by Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg
Dramaturgy foregrounds a big, open question: why perform or create this play at this time, for this audience? To address this question, dramaturgs have historically seen themselves as curators of information and production history that can inform, or expand, a director’s vision. So (to take a historical example), in Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, Madame Arcati rides a bicycle. What kind of bicycle would Coward have had in mind? How many women rode bicycles then? What did they look like? What social messaging did a woman send when she rode a bicycle in 1941, in the middle of World War Two? Would you cycle in a skirt or in trousers? These are all questions by which we can help shape a production’s sense of “who” a character is: but they remain in the arena of call-and-response. (The director calls for information, we respond.)
My new blog series is called New Directions in Dramaturgy. It asks: what can constitute a “dramaturgical” act or thought? How might dramaturgy deepen, broaden, shift, the responses and expectations that audiences bring to theater and to life? Dramaturgy is a vein, throbbing with life and possibility, that can invigorate information that may on the face of it seem inert or benign: what is on a driver’s license (our age, our gender); how our bodies act in space, interacting with other bodies and objects; how we are socially defined by weight, height, disability, criminal record. Dramaturgical thinking can prompt us to give new life and shape to others’ expectations, and our own.
Special shout-out to Berkeley Theater Explorations, a group that has helped me to think more widely and deeply about the places dramaturgy comes from and where it can go.
New Directions in Dramaturgy archive: