The minor, the major and getting plugged in: talking dramaturgy with Elliot Roberts

The minor, the major and getting plugged in : talking dramaturgy with Elliot Roberts

A nice meander about dramaturgy with Elliot Roberts. Glasgow-based director and dramaturg.

I’d love to hear more about your practice as a dramaturg and as a director, and how those two might overlap?

So, yeah. I consider myself to be a dramaturg in the sense that I often pitch myself to creatives, whether they be writers or creatives, as being someone who is interested in teasing out the ideas of their project, helping them to make the piece the best that it can be. Also about helping them to plug it into the connections around it, if that makes sense?

I feel like that’s an important part of it. The way I think about it – because I think it does have quite a close overlap with the work I do as a director – they draw often on a very similar set as skills. There’s a lot to be gained as a dramaturg from having a very familiar understanding of theatre and an appreciation for how the different roles in theatre work; an appreciation for how performers go about building their performance, about how writers go about constructing a script.

If I’m a director, then it is a story I am wanting to tell, and I feel I am a good person to tell it. My focus is on allowing my instincts to guide me, allowing my eye as a director to try and refine what my instincts are giving me. When I approach it as a dramaturg it is not necessarily a story I think I can do as a director, or it is not an idea I have. I feel it is very much a case of, yeah, it’s the stuff that doesn’t fall into my work as a director that I work best on as a dramaturg. In that case it is less about what my instincts are telling me, and more about what I can bring to the connections in the work.

So I’ve mentioned a couple of times these connections. It can sound confusing, but it comes back to, a speech I read, which Marianne Van Kerkhoven, the Belgian dramaturg said. It was written in an obituary to her. I would really like to read it, if that’s okay, because I think it is a really interesting idea.

‘It seems to me that there is such a thing as a major and a minor dramaturgy, and although my preference is mainly for the minor, which means those things that can be grasped on a human scale, I would here like to talk about the major dramaturgy. Because it is necessary. Because I think that today it is awfully necessary. We could define the minor dramaturgy as that zone, that structural circle, which lies in and around a production. But a production comes alive through its interaction, through its audience, and through what is going on outside its own orbit. And around the production lies the theatre and around the theatre lies the city and around the city, as far as we can see, lies the whole world and even the sky and all its stars. The walls that link all these circles together are made of skin, they have pores, they breathe.’ –

Marianne Van Kerkhoven, State of the Union, Theatre Festival, 1994

Wow…fuck!

So to back-peddle a little bit. The origin of this idea of me wanting to be a dramaturg came from the kind of stuff I was doing when I was a student working in student theatres. There was a particular kind of feeling to the student theatre where we were, the Donald Roy Theatre, in Hull.

donald-roy-theatre

“literally the centre”. Donald Roy Building. Photo Credit: University of Hull.

The theatre is literally the centre of the building, everything happens around it. You work with people in all different years, people below you, alongside you, above you. You worked in all different capacities. In all different roles. So it felt like you were in some small way in your own ensemble theatre.

It was a time too when I was reading a lot about the Berliner Ensemble and the type of practice and work that was going on there. Very regularly you would have had more experienced actors taking time out to work with less experienced actors. Circus skills too. I would see circus skills being taught, how to unicycle, or teaching instruments. Or someone who had written the big stage play last year would be acting in the play this year. There was a real interest for me in wanting to have a part in that, not just about moving between those different roles, but in thinking to myself when projecting into the future about what kind of person I wanted to be, where I wanted to sit in relation to theatre, that you could examine those different strands that connected those, examine what is interesting piece in all its different qualities – what I would call the dramaturgy of the piece, it’s connections, was hugely intriguing.

The idea that there was a buzz around the building about whatever piece was going on, and if they had a programmed it right, a buzz about what was going on outside the building as well.

The more and more I read about the practices about the people at the Berliner, about people who we might officially call dramaturgs, but a lot of the time were called assistants. It was their role to gather all sorts of research, engage in very intense conversations, sometimes very theoretical ones. There’s a fascinating dialogue on this in the plans to adapt the stage for a production of Coriolanus, there was a conversation between three or four dramaturgs and Bertolt Brecht. They worked their way over the script, talking in very close detail, and very persuasive terms about the play and what it meant to them and what it means to stage it. All of that material would later form the basis of the practical work they did.

One of the interviews is a fascinating read. It is called Study of the first scene of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. It’s fascinating to me for a couple of reasons. Firstly because their thoughts on Coriolanus were a product of a dialogue, a conversation about the various aspects of the work – and Brecht always seems to be ready with a cheeky quip! He seems to be more questions than answers, posing them to the others about it.

They used to create a plan of the play, which we have here, where they would break down the play into moments. A similar practice to what we have here when we break work down into beats. I think with Coriolanus, when they were working on the production, they were getting lost in one of the fight scenes because as can happen in creative choices, one decision leads to another to another and you end up attempting to fix one which causes you to fix one and so on. Which means you lose sight of what this moment was meant to do dramatically. You end up trying to save that cool moment that came out of rehearsals instead. I believe whoever was directing at that point said

“What do we have in the plan for the play for this one?”

“It says the soldiers fight, the soldiers are tired”

“Anything that isn’t that is put to the side”

That idea of the minor and major dramaturgy is very useful. Useful to the research I’ve been doing, and for picking up from what you were saying about your experiences at Hull as well. The dramaturg isn’t about a defined role. I’ve been talking with people about doing dramaturgical work in different roles, where they are looking for connections or trying to facilitate those connections. There’s a facilitative element to it.

There’s something very responsive about it. You do a lot of looking, you do a lot of listening.

Perhaps it is useful at this point for me to bring in a metaphor about dramaturgy, and about performance, that has always been very helpful. The idea that performance is an assemblage, something constituted of numerous pieces all plugged into each other.

For me, if we wanted to talk about the dramaturgy of a work, because there is a usage that we’re talking about in what some people might call the quality of the work, or the characteristics of the work, if we talked about the dramaturgy of David Harrower we would be talking about certain qualities.

The reason assemblage is so useful for me is because it is about the focus on those connections. It is the focus on the connections between a play’s original historical context and its presentation in contemporary Scotland, or it’s the connections between made a particular performance style and the particular writing style of the text. I think that’s where the minor and major dramaturgy thing makes sense for me. We can see how the minor dramaturgy works on the stage, we can see how the design works in one way, the programming connects to the audience, but then we can see how that connects in a much larger way too. It really is about studying those connections. A lot of the time you find yourself just observing connections, trying to see where that’s working and where that really isn’t. But also trying to lean back and look at whole seasons, and look at what another venue is doing, what the whole of arts is doing in that moment.

A simultaneous looking in and drawing back. It also, I think, relies on the idea that whatever is being assembled is never a fixed shape. It’s this constantly shifting entity, constituted by those connections. The work is a product of those connections, rather than the other way around.

It’s a bit like. I’ve been banging on about an idea for ages called ‘The Theatre Machine’, because I think theatre is in some sense functions like a machine, like an assemblage, a system. In that case it would be like trying to look at a machine or function by looking only at some of its components. If you put several wires on the table, what’s that? It tells you something about it, it doesn’t tell you the system in use, the system in motion.

A software/hardware thing. You’ll know nothing about excel from looking at the outside of a computer.

Absolutely. And I think one of the reasons – I’m doing a lot of meandering! – one of the reasons the Berliner was so fascinating to me is that its success was partly down to the accounts of the quality of the work being presented, but also partly because of the fact that it was so connected with what was happening around it. It was connected with a culture, it had a very high attendance, it was a theatre with a clear manifesto. And discussions like the one about Coriolanus, and the material that the dramaturgs fed into, was the work that led to manifestos, that crystallised Brecht’s thinking, that led to the Messingkauf Dialogues, which I think are just remarkable.

