Life is Dramaturgy
I’m sure that for 90% of you, 90% of the time, reading about my art school BFA hyjinx has little to no benefit. But sometimes, you get some inside baseball that you just can’t get anywhere else. The advantage of going to a very theatre-focused school with practicing professors is that you frequently see the inner workings of the American theatre community. And I’ve recently been made aware of a secret that I have a certain obligation to expose. There’s a conspiracy going on at the highest levels of professional theatre, and you, as potential ticket buyers, have a right to know.
Entering college, I considered myself relatively knowledgable about the art of live performance. I’ve learned a ton since then, but I couldn’t imagine anyone having a better foundation coming out of high school. But once I started working on plays and talking to theatre professors, I was embarrassed because everyone was using a word that I didn’t know: dramaturgy.
Dramaturgy is the name for some mysterious activity, and people who practice said activity are called dramaturges. However, I’ve found that anytime you ask someone what a dramaturge does, they deflect the question. It’s almost as if there is an entire discipline within the world of theatre, but nobody has a clue what it is.
As I investigated further, I found that dramaturgy is used as an interchangeable word that can mean literally anything. You can add the phrase “from a dramaturgical standpoint…” to the beginning of any sentence, and you will never be wrong. It’s actually a good way to make your bones, because people will respect you for knowing this cool word that they don’t know. I’ve also found that the job description of “dramaturge” is “anything that nobody else on staff is doing.” Someone who reads scripts? That’s a dramaturge. Giving advice to lighting designers? Dramaturge. Doing busywork in the theatre lobby? Dramaturge. I could go on. Not to say there aren’t some brilliant dramaturges, but no two of them do the same job.
There’s something of a chicken-or-egg dilemma at work here. Did somebody create a fake word because there were a bunch of random jobs that needed doing? Or was there a meaningless word that sounded very cool, so people made up a bunch of seemingly unrelated jobs? Either way, it’s remarkable that they’ve gotten away with this for so long. In some ways, I admire the deception. I spent the first two years of my collegiate career thinking that everyone who used this word was smarter than me. What I thought represented a level of criticism beyond my comprehension was in fact just a catch-all.
So as we head into this weekend, I wish you all the best of luck in your dramaturgy. Whether that means your job in sales, your score on the golf course, or success as a parent…it doesn’t matter. It’s all dramaturgy. Next time you’re at a loss for words, feel free to use this one. I promise you, it will work.