By Steve LaRocque
Beginning this season, Quotidian subscribers will be able to take advantage of several new exciting offerings, including pre-show presentation/discussion sessions that we are calling “Dramaturg Sessions.”
What is a Dramaturg?
The term, while fairly obscure to the general public, is heard a lot in theater – but that doesn’t mean that everyone agrees about its meaning.
The concept originated in 18th Century Germany, when Gotthold Lessing put down his ideas about how to create and sustain a national German theater: organizing scripts and production-related materials; promoting a better understanding of the repertory among actors; and – most importantly for our purposes – educating audiences about the theater productions they came to see. For all of these functions (and others as well) he proposed a function that he called “der Dramaturgist” – in today’s language, the dramaturg.
However, almost 250 years after Lessing laid out his agenda, you won’t find unanimity about what a dramaturg does. It really depends on what the individual theater or director requires.
But there are some common elements. In her 2012 online article, “What is a Dramaturg?”, Bess Rowen quotes some explanations from working dramaturgs about what they do. Here is a helpful one:
“Dramaturgs are … text analyzers; we are researchers; we are objective observers; we are expert question askers; we are a resource for the director and playwright and actors and designers, and we are creative diplomats who liaise with those involved.”
In other words, a good dramaturg can tell you a lot about what to expect when you see a play. That’s what we plan to offer our subscribers for the 2015-16 season – and, if the idea works out – in future seasons, as well.
In the 2015-16 season, Quotidian will offer one Dramaturg Session for each of the three shows in the season (for subscribers only). Dramaturg Sessions will be held at the Writer’s Center, on the same day as one of the scheduled performances, beginning one hour before curtain (7 p.m. for evening shows, 1 p.m. for matinees). They will take place in a room separate from the theater; the specific location will depend on how large the group is expected to be.
The Dramaturg Sessions
The first Dramaturg Session, for Maytag Virgin, will take place on Saturday, October 17, and will feature Audrey Cefaly, playwright and director, as the dramaturg. What better source of background and context could you want?
This particular session offers the additional special benefit of providing an opportunity to hear the playwright/director discuss the process of writing the script, collaborating with actors and the production team, and bringing the story to life on the stage.
For the final show of the season, the dramaturg will be Stephanie Mumford, who has translated, adapted, and will direct a stage version of Anton Chekhov’s immortal short story, The Lady with the Little Dog. This, too, is a special opportunity for a glimpse into the creative process, including translation and adaptation of a classic foreign-language text – never an easy or straightforward procedure – as well as integrating multiple visual and aural media into the overall production.
In between, you get me – as the dramaturg for Athol Fugard’s A Lesson from Aloes, directed by Laura Giannarelli. I am not the playwright, adapter, or director – I haven’t even acted in a Fugard piece – but I have long been interested in the South African society that the playwright has used as the setting for his great plays – interested, but also frustrated that I didn’t have a complete picture. I suspected that Fugard’s South Africa must be maddeningly complex.
So I started in studying the history of the country, its ethnicities and its tensions, and, though I am far from finished, I realize that I had no idea. What we now call South Africa is the product of age-old conflicts, a complex mingling of ethnicities, and never-ending potential for explosive developments. I won’t claim to be the expert that others, including possibly audience members, might be, but I can give a basic presentation and get the discussion rolling. I am confident that the subscribers will take it from there.
How Will it Work?
The designated dramaturg – a member of the Quotidian company – will give a presentation, about 30 minutes long, explaining the background of the play, its context, and anything else that will enhance the audience’s understanding and appreciation of the play they are about to see.
When the half-hour presentation is over, audience members will have an opportunity for questions and discussion. We decided on this roughly half-and-half format, because we know from experience that audience members bring a lot of their own knowledge to the show they have come to see, and are usually more than ready to speak up.
The session will wrap up promptly ten minutes before the curtain, to give subscribers sufficient time to make their way to the theater and to their (reserved) seats.
The Dramaturg Sessions are not, by the way, intended to take the place of “talk-backs,” which will also be held on selected dates during the 2015-16 season. The talk-back, which takes place shortly after the curtain call and often includes cast members and the director, covers some of the same ground as the Dramaturg Session, but after the fact. The Dramaturg Session is intended to be anticipatory, with an explanation and discussion of context, setting, who’s who, etc., before the show begins.
Subscribe Today to Get This Exciting Benefit
Dramaturg Sessions were specifically developed as a subscriber benefit, so, subscribe today!
Attendance is by reservation, separate from reservations for the show. Seats may be reserved by calling the Quotidian reservation phone line (301) 816-1023, or by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please use this specific e-mail, so that we can keep track of the Dramaturg Sessions separately; also please use “Dramaturg Session” somewhere in the subject line.
We hope that you enjoy the Dramaturg Sessions and find them a valuable addition to the benefits offered to Quotidian subscribers.
Our mission at Quotidian Theatre Company is to find truth and beauty in the everyday, presenting plays in an understated, impressionistic style. We are proud to be the Resident Theater Company at our performance space, The Writer’s Center in Bethesda.