It was a theatre that had strong ideas. Dramaturgs would go out and talk to people, engaging with factory workers, with unions. They were incredibly well plugged-in, always thinking about the community in which they found themselves, which was a time of great change, great concern. A time when theatre was considered the public space for these things to be said. It was the place for public discourse. It was culturally acceptable to have large gatherings.

And I think that idea of theatre being public space, public voice, is very important – but very difficult in the world we currently live in

in the UK?

Yeah. I think our understanding of what that might mean to have a public space is very difficult, very contested.

I’m wondering about that idea of the dramaturg as someone who is very plugged in, and then about what the typical conceptions of a dramaturg might be in a UK context.

I would think that the dramaturg is often perceived as someone quite far removed from what’s going on in the world. A dramaturg is quite academic, quite textual, very intelligent in an out-of-reach kind of way. That isn’t the case I don’t think. Yet that does seem to be the perception. I wonder how that can be combatted.

Within the UK this perception seems to feed into the tensions that erect a strict divide between theory and practice. Whereas the dramaturgs in the Berliner Ensemble strayed between the two, because those connections always exist across theory and practice, as well as within theory and within practice. In the UK, working as a dramaturg can be quite difficult, precisely because of that divide between theory and practice. A dramaturg is not expected to be plugged in, not in a ‘practical’ way, only in a ‘theory’ way. 

Yes. Absolutely. That seems to be a perennial fear of what might become of a dramaturg, particularly when they work with a subsidised institution. There’s a fear that these institutions, because of that tendency, can become more insular.

There’s a fascinating letter by Dragan Klaic, called An Easter Letter to an Old Dramaturg Friend (1), in which he tackles that very issue. He worked as a dramaturg. He writes to someone who may or may not be a specific person, but I imagine he has a few in mind. He describes how they’re facing Easter, and how their work is seen as pulling books off a shelf like you are pulling rabbits out of a hat, in various combinations.

“Which Shakespeare this year? Which play do you need to stop this young actor going off to television?”

And he talks about this beautiful ideal. The idea of how to engage your theatre with the local place you are in, how to plug it in.

“Take an evening, buy some bottles of wine – it doesn’t matter if they are French or Italian as long as it is good wine, invite people over that are plugged in, community leaders, sociologist, architects, musicians, whoever you think is interested, and talk to each other about what is going on in the world and the tangible effect that is having on the community around you and the way that is affecting it. Take all of those things and form that into an idea of what your theatre is facing, what your community is facing, and then take that to everywhere you think will be interested – the local schools, the universities, wherever. You see if they are interested, if they have suggestions, you give people a real stake in what your theatre is doing, and you work around that. You research, you see what will speak to that.”

He describes this loop where you get people coming because they are interested in the issues, not in the form. So you don’t have this divide between theatre-people and non-theatre-people. It is not about playing to theatrical cannon but about playing to your audience, and visualising it is as a public space. Then it becomes something that feeds on itself, that continues itself. It becomes a place where people feel they are not only welcome, but a crucial part of.

It’s a beautiful idea, certainly. It’s something I think should be aspired to.

I wonder about the value of entertainment. Placing the idea of being entertained, of the night out, and how that fits into the context of a social theatre you’ve described.

It is a difficult one, because the UK attitude to theatre is quite specific. There’s a tendency to run into niches in the sense that people either think of themselves as people who go to the theatre or people who don’t, and there’s a divide between entertainment theatre and arty theatre, and the people who go to one don’t go to the other.

I think that makes that process rather difficult to do.

There’s a very interesting thing about the perception of theatre. There’s an article today on The Guardian’s theatre blog from Lyn Gardner about how maybe people are put off from going to the theatre by the jargon in promotional materials and that kind of thing. Which is an interesting idea, there’s maybe an element of international art English in some quarters.

But I’d also say there’s an argument to be made that sometimes the promotional material is a good litmus test of whether you’re going to get something out of a production. So people can be surprised when they read a programme for conceptual art and go ‘that sounds very art like’. I think that’s probably a good thing, a good idea of what the experience will be like when you get there. You shouldn’t be trying to play to everyone when not everyone is going to enjoy the work.

