Monday, February 11, 2013

Dramaturgy 101 - A Guest Blog by Dramaturg Oona Hatton

 You may have seen the word before and wondered at its meaning. Or you may be encountering the word for the first time here in this blog. Dramaturgy (or being a dramaturg) is often a mystery word to audience members. But as Ms. Oona Hatton will describe below, dramturgy is an essential part of the theatre-making process.


Hi there! It’s your friendly neighborhood dramaturg, here to unlock the secrets of new play development! If you have been to one or more shows at BACT, you might know that in addition to producing great plays for kids, we’re also interested in creating brand new, never-before-seen great plays for kids. This season includes not one but TWO new works, Tales of Olympus (by Min Kahng) and our current show, Ivy + Bean, the Musical (by Scott Elmegreen).

A dramaturg’s job is always different depending on the needs of the show, but I like to say that our main responsibility is to make sure that a play’s story is being told as clearly as possible. For a new play, a dramaturg learns from the playwright what story they want to tell, and collaborates with them (and often with the director) to decide how best to tell that story. Last summer, BACT ran two week-long workshops during which the playwrights, directors, and producers of Tales of Olympus and Ivy + Bean had a chance to see early drafts of these plays on their feet. Over the course of a few intense rehearsals, the actors learned all of the music and some simple blocking and presented staged readings of the scripts before an invited audience. With feedback from the director, producer, myself, and our dedicated audiences, the playwrights were sent off to do rewrites. In the case of Ivy + Bean, we were also lucky to have Annie Barrows, the author of the Ivy + Bean series, come to a few rehearsals to share her insights about whether the play was remaining true to the spirit of the characters.

Ivy + Bean, The Musical makes it to the stage with the help of a dramaturg!

One of the biggest challenges of creating a show based on a book—or in the case of Ivy + Bean, a whole series—is that the play cannot be an exact replica of the original. A playwright who adapts a book is a translator who works to communicate the spirit of the story, but in a way that is appropriate for a live audience. While a play has to give up some parts of the original, it also brings new elements to the story. In this case, these include the catchy, hilarious, and touching songs Scott has written.

As a dramaturg, I try to find a balance between being faithful to the original stories and understanding that the play is its own work of art. If it is hard to choose between a book and a play, it is even more difficult to decide where one’s loyalties lie when it comes to live people! A playwright, a director, and a producer can have conflicting ideas about the script: a playwright might think about the life of her/his play after the first production, while the director is focused on the show they are putting up. Likewise, a producer must be concerned with making sound business decisions that ensure that the show is ready to go on time and within budget. I often have to ask myself: to whom am I most responsible? Personally, I think of myself as an advocate for the play and the playwright, but with the understanding that theatre is by necessity a collaborative art in which a number of people come together to build something. Like any art form, theatre is subjective, so I recognize that my opinion is only one of many. And ultimately, it is the audience’s opinion that matters most! So I hope you enjoy the show, and if you have feedback about our adaptation of Ivy and Bean, we would love to hear from you!

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