Theatre in Wales

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Discussion on Dramaturgy

Theatre in Wales: Comment

Writers Group , National Theatre of Wales , December-18-14
Theatre in Wales: Comment by Writers Group The Writers Group on the National Theatre Wales community page is a mix of chat, information and discussion of seriousness. The last took centre stage in the first months of the year, The word count in full ran to over ten thousand words and can be read in its entirety on the NTW site.

Some highlights, given some radical editing treatment ran:

National Theatre Wales kicked off February 18:

"One of the things that grew out of last year's Dirty, Gifted and Welsh event last year was a conversation about Dramaturgs. Basically a number of writers emphasised the importance of feedback on scripts, and several writers also expressed an interest in giving more feedback.

One of the strengths or new writing in Wales has been the willingness of writers to support each other - and particularly of more established writers to support up and coming writers. We wondered whether there might be a away to structure some of this support into the offer for writers from NTW. So, for example, we have quite a lot of writers who are working on 'seed commissions' for us - early ideas for plays. Would it be helpful to match each of them with another writer who might be able to give support and feedback on the ideas as they develop?"

First response by Kaite O'Reilly February 18:

"...It's great to have the opportunity to discuss this, and see what writers might want. For my own pennyworth, both as a playwright who works with dramaturgs and as someone who works as a mentor or dramaturg on other peoples' scripts: I was part of a panel on 'the end of new writing' some time ago with David Eldridge, Fin Kennedy, Lyn Gardner and a few others at West Yorkshire Playhouse. Part of what we discussed was described as 'the hell of the new writing development process.'

We all spoke out against the 'one size fits all' approach to developing work and the need for bespoke dramaturging... ie, finding the ideal dramaturg to support and challenge and nurture the work - fitting the ambitions, aesthetic, form,and content of the work in development, just as you might find the 'right' cast or director for the piece when completed.

So I personally would encourage a brokering between artists which is really going to assist the writer make the work, rather than having one or two 'official' dramaturgs whose personal predilections and skills, although strong, may not work for everyone. The limitations of having one official dramaturg or literary manager attached to a company is also one of the areas playwrights complain about when we get together and share experiences. I know this myself as a dramaturg - I have strengths that work for some forms of theatre styles, but not for others."

National Theatre Wales provided a summary February 19:

"It looks like the consensus so far is moving towards a fairly open group of dramaturg-mentors who would support up and coming work, but could also work as 'critical friends' with peers.  But how would we match the right dramaturg to the right writer?

Tim Price on February 19:

"I think the question you need to answer is, how can NTW do something that is different to what already goes on in the community? Curating and resourcing interesting relationships is not enough for a national theatre. This group could potentially be the group who go on to make/ dramaturg/ commission the work that will change Welsh theatre forever."

Lisa Parry on February 19:

"Would it be possible to maybe have a bank of playwrights other playwrights could maybe call on as well/instead of a dramaturg project? Sometimes I worry that with the emphasis on dramaturgy/helping the writer, it decentralises the writer from the writing process and you end up writing to please. I know that depends on the dramaturg but I sometimes think it's subconscious and the piece can go astray a bit. Maybe an emphasis on mentoring through a project sometimes would be what's needed as opposed to simply having a dramaturg bank."

Definitions were discussed as being vague. Phillip Morris February 19:

"We might also think of dramaturgy in bolder and perhaps more expansive terms than those raised thus far...I think the question of pairing a dramaturge with a playwright is quite a nuanced one, as it is not necessarily one of matching similar interests and/or approaches. A dramaturge must be sympathetic to the aims and problems of the writer, but it may be more useful (if only in certain instances) for that writer to be questioned about certain writing decisions by someone who does not share a similar approach or aesthetic. Occasionally great art emerges from collaborators with apparently opposing aesthetics...There is a slight danger of perceiving a dramaturge as somewhat like a father in a delivery room - someone charged with merely reminding the person doing the hard work to breathe and remain calm. A dramaturge might also share in the research part of the development process, which is not to say that the playwright should not be the final arbiter.

...While I agree with others here that the position of a permanent Literary Manager can offset its benefits with limitations - the notion of having one (or more) people within a creative team, tasked with questioning, listening, suggesting and enthusing without having to consider the logistical and production challenges faced by producers and directors is an attractive one."

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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