The reason I was talking about perception is that I noticed that the Royal Opera House were doing a discussion on why don’t people go the theatre, it was called something like ‘Is Theatre Elitist?’

I think that’s interesting but one of the things they never agreed on was a definition, or a series of definitions, for what elitist might mean. So whether it was or wasn’t elitist swung depending on who was talking at each time. One of the ballet directors was like “of course it is elitist, it is about training the best”. Then obviously it would go to the outreach person who would say “no it’s not elitist, it is about everyone coming in”.

One of the questions that came from the audience was “is it just a question of price?” They asked them how much they thought a ticket would cost, on average. They pitched for about £50-60 a ticket. The average was really about £20. That’s a central London venue, where you will probably pay more for your return journey than your ticket.

I think that’s fascinating. The average ticket price in Glasgow is usually less than £20, maybe £15 which…

…when it is £11.00 to go the cinema these days

…it’s the same price as a decent night at the pub.

Heroes Theatre, are producing Simon Stephens’ Sea Wall at the moment, touring around pubs, and it’s pay-what you can. So there are other models.

It is about perceived cost and perceived value. There are plenty which offer very low price tickets or alternative ways of doing fees. There is still a perception about perceived value, will it be worth the time they put in.

I really wanted to ask you about your experience of being an Assistant Director on Grain in the Blood, and sort of propose the idea that although there aren’t many dramaturgs employed in Scotland, the assistant director model – and there seems to be an increasing number of bursaries for these positions – is a way of training people in dramaturgical thinking as much as it is in directing?

Absolutely. I think so. I think the only difference I would see is that one of things often behind assistant director roles there is an assumption that it is a stepping-stone job towards directing. I think that really is the only meaningful difference it has.

I worked as an assistant director on Grain in the Blood, which was a great experience I have to say, fantastic. It was particularly interesting for me to get to work on a show by the Traverse, because they have a very big reputation as a theatre working with ‘New Writing’ and particularly with new writers. It was a particularly interesting experience for me because of the fact that their preference is generally to have a writer in the room for as much as possible. They see their role as presenting the best iteration of the writer’s vision, as a world premiere. The plays go on to have productions all over the world, and they then become more or less similar to what was originally done, some of them may take very interesting direction with the text. Some of them may be more faithful with the text. Yet the idea at the Traverse is to present a very clear, very strong, very confident version of what the writer wants. They are very keen on that, that no writer comes out unhappy with how their text has been treated in production.

That said, with Grain in the Blood, Rob Drummond was in demand. He was only able to be in the first three days of rehearsal. So quite a decent amount of my job then became about being the link between Rob and the production. On a day to day basis, I was keeping him updated with what was going on in the room, how we were feeling towards particular sections of the text, what lines we were unsure about, areas where we thought something new might be needed. We had some cuts, we had some changes.

That was the result of some long-standing conversations between me and Rob. The intentions of the piece, the process by which the script came to be where it was, but also to constructively discuss the different creative options.

That communication obviously goes the other way as well. When I come back into the rehearsal room, I’m bringing the responsibility for representing Rob, and his vision for the piece. So in that sense, I felt like I had a really engaged perspective on the piece, and on the process, because I was making sure that as I was observing, that I was not only doing so as a trainee director, but also bearing in mind what information was going to be useful to Rob, or what information we might want from him. Sometimes getting the right one-line explanation from him would blow a scene wide open.

That was a big part of it.

The other thing I would stress about assistant directing that means it is very similar to dramaturgy is that they are both very responsive roles. Which is one of the reason they can frustrate the need to provide strict definitions. As an assistant there are things that you may do, or that you are likely to do, but there are lots of things you may or may not do. Your job is to be there to serve, to facilitate. As you were saying earlier, the dramaturg is about being there to facilitate.

