Dramaturgs hit the historical note

by Beacon Staff • March 4, 2009

For theatre-lovers with a passion for academics, there is a job that combines the artistic and the practical aspects of theater: dramaturgy. The lesser-known dramaturg researches background information about the production and shares historical specifics with actors and theatergoers to create an understanding of the show in context.

Anne Morgan, a senior theatre studies major, was honored last January when she received the National Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Award in dramaturgy for her work on Emerson Stage's production of iLittle Women/i. She said her job is to give the actors and the audience contextual information to enhance accuracy of the performance. Morgan and other applicants of the award were judged by a panel of professional dramaturgs on everything from study guides for audience members to collaboration with the director.

"Dramaturgs provide background research that can range from playwright bios to time period and other things of that nature," Morgan said.

Dr. Magda Romanska, head of theatrestudies and adviosr to the dramatrugy department, said the dramaturg bridges the gap between the audience, actors, and the context of the play.

"If there were budget cuts, I would give up lighting before I would give up my dramaturg," she said.

Romanska said there are more than 150 students in the performing arts theatre studies program. Dramaturgy, she said, acts as an outlet for non-actors to become part of the theater process.

"It is a way for them to keep one foot in the library and one foot in the theater," she said.

Senior J'aimie Graham was the dramaturg for Emerson Stage's October production of iLady Windermere's Fan/i and she enjoyed the challenging job.

"Having served as a dramaturg and worked with a director, I've seen that so much can be added to a production with a dramaturg by adding new insight," the theatre studies major said. "The bits of history and facts really push it to the next level."

While dramaturgy may be a behind-the-scenes job, Emerson's program sheds light on just how big a part the dramaturg plays in a production.

Senior theatre studies major Katie Fleming prepared herself for what she said was a dramaturg's dream-working as the dramaturg for Emerson Stage's production of iMuch Ado About Nothing/i. Fleming took on Director Maureen Shea's vision of William Shakespeare in the 1960s. This interpretation of Shakespeare gave Fleming more than enough material to keep herself occupied.

Fleming took her duties a step further than simple research and introduced a multimedia element into the production, she created an online blog for the actors and designers of the show.

"The blog was for me to upload videos and images to help the actors and designers as a multimedia brother to the hard copy of the dramaturgy packet they each got," Fleming said. "The focus of the packet and blog was the historical society of 1966 to help them become more a part of that world."

Fleming also prepared a short video for the audience so that they might gain more knowledge of the context of the show. This extra bit of pizzazz includes clips of classes taught by the director, rehearsals and set preparation, which played on loop in the lobby of the theater before each performance.

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iproduced by Katie Fleming/i

"Dramaturgy straddles an interesting valley because it can be used as a marketing tool, but it can be an educational outreach tool, which has opportunities for marketing," Graham said. "Theater is evolving into more of a hybrid of different types of media-that's definitely where dramaturgy is headed."