Blog | What the Heck is a Dramaturg Anyway?

What the Heck is a Dramaturg Anyway?

By admin | February 4, 2016

Tara Travis may have been a Fringe star for years, but she’d never worked with a dramaturg until she won the 2014 Fringe New Play Prize for The Unfortunate Ruth from Playwrights Theatre Centre (PTC). A dramaturg assists with the research of a play, as well as story development and editing, among other tasks. Tara developed The Unfortunate Ruth, which is being remounted February 5 to 7, with the help of PTC’s dramaturg Kathleen Flaherty. In this previously unpublished interview, Tara shared what the experience was like in comparison to her usual methods of writing shows.

IMG 1558

“You Must Be This Tall To Write This Play”

Can you talk about how you develop work by performing it for audiences?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the audience teaches you so much, especially in comedy. By having the luxury of developing a show over the course of a tour, I can master the minutia of immaculate comic timing. I can also learn if there are issues or flaws in my play—if concepts are unclear, or the arc is clunky and scene order needs restructuring, and so on. Over time I can slowly try new things, reshape and edit the show until I’m happy with it.

What are the biggest differences between that and how you develop work with a dramaturg before sharing it with audiences?
Developing work with a dramaturg beforehand (until this experience, something I had never done) gave me greater confidence going into my first performance with the piece. Usually, my first show is: “Well, let’s put this in front of humans and find out what the heck it is.” By working with an expert, I had a sense of how the work would be received going in, and took great comfort in that. I feel I started about 10 steps further along than I would usually…then continued to allow the audience to inform the next evolution of the piece.
Having a staged reading months before my final draft was due was invaluable. I knew immediately what needed to change where and why. Thank you, audience. You’re so much smarter than me.

As a performer, always saying “yes” (to scene partners, to directors, to writers) is a huge asset. Do you find it helps your writing process as well? Does it ever interfere with your rigor or judgment?

YES! Being stubborn helps no one. If someone you trust is making an offer, at least consider it. They wouldn’t suggest it if they didn’t have sound reasoning or thought it would do a disservice to your work.
At the same time, when I do say “no thank you” to an offer, it serves to remind me of why my original choice was so important to me, reaffirming my original intentions.

In what ways do you bring your performance chops and experience to playwriting?
I am a character-creation based playwright for the most part. I enter the process with a concept and a character or two, then I inhabit the hearts and minds of those characters, talk to myself like a crazy person, then write down the good stuff they have said. From there, I put on my writer hat and buckle down to make sense of it—I weave their words into a narrative, inject dramatic tension, manipulate their given circumstances and so forth. Any jokes or clever word play comes from the characters themselves. I just channel them from the deepest place in my imagination. I know I’ve got a solid character when they say things that surprise me. It’s a little weird, but that’s how I roll, and I’m okay with that.

Comments are closed.