'European Dramaturgy in the 21st century. A constant movement'
Part of the Invisible Diaries series
Week 2 / Day 3 Week 2 / Day 2
Today’s post is dedicated to dramaturgs and critical thinkers,
past present and future
– everywhere in the world.
Yesterday was a long day at the (home) office, concluding with an emergency meeting of the Dramaturgs’ Network Advisory Board late into the night. (Three of us are mothers, of which two have small children, so the meeting had to be scheduled after the kids’ bedtime.) These dramaturgs in the past months have lost most or all of their income, have seen their projects, research, grant applications, and plans for the year melt into thin air, and whose own careers have become uncertain, yet, despite this, they come together to think about their colleagues, and how to support their fellow artists, reaching out to various networks and organisations, in order to help secure and stabilise the future of the industry.
This alone demonstrates what faithful and dedicated team-players dramaturgs are! How much they care about nurturing the work and the theatre community they feel they belong to – even if they (or their labour) are so often overlooked or deemed invisible.
The picture for the whole theatre industry is uncertain at best.
Yet, the scene is already changing, theatre professionals are trying to adapt creatively to the new environment and adjusting their practices to the current reality. Theatre-makers everywhere in the world are trying to find an answer to the most pressing question: how do we now connect with an audience? How can we have a shared experience? How can we make work today? And what kind of theatre are we going to make after the lockdown?
For a volunteer organisation, we at the d’n are very much conditioned and used to working resourcefully on a very low budget. Being a small organisation, it is not too difficult for us to respond quickly to a new situation, adjust, and make new plans. It seems that since the pandemic, there is a yearning for solidarity and working our way together out of this crisis. So, although, our chances as a small ‘guild’ of dramaturgs for solid funding for our next year’s 20th anniversary celebrations have diminished, this may not be our organisation’s major problem.
Our major problem is that the work of dramaturgs and the future of the profession within the industry has received a major blow. I recall a phone call with a talented and dedicated colleague immediately after the lockdown, her admitting tearfully and not without reason: ‘I think this is the end of my professional career.’ My informed estimate is that there are 250 – 300 dramaturgs in the UK, who up till now have been working as self-employed professionals, playing an important part in creative processes – they are now badly affected.
Dramaturgs, like, say, lighting designers, are so-called secondary creatives. That is to say, our work is a relational practice in response to somebody’s creative activity. Whether it is curating for a theatre, reading plays for a festival, researching and developing new work, or working with directors or choreographers in a rehearsal room, dramaturgy is not a solitary activity that can survive in a lockdown or be practiced alone when theatres are dark. Yet, it would be a hasty statement to deem dramaturgs therefore a superfluous, unnecessary luxury, culturally irrelevant etc., and let this profession be completely forgotten, side-lined or made redundant in the theatre industry’s haste to manage itself out of this crisis.
Many dramaturgs are highly skilled and experienced professionals who are driven by their passion and loyalty towards the industry. They are the ones whom playwrights trust to show their first drafts to; directors and choreographers invite into their process in the rehearsal room so they can nurture the emerging work. They ask generating questions that galvanise the work. They help shape and facilitate the creative process. They support the work or dare to challenge the creative process in order to make the piece grow. They help weave together the various threads of the piece. They are the ones whose silent presence in the rehearsal room, witnessing ‘only’ the work, can lead the artists to see their creative process from a different perspective and help them recognise how to achieve what they wanted.
And they are also the professionals who give much thinking to the ‘macro dramaturgy’, the environment surrounding the actual work. Dramaturgs’ expertise can prove so useful when thinking about the larger picture, the new landscape, and new ways of working and being.
“All of a sudden, what we have been thinking for the last fifty years has to be rethought from scratch.” – noted Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi in his recent essay, ‘Beyond the Breakdown: Three Meditations on a Possible Aftermath’, prompted by the pandemic. Let me suggest a natural collaborator for this collective thinking: dramaturgs.
Dramaturgs, since this is their modus vivendi, are good partners for creative dialogues about the unknown. Their approach of asking questions can help us discover possible ways forward or recognise the consequences of our decisions. Their experience, their wisdom to look in a critical way could prove essential in these crucial days when a “new culture of tenderness, solidarity, and frugality” needs to be created, as Berardi suggests.
The title of today’s entry is borrowed from the ‘founding mother’ of new dramaturgy, Marianne Van Kerkhoven. In her essay (I recall in the title) she wrote: “Dramaturgy is for me learning to handle complexity. It is feeding the ongoing conversation on the work, it is taking care of the reflexive potential as well as of the poetic force of the creation. Dramaturgy is building bridges, it is being responsible for the whole, dramaturgy is above all a constant movement.”
It would be crucial to carry this knowledge over to the other side.
 As a playful gesture coming from my desire to reconnect with the discourse offered by these eminent thinkers, I decided to choose for each title of my journal entries the title of an essay on dramaturgy I found inspiring. I hope their authors won’t mind me recalling their work this way. Today’s title is borrowed from Marianne Van Kerkhoven’s essay.
Image courtesy of Katalin Trencsényi.
Katalin Trencsényi is a dramaturg and researcher of Hungarian origin, living and working in London. Before Covid (BC), her areas of interest were contemporary theatre and performance, dance dramaturgy, collaborative processes, and multi-modal play development. Now she is more interested in thinking about epidemic and theatre. As an independent dramaturg, Katalin has worked with the National Theatre, the Royal Court Theatre, Corali Dance Company, Company of Angels, amongst others. Katalin has taught dramaturgy internationally: including Australia, Belgium, Canada, Russia, and the US, and from 2015 to 2019 worked as a tutor at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). Katalin is the author of Dramaturgy in the Making. A User’s Guide for Theatre Practitioners (2015), editor of Bandoneon: Working with Pina Bausch (2016), co-editor of New Dramaturgy: International Perspectives on Theory and Practice (2014), and editor of the dramaturgy section of the global theatre portal, TheTheatreTimes.com.
Until the pandemic outbreak, Katalin was working as part of the Scientific Team (with Guy Cools, Maja Hriešik, and Anne-Marije van den Bersselaar), coordinating a two-year research and training project supported by a Creative Europe grant: Micro and Macro Dramaturgies in Dance. Now, the project’s future – just as the future of many projects in Europe and beyond – is uncertain.