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Liminality and dramaturgical thinking

Photo: Bernadette Cochrane

Part of the Invisible Diaries series:

Week 7 / Day 7


Through these diaries, I have sought to signal some of the facets of dramaturgical thinking. Rather than describing what a dramaturg might do or outlining my personal dramaturgical processes, I have attempted to touch on the complexities of dramaturgical conceptions and provide a conception of dramaturgical complexities. Here, dramaturgy is conceived as a set of conceptual spaces that overlap and intersect. A three-dimensional Venn diagram of shifting parts, if one likes, or a series of interlocking frameworks. Another metaphor for dramaturgy that I often use is that of an armillary sphere.

Jeff Stvan, Armillary Sphere, Flickr.

While dramaturgy relates to discrete dramatic and theatrical phenomena, it also describes the infinitely expanding set of all things in which they exist and the process of the creation of theatre itself. Nonetheless, the whole, be that institutional self-performance, a production, a process, or something else entirely, is comprised of its constituents. Each of these constituents has its intricacies, its convolutions. The interconnectivity of dramaturgical thinking is by necessity, therefore, both cross-referential and accumulative. This complexity is why I have been laying some of the contours of dramaturgical thinking.

Glimpses of contours – temporal and spatial, linear and vertical, macro and micro – are all that can be provided with this genre, but that is no bad thing. Geoffrey Proehl talks of metaphor acting as a metonym for “basic ways of thinking a play’s dramaturgy, as well as concrete points of entry” (105). These glimpses can, therefore, be considered as metonyms for basic ways of thinking about dramaturgy more broadly, or as creating points of entry into the dramaturgical construct. I have looped backwards and forwards across the diaries to these points of entry to draw together disparate ideas, or to indicate parallelisms or synergies. This looping contains within itself notions of both temporality and how time structures dramaturgical thinking (and is itself structured).

Photo: A sculpture by Dale Chihuly

The Chihuly photographs are both conceit and metaphor. The photographs are fragments of a more extensive series of photographs which reflect, in turn, a larger body of an artist’s work. Each photograph does, however, contain specific dramaturgical metaphors: reflections, patterns, curves, lines, relief, and delineation. Ideas are nestled within and enfolded by other ideas. The black backgrounds of live-captured screenings mirror the black (or at least quite dark) backgrounds of some of the photographs. Dramaturgs can be the invisible people within the theatre-making process; dramaturgy is often an invisible process. This diary project pushes to the fore some of those dramaturgical processes and thinking that occupy the sometimes opaque background to performance-making. The photographs help to make the point that while dramaturgy may be liminal, it is definitely not marginal or incidental.

My colleagues have worked out that when working on these diaries my email is not live. They have taken to messaging instead. Bells, beeps and whistles signal my exit. My last Chihuly can be understood as a dramaturgical metaphor. Equally, it can be understood as a photograph that I like.



Blažević, Marin. “Dramaturgy’s Complexity.” Dramaturgies: New Theatres for the 21st Century. Eds. Peter Eckersall, Melanie Beddie, and Paul Monaghan. Melbourne: Carl Nilsson-Polias on behalf of The Dramaturgies Project, 2011. 51-2.

Proehl, Geoff with Mark Lamos and Michael Lupu. Towards a Dramaturgical Sensibility: Landscape and Journey, Associated University Presses, 2008.


Bernadette Cochrane is dramaturg and theatre academic at the University of Queensland. She focuses on institutional dramaturgies and cultural production. Bernadette writes extensively on the dramaturgies of the screening and streaming of live performances.

She is a board member of Migrant Dramaturgies Network, developed in partnership with New Tides Platform (UK) and the Centre for Theatre Research at the University of Lisbon, Portugal.


Headshot photograph by Chris Osbourne.

Other unattributed photography courtesy of the author.


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