Private: Dramaturg

Dramaturgs investigate fictional narratives in depth to provide context that deepens a stage production.

Every story has layers that can be peeled back to reveal a deeper truth, be it historical context, psychological explorations, or character development work. A dramaturg is responsible for researching various aspects of a play's world and making discoveries that can inform how a piece is presented. If this sounds vague, it's because the scope of a dramaturg's work can vary immensely, from looking into a certain trial's legal proceedings to digging up centuries-old melodies to use for period-accurate songs. A dramaturg for a documentary theatre play about real events may find and reach out to figures who experienced those events and use their testimony to corroborate the text's accuracy; a dramaturg for an often-produced classical play might suggest offbeat settings to its director that emphasize certain themes.

At heart, dramaturgy is an investigative discipline, and it can be difficult to pinpoint a dramaturg's effect on a play. The work of an effective dramaturg should be interwoven into the piece as a whole, but often dramaturgs and literary managers will be expected to write about their findings. This writing typically appears in a document called the program that gets handed to each audience member, and explains key elements of the play to them. Dramaturgs or directors may also open a play with a statement on its artistic choices or setting, and in certain settings, may lead a discussion at the end of a show where audience members can pose questions. This process deepens the play both internally and for viewers. Following productions, dramaturgs may contribute their takes and discoveries to literary journals or theatre publications, which can greatly extend a show's public life.

Work in dramaturgy may include...

  • Researching a play's setting or content
  • Contributing written context to a play's program
  • Working closely with a director to establish truths
  • Leading cast conversations and audience talkbacks
  • Asking and answering questions

Dramaturgs tend to be employed by theatre companies, though individual productions may have their own dramaturgs who work closely with directors to establish a play's world. Those looking to gain experience may have luck volunteering as dramaturgs for community theatre or other local productions, which can be a low-risk, high reward way to both gain some experience in the discipline and demonstrate its importance to a new audience. Dramaturgy is a fairly recent field that is still developing; as more and more theatre makers begin to understand a dramaturg's value, more roles become available.

Training in dramaturgy often begins at the college level, where students of theatre or literature may have the chance to explore a variety of fields through the lens of a play. This training consists of research, literary analysis, rhetorical work, and the application of theory to dramatic texts. Dramaturgs in training are likely to participate in a play's selection and casting, and are typically present through the full rehearsal process and performance run. Their work doesn't stop there, however; a dramaturg's write up of a show after it closes serves as a testimony of the production and can be an important addition to a literary portfolio. Dramaturgy is more than a behind the scenes role, requiring not only clear, beautiful writing and independent research, but also a capacity for community outreach and public speaking.

If you're a devotee of stagecraft with investigative flair, dramaturgy might be the career you never knew to look for.

Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas affirms, supports, and broadens the roles of literary managers and dramaturgs, based on the belief that their roles are central to the process of theater-making.