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Celebrating Dramaturgy in the UK: The 2019 Kenneth Tynan Award

Founded in 2001, the Dramaturgs’ Network is the only organization in the United Kingdom solely dedicated to supporting dramaturgs and promoting the practice and theory of dramaturgy. Among their chief activities is the administration of the Kenneth Tynan Award, which was established in 2011 to mark the Network’s tenth anniversary. The biannual award exists to recognize and honor dramaturgs who have made an outstanding contribution to dramaturgy in the UK.

Such contributions may include discovering new talent or noteworthy writing, supporting a director or a company on a production, matching the right play with the right translator, curating a notable festival, or, more broadly, helping raise the standard of theatre and/or dance in the UK. The previous winners of the award include Hanna Slättne, Ruth Little, and Lloyd Trott. The candidates for the award are nominated by the public, with the winner chosen by the Kenneth Tynan Award Panel.

Kenneth Tynan (1927 – 1980), after whom the award has been named, is widely accepted as the first dramaturg in the UK. Tynan was a leading theatre critic of his time, but left The Observer to work as Literary Manager at Laurence Olivier’s newly established National Theatre, where he held this post from 1963 to 1974. With his exemplary pen and formidable knowledge of world theatre, Tynan proved integral to the success of this first British theatre to be funded publically. He thus introduced the practice of dramaturgy to the UK and left an indelible mark on British theatrical culture. In evoking Tynan’s name, the award aspires to identify and showcase achievements in dramaturgy that build on his foundational legacy in the field.

Headed by Duška Radosavljević, the 2019 Award Panel included David Harris, Miranda Laurence, Richard Shannon, Sarah Sigal, and Katalin Trencsényi. This year’s award, which entailed a plaque and a check, was sponsored by Oberon Books and supported by the Soho Theatre, where the award ceremony took place on November 17 as part of a daylong program of events. The participants of the program included dramaturgs, theatre-makers, and researchers, who were there not only to find out and celebrate the award’s winner—later revealed to be Suzanne Bell of the Royal Exchange Theatre—but also to attend two panels on dramaturgy, featuring a diverse group of practitioners.

The first panel of the day, titled “International Dramaturgy,” considered models of dramaturgy in various cultural and geographical contexts, and attempted to situate them in relation to the work done in the UK. Chaired by Aneta Mancewicz (Lecturer in Drama & Theatre at Royal Holloway, University of London), the panel brought together three dramaturgs with distinctly international experiences: Fiona Graham (Goldsmiths College), Jonathan Meth (The Fence), and Caroline Snape (Theatre by the Lake). For over thirty years, Graham’s wide-ranging dramaturgical practice has nourished close ties with New Zealand. Meth is the curator and founder of The Fence, which is an international network for playwrights and cultural operators. And Snape is a UK-based freelance dramaturg with years of experience in the US.

Nesreen Hussein, Sue Mayo, Jonathan Meth, and Anthony Simpson-Pike discussing dramaturgy and activism.


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