First reflection: what is a dramaturg?

‘The I and non-I are wit(h)nessing one another, and by that they become partialised, vulnerable and fragilised. The artist doesn’t build a defence against this fragility but freely embraces it’ (Ettinger in ‘Co-Poeisis’, 2005: 704)

For the last two years, I have been working with Medie Megas, a choreographer and performer based in Athens, and have been dramaturg for her solo work Transforming Me: Ένα δίγλωσσο σόλο (a bilingual solo). During this time, I have learnt a lot about the kind of dramaturg I am and want to be, and it is time I began to write my reflections.

When we met, Medie and I spent a period of several months playing, researching and experimenting around the idea of transformation, getting to know each other as creative practitioners and sharing our thinking. We had both presented on transformation at Performance Studies International and subsequently presented a research workshop together with Christina Christofi a greek theatre director, at ArtEZ in Arnhem. Working with Medie as her dramaturg after this, we already had an established set of shared interests and definitions to work from – what we understood about the process of transformation in the body, in habitual behaviours, rituals and the relationship between personal and social. This, and the connection that emerged in the way we work together allowed a level of trust and understanding which facilitated a strong creative process.

transforming me 5

Self portrait by Medie Megas from the ‘Transforming Me’ creative process.

I entered the ‘Transforming Me‘ process early, exploring ideas through improvisation to discover more about what the piece could potentially be and do. Medie was very open with me during the creative process, sharing responsibility for setting improvisational tasks or asking me participate in dance improvisation to understand better her relationship with the ideas she was exploring and how her improvisational dance form ‘the transformation (μετασχηματισμός)’ functioned. This is not necessarily the usual process for a dramaturg in that I do not always expect to be dancing. However, because we had spent time together experimenting with the idea of transformation through movement and text in a more open-ended way before the project began, it felt right and it gave me the understanding I needed. Looking at the process now, all this made more explicit an aspect of the role of the dramaturg which is deeply important to me in the way I want to work. This is the dramaturg’s willingness to share risk and vulnerability – to participate in the transformative process of making together.

In the early stage of a process, I see my role as dramaturg as being to seek to understand and to question the artist as they discover, through focused experimentation, the axis of the work; what they want to express, or what kind of experience they want to create for their spectators. Going into these workshops, Medie had a strong sense of the themes and experiences she wanted to communicate on stage already. The ‘transformation’ improvisation form was one she had already worked with for several years and the overall theme of transformation in the personal and social realms was one we had explored together as well as separately in previous research and work. However, unpacking the complexity underneath these concepts and exploring how they might be expressed on stage is another thing.

At times, working with a solo artist, it feels like the dramaturg needs to be the provocateur, to push the artist further than they might otherwise go but also to help create a locus of stability and safety to counter the risk of that encounter. For me as a creative practitioner, there has to be not only a sense of mutual trust but also mutual vulnerability. My willingness to place myself in a position of vulnerability is essential to my subjectivity as dramaturg in the improvisational or devising process. If an artist is to open themselves up, to find what is at the centre of their work, I have to meet them with a willingness to open myself if it is needed. The subjectivity of the dramaturg may be secondary to that of the artist – it is the artist at the centre of this process, but the dramaturg contributes to more than just the semiotics and the structure of the work – I have to engage on an embodied level, on the level of emotion, phenomenological or experiential level, on the level of energy and spirit.

poetry images.003When I dance, improvising either alone or with Medie I know I cannot dance as a dancer dances. I have no training. I don’t have very much control or precision, but when I dance, I can still work through movement. I can philosophise using my body, I can experience and understand the energy of a movement. Inhabiting and sharing one’s own body and voice as a creative and expressive tool with someone else is an act of openness, vulnerability and intimacy. My body, is a part of my subjectivity as dramaturg in the room. And each time we dance, speak, write, sing, paint and so on we generate an encounter, sharing in ‘fields of resonance and influence, and in one another’s pulsate intensities’ or ‘psychic traces’ (Ettinger, 2005: 704)

What is a dramaturg? This post is not an answer to that question. But it is the beginning of my exploration of who I am as a dramaturg and what it means to me. Even my scattered attempts at writing in greek form part of an exploration of this question because I am interested what it means to engage with artistic experience across cultural and linguistic distance. What do I see differently? How does it shift my mode of perception. So in a sense, everything I write in this blog asks what is a dramaturg? And what is the dramaturgical gaze? How do I develop my approach and process as an artist-spectator?


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