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The Art of Creating a Skeleton

Because I think this is what dramaturgs do. Maybe this is the difference between what we do and what directors do. Dramaturgs create a skeleton; a flexible, versatile, agile, strong and meaning bearing scaffold; a solid core, a kernel that can be trusted to survive the battering of a robust artistic process. Whether we work with a piece of new writing, in which case we support a writer in the search for the internal skeleton, or in a devising process, dance or any other type of performance work, whether we work with a given story or structure or one in which we discover what we create through the process, our focus is on the internal strength of our work.

The skeleton of any piece of performance work gives it its own coherence, and it provides a place to rest for everyone in the team and eventually our audiences. If the skeleton is not strong enough, if there are fractures, lack of density or bits of bone missing, it might not hold the weight of the work and it might break.

But the skeleton does not determine what the piece, The Beast, looks like, what kind of Beast it is and how it expresses itself. It does not determine how the body is put together and by whom. That is different in every process and is most likely the domain of the director.

The skeleton needs to be able to hold up the very heavy head with all its gray matter, protective layers and neuronic battles (if there is such a word).

It needs to be able to embrace a pulsating heart, link up the all-important muscles, contain the indulgent and quivering flesh and keep the pathways open for the chatter of the sensory system.

And it needs to be able to respond as these grow, change and sometimes fall away.

As Dramaturgs we nurture and shape the skeleton by keeping curious.

  • Keeping curious about the minutiae of how people in our team think, communicate and create and how this particular rehearsal room and process work.

  • Keeping curious about human beings, cultures, social structures, the restraints, the limitations, and the possibilities, so we can ask the right questions at the right time.

  • Keeping curious about our artform, where it has been and where it is striving, so that our Beast is in dialogue with its own.

  • Keeping curious about the immediate world outside our rehearsal room as well as the wider and wider and wider context. Always taking one step further back allowing the perspective to change and bringing in the bigger picture to the smallest intimate moments.

  • Keeping curious about what our peers are doing, what the scientists are doing, what the environmentalists, the philosophers and the neuroscientists are doing so that our Beast can speak many languages and communicate on many levels.

A real skeleton is formed by genetics, ancestry and evolution. The immediate state of the environment in which it is made and in which is grows. What it is being fed and what it picks up on the way: radiation, chemicals, viruses and other toxic influences.

All of these factors affects our skeleton as well and it evolves to adapt.

But more important than evolving through adaptation, our skeleton evolves through Exaptation. Exaptation means an accidental discovery, an accidental success that was not necessarily based on a linear evolutionary function. More of a by-product of a complex creative process. Like the bird’s feathers that might have evolved for insulation but accidentally proved excellent for flight!

The most exciting dramaturgical and creative process facilitate for exaptation. And as dramaturgs we aim to create an environment of serendipity- of accidental coincidence, an exciting space where new and unexpected things can happen.

We facilitate for, instigate, support and take note of innovation.

And in this serendipitous environment we focus on building and nurturing that skeleton so that the creative team around us; the writers, directors and choreographers, performers, designers and all sorts of makers can play, experiment and gently mould our fabulous Beast around our skeleton.

All of us, in that team know that if we get the proportions between the skeleton and the body mass wrong, if we have too much bulk, or the bodily adornments are attached in the wrong places, or we ignore a really important, but maybe slightly inconspicuous bone ... Lets say the humerus! Well, we all know what happens then. We have all been in the company of Beasts that fall over, fall apart or wobble their unwieldy way across our stages!

The fear of our Beast doing that is what drives us and we work intensely on behalf of our art form and our audiences - to steer the process in which the skeleton is formed to be open yet precise, to be playful yet rigorous, to meander but not get lost. To be innovative or maybe not! To serve the idea, the story and the people in the room. To have integrity, and a backbone.

So finally our Beast is formed around the skeleton, and it is a living, breathing and morphing thing of its own and it will take its skeleton on a long or a short journey… and us into the next process.

When we, and our audiences stare into the eyes of the Beast and we see ourselves and others in a new light and we feel that the stories and meanings hold together at a deep level, then we know, it will resonate; emotionally, intellectually and viscerally. And we know our Beast will stay in our audiences’ memories and inhabit the world longer.

And for me, this is why I do what I do. Especially now, when the world is steering away from complexity, dialogue and argument, and people are steering away from believing in their own capacity as well as in others, I feel it is so important that we remind ourselves of the endless possibilities of what we humans can do.

So when working with you to create your unique skeleton, I will not tell you what your Beast might be but I will try to open up the endless possibilities so it is strong, complex and inspiring and full of humanity and can touch deeply wherever it goes.

Release the Beasts! Nurture the world!


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