Part of the Invisible Diaries series:
Week 10 / Day 4
Today started with a welcomed throwback, of course delivered via Zoom meeting. Last semester was the first time I tried my hand at playwriting. To be clear, I am a dramaturg that LOVES being a dramaturg. I don’t view it as a pathway towards another discipline. I am very much content and alarmingly passionate about this role that for some reason remains underpaid (hi capitalism) and elusive (hi sexism).
In my Drama and Theatre in Museum Settings class at The University of Texas at Austin, us graduate students and some undergrads were broken up into teams to create art- and drama-based facilitations for youth groups of varying identities and affiliations. My team of four – director, playwright, two dramaturgs (yes, a special bounty!) – was charged with theatremaking for the youth mentorship program GirlForward, through the lens of a specific painting in the Blanton Museum of Art, in Austin, TX. I find it laughable that, pre-Covid, the main theme for us to create around was wellness; that was GirlForward’s chosen programming topic of the year. My team queried, what does wellness look like as it relates to mind, body, and spirit? What do we need to take care of ourselves and each other?
Two months into the project, we shifted it to an online space as Covid-19 emerged and presented new questions regarding wellness and taking care. Now my play featured college students working on a group project via a Zoom sleepover. To be honest, I was super disappointed in this reorienting/rewriting. By now we’ve seen the countless op-eds on Zoom fatigue and the calls for theatre institutions to hold please. Our professor graciously presented us with the option to pass on real-time (synchronous) facilitations and instead focus on scripting and models of evaluating our proposed programs. All groups decided to carry on, curious as to what Zoom drama pedagogy could look like.
The play, Girl, Be Well!, transcended our process/virtual production as methods and strategies for centering wellness and care became vital to our new every day. I find it heartening that I had the space to deeply interrogate what I need to be well, and to imagine ways of fulfilling those needs. Of course, wellness is intimate and looks/feels different for all kinds of bodies. But how cool to introduce this conversation to a group of teens during one of the most challenging moments in recent history? Our meeting today was in preparation of another iteration of our art/drama facilitation for GirlForward’s summer camp (now also an online endeavor).
The questions I’m left with still center what wellness and care look like for me right now. It’s not a one and done thing. Our needs change. But how do we cope with changes, especially in a time of uncertainty with limited resources? Many of the ways I would usually re-ground are just not available (read: safe, responsible, possible) options. If I’m being hella honest, much of what I thought I wanted and needed radically changed in January. Despite being a mid-twenty-something, this past new year brought the space and ability for me to explore new sides of myself in every capacity. This means that how I cared for myself needed to change, too.
As dramaturgs, we mustn’t sidestep the weighty acknowledgement that self-reflection is just as crucial as reflecting on the external. In a dramaturgical sense, care translates to elements like gifting time, intentional question-asking, fierce advocacy, deep listening, offering hard truth, and more. What would it mean to apply these skills to how we move on the daily?
I don’t see these as soft skills, ones often overlooked or undervalued. Rather, they are vital – and, in their own senses, ridiculously hard.
This framing directly impacts how we hold space, how we can show up for others—and not just in the theatre. Much of the time, we are tasked with facilitating conversations that bring up the vulnerable, the heavy. And I sometimes wonder just how much we can actually hold if we haven’t done the self-work. Thankfully, there are some potential structures we can borrow and expand upon.
In curating and holding space that truly affirms the myriad experiences in the room, we can look to solidifying Collective Agreements. These are creative community guidelines that offer a way for artists to build a shared language around needs and expectations, and having such things in place makes space for regular check-ins and a system of addressing potential harm. Implementing these in all my rehearsal processes has been a blessing, especially when the nature of collaborating shifts in unexpected ways (hi Covid-19). As the Girl, Be Well! team, the smooth transition of process/production from the physical to the online relied heavily on how we agreed to communicate and our shared value of transparency with capacity.
This is a way for wellness and care to be implemented from the get-go, rather than when something “goes wrong.” This is a way of putting wellness and care into action, and it can happen on a personal level too. If we hope to care for others, we must begin by caring for ourselves. So, take a deep breath and remember to center the work you need to do for you, for your full self.
Artwork courtesy of Celia G. Shaheen.
Yasmin Zacaria Mikhaiel (she/they) is a Chicago/Austin-based dramaturg, journalist, and oral hxstorian. Their multi-disciplinary work as a queer, fat, brown, femme endeavours to amplify and archive stories that go lost/stolen/forgotten. Select bylines include essays and arts criticism with American Theatre, Chicago Reader, Windy City Times, Rescripted, The Austin Chronicle, and Sightlines. They are currently pursuing an MA in Performance as Public Practice at the University of Texas at Austin.
Learn more at www.yasminzacaria.com and follow them on Twitter/IG @yasminzacaria.
Portrait photography is courtesy of the author.