, then take it and go. They have already signed up to your vision because they trust it’s gonna ´taste´ good (especially if it’s pasta). They really thrive when the director is ´hands on´ in the early stages of laying out the elements of the character that he/she want to see brought to life and then stepping back and allowing the actor to take on the responsibility progressively throughout the entire process until of course they present the character on stage before an audience. Others…well…are my niece. They may question your vision from the very start. It doesn’t matter if they are highly trained or complete newbies. These are more sous chefs than line chefs and need to own the ´recipe´ of their characters as their own. This means you have to explain the vision and it needs to make sense to them. They need to understand the world their character lives in. And if it doesn’t make sense and they just can’t claim ownership of it, well… there have been times I’ve kicked my niece out of the kitchen. But when they do own the vision, when they are allowed to add their flavor to it… the performance that results from such an intensive shaping can be so enriched and authentic. In the world that’s been created by a team fully committed to the vision, adding a performance that has been relentlessly picked apart, lovelingly shaped together, and executed with absolute belief is utterly glorious! I guarantee that your audience won’t soon forget it. It is a beautiful preparation.
From visualization to collaboration to preparation, we’ve arrived at the final flourish, the lifting of the silver dome – the presentation! What a wonder it is when that curtain finally rises! A chef can indeed cook alone and create an adventure on a plate that the diner won’t soon forget.
But theater is not a solo endeavor.
Besides creativity and teamwork, its most important ingredient is trust. The playwright must trust that their story will be told with integrity, even with creative license. The director must trust that the world he/she envisioned will truly be brought to life by the design team, the crew, and the actors. And when the audience sits down to dine on the feast that is truly the ´theater experience´, they trust that the performance they are about to partake in has been cooked up with the greatest love, professionalism, care, detail, and creativity, with a dash of magic. Bon appetit!
I am so thrilled to introduce Nathan to all of you. Some of you may remember Nathan from a few year’s ago when we had the honor of having him at Overshadowed just for a few weeks before he returned home to get married. He made a lasting impression on us in just that short amount of time and I can’t wait for you to get to know his heart in this blog! Enjoy!
When Reba asked me if I would be a guest author on her blog, I must admit I felt both honored and nervous—happy to reconnect with Overshadowed, but also a tad afraid of the topic. She asked me a seemingly simple question: “What is a dramaturg?”
But the truth is there’s no official, textbook definition. The role can vary from show to show, company to company. Not to mention dramaturgs are often overlooked in America. But one thing is for sure—dramaturgs are the chameleons of the theatre. When involved, they enrich every single aspect of a production, even though their specific influence may be hard to define. In short, they are Content and Context experts. Their main responsibility? To ask 3 questions about every play they work on. And to answer them as thoroughly and collaboratively as possible.
Question 1: Why Then?
“How much is a guinea worth?” “Where did swing music come from?” “What were French fashions in 1834?” “What does this Shakespearean monologue mean, anyway? Can I cut it?” “Why was it like that back Then?”
Dramaturgs are tasked with answering countless historical questions for designers, directors, and actors alike. Mercifully, they usually join a production before any other member of the team (unless a playwright is involved). This gives them time to gather a wealth of information to share before any acting, design, and directorial choices are made. These findings are gathered into one large document called the Actor’s Packet. Typically, production team members get a copy during preliminary meetings, and actors receive it on the first night of rehearsal.Now you may be thinking: “Don’t the cast and crew do their own research?” And the answer is yes, they do (or should!). But by doing a lot of research ahead of time, dramaturgs help save them hours of work. But even more importantly is how dramaturgs offer insight into questions that aren’t quite so easily answered with a Google search:
“What’s with the scrims in The Glass Menagerie?” “Why is Arthur Miller obsessed with Greek theatre structure?” “How did religion shape Shakespeare’s plays and characters?”
These are questions of culture—specifically the aesthetics of the playwrights themselves and the societies they lived in. And unfortunately too many productions skip right on by these.
“But why is that a problem?” you may ask. Well, think of it this way: Plays, like any art form, are created in response to something—personal, political, societal, you name it. And so if we divorce ourselves from the original context of the play—and the reason it was written—we not only fail to understand the message itself, but fail to know how to translate it to a modern-day world.
Dramaturgs help us make this connection. Which leads me to Question 2.
Question 2: Why Now?
