First of all, I love to read, and therefore have a great admiration and fondness for people who write well. The pool of extraordinarily talented playwrights writing in the USA today is so deep, and so wide, that I believe we are in a golden age of playwrighting in this country. However, just like anyone, there is writing that I objectively understand is very well-crafted and shows an interesting mind at work, yet doesn’t speak to me. What type of work do I prefer? Plays that I don’t understand, plays that make me stop and think, or go to an outside source, plays where I can’t anticipate their direction, plays that are experimental in form and transgressive in content. That’s what I love. There’s nothing I want more than to love your play.
However, I don’t need love your play to work with you – because the research part of dramaturgy in endlessly fascinating to me. Process (as opposed to production) dramaturgy is the part of the field that really speaks to me. There is nothing quite like starting at the beginning with a playwright and seeing the work through to production. I don’t believe in the dramaturg as a dispassionate, objective respondent. Rather, I am committed to dramaturgical auto-ethnography. I will own and name the fact that my responses to your work are inseparable from my lived experience. My immediate response might not be useful to your process or what you hired me to do. If that’s the case, I won’t share it – because I am committed to putting my talents and experiences in the service of your work. However, I will never deny that I am reading your play every bit as much as I am reading your play.
If I don’t feel that you have promise as a playwright and that I have something to offer you along your journey, I won’t take you on as a client. It’s not fair to either of us. I need to be able to be a passionate advocate for your work, so that I can wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who asks. My goal is never to put my stamp on a work, but rather to help you get as close to your stated goal for the work as possible. I want the idea in your head to transfer to the page as completely as possible, and if I’m in the rehearsal room to make sure the ideas in your script communicate to the audience in the way you want them to. While I am your advocate, I’m the play’s advocate as well. If you say you want the piece to perform X, and I don’t think it does so – I will push you.
Here’s an example: I recently worked with a Native Hawaiian playwright in a reading situation. He was convinced the piece read as Native Hawaiian. As a haole, that didn’t come across for me. When queried, the playwright informed me that his focus for this presentation was to make the work understood as a specifically Native Hawaiian story. As it was a reading, we had no ability to make the piece read as Native Hawaiian through the use of music or set— so the choice had to be linguistic. I took a very deep dive into Hawaiian Creole, also known as pidgin. He was very resistant to putting Hawaiian Creole in the play – but once he added it into the script, the work sang. In a sense, I protected his play by holding him to his stated goal.