Committed to change
Part of the Invisible Diaries series:
Week 11 / Day 6
I really miss seeing people in the flesh. Although I love the LMDA and have enjoyed the last two days of conferences, it is absolutely exhausting to sit through hours of Zoom conference talks, back to back, two days in a row. But here we go!
Session 1: A Real Time Writenow Workshop (sponsored by Page by Page)
Emma Goldman-Sherman demonstrated how she has adapted her approach to running playwriting workshops to a digital, socially-distanced world. We got to watch a workshop with playwright Jessica Carmona and some actors who performed a section of her play. We were then invited to discuss the piece together and offer feedback. Goldman-Sherman’s process is organic and relatively unstructured, relying on the professionalism of her participants.
Session 2: Hot Topics (sponsored by Nightswimming)
In this session, each speaker was given five minutes to discuss a topic relating to dramaturgy within a higher education context. Some thoughts that came up:
the importance of thinking outward in order to support writers and theatre: do we need so many Shakespeare productions, so many white canon plays, so many adaptations?
encouraging students to study abroad and learn languages strengthens the field by broadening our minds and experiences
four steps to every adaptation: initial circumstances, distanced traversed, conditions of acceptance or resistance, transformation
because of the systems in which we have to operate, dramaturgy is both a necessity and a luxury
it is important to emphasise subjectivity when teaching a practice-led dramaturgy course
Session 3: The Dramaturgs' Network and The Fence: Crossing Borders
As I mentioned in my previous post, I was working on since the 2019 LMDA conference to find new opportunities for collaboration between The Fence, the Dramaturgs’ Network and the LMDA. One of the outcomes of this is a panel we produced for this year’s conference, focusing on complexities of international dramaturgical collaboration. Across the US, the UK, Ireland, Switzerland and New Zealand, we covered topics such as verbatim theatre, translation, dance dramaturgy, how the dramaturg operates as an insider and an outsider, how artists can work across borders practically and intellectually, what you can do at a distance and what you can’t, and how to write about diaspora.
We were in four teams, each of which had worked on different projects across different countries. We had recorded our short conversations discussing the work, which could be accessed by conference participants in the ‘asynchronous content’ section of the conference website before the discussion, allowing our chair to ask us questions particular to our case studies.
It made me wonder if in the new world, where travel will be restricted, if we’ll be engaging in more international collaborations because we’ll be working digitally more often, or fewer ones because we’ll be less able to meet people abroad.
(Full disclosure: I missed session four in favour of a lunch break. But it was called ‘Tiny humans, big wonder: Dramaturging emotional support, linguistic boundaries, and theatre for the very young’, and I bet it was great.)
Session 5: Discussion groups
Similarly to my panel, session five was a discussion of a video in the asynchronous content on the LMDA website. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I was impressed by Amissa Miller’s video essay ‘The Seeing Place: Black Audiences and the Racial Spectacular’, so I decided to sit in on that discussion. Amissa began the discussion by asking the audience if we can think of plays that don’t centre on black trauma, which make us consider how many, in fact, do.
The discussion was lively, fascinating and felt like one of the most urgent sessions I’ve attended over the past two days. We talked about how we can be antiracist in our dramaturgical practices; programming plays that are truly for black audiences, holding talkback sessions that are both safe spaces and places for honest reckoning, making antiracist training mandatory for all dramaturgs, leaning how to de-escalate sensitive situations during and after performances, finding better solutions to casting and racial parity that don’t entail so-called ‘colour-blind’ casting, understanding the importance of discomfort and finally, the responsibility of the black artist.
Session 6: Dramaturgismo en el contexto delo hiper: hipertexto, hipercomunicación e hipercultura / Dramaturgy in the hypercontext: hypertext, hypercommunication and hyperculture
In a Spanish-language session, writer/dramaturg Rocio Galicia discussed the ways in which Mexican politics and geography impact playwriting and dramaturgy. Both pre-Covid and in the profusion of digital theatre, most plays produced represented the northern border of Mexico, and thus, only certain kinds of stories and certain regions. However, the use of new digital platforms has allowed Mexican theatre to give platforms to a new wave of writers across the country, representing Mexican playwriting in an antihierarchical way, telling new stories and opening windows to different parts of the country. This digital space has allowed spectators to connect to the work in a new way, almost to become co-creators, and has encouraged writers to make work that is more porous, participatory and intermedial.
Session 7: Re-building the New Play Exchange for Dramaturgs
The New Play Exchange is a US-based digital library of thousands of scripts that writers can upload themselves, that can be accessed by dramaturgs, organisations and universities. Its founder Gwydion Suilebhan is developing the NPX in order to incorporate the work of dramaturgs, so dramaturgs can find new avenues of making contacts and getting paid for their work. There was a long discussion about the best way to represent dramaturgs’ work that isn’t reductive. Uploading production packets? Interviews with artists? Articles or reviews? What would be legal to upload if you’ve made that work for another institution? What if you largely work in new writing or another field? How do you represent the more ephemeral work, such as discussions, script notes, etc?
The well-attended nature of this session speaks to current anxiety about the difficulty of making dramaturgs visible, getting them hired, getting them paid, connecting them to artists and theatres, especially now in a Covid-ravaged climate.
Since we’re in the process of planning a d’n Stammtisch on antiracist dramaturgy for 25 June, a d’n colleague of mine and I joined the after-conference ‘bar’ focusing on how dramaturgs can engage with antiracist action. Some thoughts that were shared:
make sure you’re the right fit for the project (step aside if not)
use your respective lack of vulnerability in the rehearsal room to ask the awkward questions
advocate for BIPOC artists but also artistic leaders
work with community engagement as much as you can so you’re reaching beyond your typical audience
remember this is an ongoing process and an ongoing conversation: keep talking
if you work within an institution, create a timeline of accountable actions and/or an antiracism task force
A final note of wisdom I took to heart: know that not all change needs to be immediate, not all knowledge needs to be acquired now, you just need to be committed to change.
And that change might mean completely uprooting the system.
Sarah Sigal is a freelance writer, dramaturg, director and researcher working in physical theatre, devised work, site-specific and interactive theatre and new writing. As well as working in performance spaces, she also creates, facilitates and curates work for unusual spaces and events and is interested in the possibilities for theatre-making. Originally from Chicago and based in London, she has a BA from Gettysburg College and an MA and PhD from Goldsmiths, University of London. She has taught at a number of British universities as a freelance lecturer and her book Writing in Collaborative Theatre-making was published in 2016 by Palgrave Macmillan. She was the Live Performance Programmer at JW3 from 2016-2019 and has just completed a LABA Fellowship at the 14th St Y (NYC). She is a member of the Dramaturgs’ Network Advisory Board. She is currently working on adapting her play Agent of Influence into a novel and writing the libretto for a new opera called The Agency with composer Matthew Olyver, which will premiere as a scratch at the Têt à Têt Festival in September. Website: sarahsigal.com Twitter: @SigalSarah
Portrait photography is courtesy of the author.
Nusfjord road photography is by Ximonic, Simo Räsänen, used under the Creative Commons Licence.