A dramaturg’s job doesn’t end with the Actor’s Packet. He’s not just handing out a bunch of historical facts and aesthetic recommendations–then walking away hoping it’s all done properly.
No—the dramaturg is an active on-going presence throughout the rehearsal process. Serving as the confidant to the director, the dramaturg keeps this question in sight at all times:
“Why this play Now?”
In other words, “What is its significance today?”
Or—if it’s a new play— “Why is it worth the risk to support this playwright and produce it?”
Dramaturgs keep the team focused on answering these “Now” questions in several ways.
First of all, they champion the play itself. If it’s an established script, they make sure that its original context isn’t lost—or worse, misrepresented for the sake of “innovation”—during the production’s process. To do this, they facilitate meaningful discussion and interpretation of the play, including modern-day applications.
If it’s a new play, dramaturgs work with the playwright directly—consulting them on potential adjustments, maintaining the script’s integrity, and ensuring the play’s present-day message isn’t muddled. Because if it is, then the theatre has lost the reason they took the risk to produce it!
Second, by focusing on “Why this play now?”, the dramaturg reminds the team of why they chose to do this play in the first place. For instance, let’s say the director shared a brilliant vision for the play at the table read. A couple weeks in, the dramaturg asks:
“Is this vision being realized?” “Are acting and design choices in line with these directorial goals? With the text itself?” “Based on how rehearsals are going, will the audience receive the intended message?”
Dramaturgs help directors keep the original vision intact, and they serve as sounding boards for the thousands of decisions that come directors’ ways. While directors may feel they’re making one isolated choice after another, dramaturgs are there to point out how each choice influences the overall vision—and ultimately, how the audience will experience the play. Which leads into Question 3.
Question 3: Why Here?
This question is critical.
Why is this theatre doing this play in this community?
And unfortunately many theatres don’t even think to ask it.
But a dramaturg has it on their radar long before a script is selected in the first place. In fact, theatres with resident dramaturgs often task them with sourcing play options for their seasons. And there are two crucial reasons why.
First, we know any established theatre ought to have a clear and distinct identity and mission. We should be able to say, “Oh yeah, that theatre is known for [family/edgy/comedy/etc.]shows.” And so when a theatre company is looking to pull together a cohesive season, dramaturgs go to work to find plays that fit the theatre’s niche, and even specific themes if desired. A lot of times this is how new playwrights are discovered—dramaturgs are dear friends of new works!
But it’s not enough to know why the theatre is doing the play.
Secondly, a dramaturg helps determine why a specific communityneeds this play. Let’s say you’re a comedy-oriented theatre and you want to do a production of Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park—a funny play about a newlywed couple in New York City. But there’s a catch: you’re located in southern Mississippi surrounded by an older community of blue collar workers. The play may fit your niche, but it doesn’t serve your audience demographic.
This audience-centered thinking is the bread and butter of the dramaturg. If a play’s appeal doesn’t extend beyond the theatre company itself—if it’s not a gift to the larger community, speaking to them in specific ways—then the dramaturg should rightfully ask:
“Why are we doing it at all?”
But—when a play is chosen that does meet the theatre’s niche as well as its surrounding community, dramaturgs are in their happy place. In fact, this is personally my favorite aspect of dramaturgy and why I am so passionate about it. Because the dramaturg now gets to create meaning that extends beyond the production itself.
Through presentations to cast and crew, dramaturgs get to express why this play matters to the outside world—the one right outside their door! And by creating lobby displays, program notes, and talkback sessions, dramaturgs show audiences that this production speaks to their lives and experiences right now, right here.
It’s a gift. And it’s personal.
When you choose a play for a specific audience, a specific community, you’re saying:
“I see you. I hear you. I know what you value—what speaks to your soul.”
And sometimes even:
“I know this one will be hard for you; but I think you need it—it’ll help you grow.”
Dramaturgs search for plays that serve their audience. And I kind of think that looks like Jesus.
So to sum up a post longer than I intended, dramaturgs are a vital part of the theatre. Because their three questions—why then? why now? why here?—all answer one ultimate question:
Why it matters.
If we fail to answer that, then we’ve failed to give a gift. And if we fail to give a gift, then we’ve failed to make art.
May we as Christians always be gift-givers.
Ghost Light: An Introductory Handbook for Dramaturgy by Michael Mark Chemers
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