Really, one of the biggest skills is about knowing when you are needed and when you are needed to do what. Knowing when it is going to be most useful for you to pitch in with suggestions. As an assistant director you may get the opportunity to pitch in with directorial suggestions, you may get the chance to help put the piece together. That opportunity is very rewarding, but you are also very aware (if you are doing it well) that you are not the director, and suggestions come along and you pitch one, but it is not your piece. It is the director’s piece; it is the writer’s piece.

They are relying on your to keep an eye on things they might not.

A sort of documenting presence? I was chatting to Luke Pell, he described one his main roles as being the person who notices things, and logs them. So that when someone says “Did we look at that thing?”, you can go “Yes, on this date.” That can be a really useful thing, because as you say, it isn’t your show. Your responsibility is to never let it become your show in that way, but to think of the process as your show. What you’re doing is thinking about that process.

Yes. You can also afford at various points to take your eye of the ball. In that there are things you know that other members of the team have to be looking for, and there are other things they don’t have to be looking for. So one of the things I found quite fun sometimes, was, because I’m aware that for Orla O’Loughlin as a director there are key components of the piece that she has to watch for – she has to see if the scene is working. But there are other things that might be going on in the periphery of the scene that I can look for. That has been really rewarding, keeping your eye on the rest of it.

Can you give me some of examples of that happening? I suppose, what were the minor-minor dramaturgies you were noticing?

So we had a kind of front stage section and a back stage section in the work. So we would have scenes happening in the back where scenes in the front would be kind of frozen in the front. There was a time where all the action was happening at the back, that’s where the attention was being drawn, and I was able to watch what was happening in the front. Now if I was the director that would be irresponsible, because the actors would want to know if they’re doing it right, they need the director to be keeping their eye on them. Whereas I am able to watch what is happening with the other actors of it, watch how the others are reacting to what is going on, or I’m able to sit back and get a more general picture.

grain-in-the-blood

“the person who notices”. Grain in the Blood. Photo Credit: Mihaela Bodlovic

 

Yeah, I think there is something to be said for being the person who notices. You try your best to not let yourself to get drawn in as you do as a director, where you become very attached to the material, embedded in it. There’s something about sitting back, trying to observe with a little bit of detachment, noticing what’s happening.

I suppose it is work that’s not strictly necessary, but is in some way liberated by not being the necessary work? I’m not sure if dramaturgs are not necessary for a production for example, but that is a liberating thing for the dramaturg to work within. They aren’t doing the necessary stuff. I don’t know if that makes sense. I wonder if the purpose of the dramaturg comes from its lack of purpose or necessity. I guess, plays without actors tend not to be very good, plays without directors not to be very good, plays that aren’t written are unwritten, and without light you can’t see it. There’s additional things though, that can really make a production. Qualities that might not even be noticed by every audience member.

It’s definitely a fraught area because I can completely understand the reasons why people do stress the practical necessity of dramaturgs, because there’s a very practical reason for that – because as someone trying to work as a dramaturg there’s a very huge pressure to have to justify your place in the room, justify your existence as part of the process. It is absolutely true that within the process you are a responsive role, as opposed to some of the others. The others are responding, but it is set down that the set designer is there to design the set, whereas your task might be a lot less tangible. It is very true that because of that the dramaturg is the first thing to go in a lot of cases.

I do have a faith though that every question I’ve asked of a piece, event suggestion, whether it has led to anything changing or not, I still feel that the piece is richer for having taken these things. I’ve seen many pieces that are not able to stand up to those things, not able to stand up to many questions, observations, constructive criticism. I think it is a shame when I see those pieces, when you think to yourself about what this work could have been.

And that question or observation could be something very small, one thing. If that had just been looked at then the whole house wouldn’t have fallen down.

Yeah. I think one of the reasons I do assistant directing work is because also I do…one of the things that was hard to learn – and is something I’m still in the process of taking on – about trying to be a dramaturg, is that part of that justifying your position in the room for a lot of people comes through being able to demonstrate your experience as an assistant director or by demonstrating the kind of work you can make. People put a lot of trust in those skills, they take on what someone with those skills will say, I think.

