One of my favourite, and least favourite questions to answer, since I have started to practice it, has been what is dramaturgy? And - every dramaturg can confirm – it's a question that people ask a lot. How easy it has been to give a proper answer has, of course, heavily depended on the context in which it has been asked – when it comes to explaining dramaturgy to my mum's friends it becomes an absurdly complicated task where I have to find a way how to say I'm neither a performer nor a theatre director (which are usually the only two roles familiar to non theatre professionals.) On the other hand, when it comes to fellow theatre colleagues, it can be a challenge as everyone has their own idea of what a dramaturg should be and, in my experience, this definition has come to be a bit of everything and nothing.
Ironically, neither myself, nor dramaturgy has a precise explanation of what it is, mostly because it varies so much on the context and geographical coordinates we're talking about. No wonder the question has become so repetitive and a heavy burden on every dramaturg's back as they always have to carry on the task of preserving this discipline and its meaning in the theatre world.
(Un)fortunately, the only conclusion I have come to is that dramaturgy will never be fully defined (even though it would be easier sometimes to have a mathematically precise formula) because the nature of it is that it always has to accommodate and reshape itself depending on its mission. Why is that?
Partly, this comes from the fact that dramaturgy is a discipline that primarily relies on asking questions and challenging concepts. If one of the prime jobs of an area is to consistently ask questions, it's rather logical that it re-questions itself also. The other part of it, I would say, is that the structure of theatre making and theatre made has been changing throughout the centuries and is still very variable, as ways of production are completely different from show to show – keeping that in mind, as dramaturgy expertise is do with structure, and how we shape or how can we (re)shape things, it's again consequently forced to change its structure too.
I guess that, if a universe exists in which we have all the answers and everything is the best variation of itself, in that universe dramaturgy is actually a completely unnecessary profession. Although I sometimes wish (as most of us sometimes do) to have all the answers, I take pride in calling myself a dramaturg and I do enjoy the liberty and fluidity that position gives me in theatre making – however redundant it may be sometimes to explain what a dramaturg is (even to myself).
Taking part in a devised theatre process like WE WERE TOLD THERE WAS DANCING as a dramaturg was one of the most exciting and complex tasks I could've taken up. In my opinion, the advantages of devising are that everyone can bring something to the table and from all that is given, the very best can be chosen – this democracy in creating plus the trial and error system is something I find substantial for theatre making. Where it can fall down - if one does not rely on text or any other substance, is that the overall arc of the show can be lost in the process and the structure can crumble under the amount of material produced. In devising, a dramaturg can enjoy, like every member of the process, the joys of creating and idea contribution. Although that is inevitably one part of the task, I would say that the more important role of the dramaturg is to be the guardian of the arc and overall structure of the product.
As WE WERE TOLD THERE WAS DANCING is a show consisting of many parts which are completely different in their setting, expressive means and even narrative, it has sometimes been hard to contain and keep the show compact, especially because the parts have been created individually and with a different set of performers and design for each of them. Theatre producing is rarely a one-man job, especially in a devised show so the puzzling of pieces is no doubt a communal responsibility but I would say that the one who checks all the stitches and warns about needing more, is the dramaturg. As I have said, for dramaturgs, shaping and structure is always the main concern, so even when it’s pushed aside for the sake of material hoarding or finding aesthetic expression, the dramaturg needs to look for and work on a structure even when it seems there's none.
Finally, WE WERE TOLD THERE WAS DANCING is a site-specific journey on which an audience member is invited. In that sense, the invisible member of the team in every rehearsal is the audience - for their eye is always needed for the show to come full circle – especially as WE WERE TOLD THERE WAS DANCING is an interactive and immersive experience. A dramaturg is very often that missing outside eye who has been given permission to enter inside the theatre walls. So, when it comes to participatory shows, he/she becomes an advocate for the audience who'll come to experience the show with a fresh mind, always taking care that that experience makes sense to them as it makes sense to the ones who've been creating it. A Dramaturg is never a person to do one thing; They are usually the one with the responsibility for taking a step back and reflecting, to see the whole and to establish connections - so a devising process is definitely one of the most fertile lands they can find themselves on.
Lucija Klarik, Dramaturg - WE WERE TOLD THERE WAS DANCING
Lucija is currently working at the Royal Exchange Theatre as part of the Erasmus programme. She is training to be a dramturg at the Academy of Dramatic Arts in Zagreb