So, maybe the best way I can illustrate this. Is that there is a lot of practice of people doing dramaturgical work who aren’t necessarily employed as dramaturgs, and I think the best example I can use, is the Sheffield-based company Third Angel.

I had the opportunity in the summer of 2013 to do a placement with them. At the time I was very interested in the role of the dramaturg, and I came across them talking about this role on a research blog about dramaturgy, it was Michael Pinchbeck’s one, Outside Eye. They were talking about it as a role that they had a long time before a name was attached to it, and that the more formal use of dramaturg is something that they came across the more they work in Germany.

So I worked on a placement on a show called Cape Wrath, that was a show in the back of a seventeen seater minibus, that was about a journey from the midlands to the cape. It was a storytelling piece and I was very taken with it.

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Cape Wrath. Photo Credit: Elliot Robets/Third Angel

Third Angel is run by co-artistic directors, Alexander Kelly and Rachael Walton. They described their practice to me as often being a case as one of them being the leader or instigator of a project, and the other one will be the one who comes in to facilitate it for them. Rachael more often comes in to director Alex’s pieces, she brings the role of the director to it. Whilst he will quite often come to her pieces as a designer in that sense. They both make work individually and they both make work together, but the work they make when they help facilitate each other is the kind of work they wouldn’t have made outside of the company.

It’s shared between them in some way?

Yeah. In some quite literal ways. Rachael was working on Cape Wrath, directed it, and it was a story that was really close to Alex. The story that his grandad used to make, and the journey Alex re-took in the years following his grandad’s death. So it’s a meshing of these two journeys. When we started, we had a very practical brief because it was showing at the Edinburgh Fringe, so we knew we had to get that running time right down. So there was a process where it was the three of us sitting in the back of the minibus, and Alex would tell us a bit, and we would be very honest in feeding back, asking what is the function of this bit, seeing which bits were important. It was a case of having people there who weren’t close to the material.

No matter how difficult that might be, because you couldn’t get that perspective without having you there. To him, because it is so personal, everything might seem important.

Yeah, I mean he was there! He knew this material, it has a lot of layers to him, whilst it was much easier for us to come in and be that support for him, to be those facilitators.

It would also I imagine, having worked this way myself, be a lot more pleasant to have someone else come in and cut your idea down a bit, rather than you having to labour through it yourself. It is much easier to have someone else tell you which bits aren’t important.

Sometimes you need someone with a big axe to chop things to pieces.

paulbunyan-m

ideal dramaturg

I think so. It’s like the relationship you’d have between an editor and a writer, or an editor and a filmmaker. A lot of the things I think about as a dramaturg I then find a lot of comparisons in editing theory, in particular film editing. You talk about two areas, you’ve got structural editing, which is about looking at the broad area and its components, then the momentary editing, which in film is the cuts that are used, the shot choices, but in a similar turn, it is the moment to moment handling of information and handling of stimuli, which is something that’s very close to the dramaturg.

One of the definitions of what the practical side of dramaturgy was that I would stand by, as opposed to dramaturgy as being the architecture of a performance, would be that the practice of dramaturgy is about the application of reading performance to the process of making performance. It was simply about feeding those process back on themselves

That’s a very good answer to that question. I always say listening. But I always think I’m just saying that to ingratiate myself to someone so that I might get a job.

Being able to offer criticism is another reason why trust is so important to working as an assistant director or dramaturg because it is a difficult thing to invite someone in to the rehearsal room, who might not respond well to what you are doing. You have to place trust in the person to know how to respond to the work, to ensure that it keeps being a good environment for making work in

That it feels fun, that it feels worth doing – you don’t want to go in and detonate it

Because it’s no secret that no one is doing theatre for the money. It is the enjoyment. They are doing it because it is what they want to do. So you want to keep it that way when you are making the work.

Most people I can think of who work in the UK, and who have worked as dramaturgs, have first worked with or known the people they then worked with for a long period of time. The role seems to grow organically out of a relationship, maybe one person gets funding, and then hey presto the other gets to be a dramaturg for the next week.

An interesting example for me is Pamela Carter, the theatre-maker, who is also a very accomplished writer and director, has done a fair amount of work as a dramaturg. Talking to some of her collaborators, and the interesting thing for me, is that one of the things that really got her the trust of her collaborators was that they knew she had been in their position, and they knew of her through her work or knew her.

That was really useful for them, not only for affirming the fact that it would be good to have Pamela’s eyes on this, but also about knowing she knows how it goes. She’s not going to misread the room.

Reading the room is a really important part of it. There are times when the most innocuous suggestion is really not needed.

I think that’s what I mean when I talk about dramaturgy as being a practice of listening. Not so much knowing what you’re going to say, but knowing when you’re going to say it. Knowing when is valuable. Dramaturgy is a lot about care in that way. Which doesn’t mean you have to be nice all the time. You can care for someone by being a bit of a dick, sometimes it’s necessary! The care comes from understanding that position. A knowledge, or empathy.

I was chatting to the Traverse about script reading, and I think all the script readers they employ have all directed new writing. They don’t employ people from a solely literary background – which is good news for the writers. It makes a lot of sense, especially at the Traverse. If you’ve got an eye to how something should be staged, you can be a good eye to its dramaturgy.

I think also, another one of the reasons they have the policy the way it is, is that there is a very practical dimension to the Traverse’s script reading programme, which is that they are reading work with an eye that any script they read might be staged, by them or by somebody else. They trust that directors are able to look at it with an eye to whether something can be staged. There is an anxiety some have around certain organisations, because there is sometimes writing that can be developed that is very very fine writing, but it’s not necessarily theatrical writing, or that being a piece of theatre isn’t the best thing it could be. It isn’t inherently written as a piece of theatre.

What somewhere like the Traverse is particularly looking for is work that is best at being theatre, and that it has particularly qualities – such as that it might not always make the best reading. It is a piece made to be performed. A director’s eye can go ‘this will work on the stage’.

It’s one of the things I particularly admire about playwriting, and why I find it quite fascinating, is that it is a very hard balance to get, a razor’s edge to make something that is a really good bit of writing for the stage. It has to be incomplete in some sense, because of the fact that it is one component that is going to be plugged in. It has to be robust enough to stand up to the fact that performers will dig into it. They need something they can grab onto. It needs to be a piece that can stand up to empathetic question.

When an actor takes on a role, they are literally taking on the role of a character, so you have to have a piece that is robust enough for that to happen without it falling to pieces. It also has to have enough mystery, enough said, enough unsaid.

There has to be space to get into it. And it is half-finished, not even that

a blueprint

even then a blueprint of something that you don’t know what it is going to look like, a bad blueprint

You almost feel that if it comes out exactly as planned in the blueprint, did I miss something out, something intriguing along the way? Sometimes that’s the way it is.

I’m very interested in the idea of open texts. I feel I’m trying to write them but I don’t know if it works.

Why don’t you feel it works? Is it because you don’t think you’re writing them as open, or is it that you step back and see it as not that way?

Firstly I wonder if the openness is welcome. As you were saying, actors need something to latch onto, that empathetic thing. For example with the piece I’m working on now, Scribble, I’m not sure if that does have it. I’m also conscious of making work and going “oh it is open, this is for the director”, and in doing so actually narrowing the director’s options. You are forcing them down a path.

It is difficult to get the balance.

There’s maybe a desire in writing an open text that can give way to the fact that you think the text is already finished. Because you are okay with being so open, when actually it ends up being quite closed, the writer going ‘I’ve done my bit, you do yours’

…that’s just a monologue about my insecurities.

It’s fascinating.

Thank you for talking to me about dramaturgy!

 


1) Dragan Klaic, Performance Research: On Dramaturgy, Vol. 14 Iss. 3, 2009, 67-69

if you like that dramaturgy you’ll love some more dramaturgy to go with it

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