Friday, February 21, 2014

On Becoming a Dramaturge
The last few weeks have been comprised of me applying for grad school at King's College London, reading scripts and books about theater, applying for an internship with a dramaturgical focus through the Playwrights' Center in Minneapolis, and attending theatrical events. And I have never been happier. Part of me feels incredulous that it took me so long to realize my yearnings to work in theater, even though I realized this in just a matter of months. But looking back on what caused me to avoid making a decision is easier for me to see, just as it is easier for me to recognize what I want to do.

When I graduated from college, I was so glad to have graduated and to be done with course work for a while that I couldn't think about anything beyond that. I was worried about money and I wanted to get a job, to work and have a routine instead of my crazy school scheduling. But also, I was afraid. I was afraid of making a decision that I might live to regret. I was afraid I might be making the wrong choice if I went to grad school without really considering what I wanted to study. I didn't think I was knowledgeable enough about Shakespeare to pursue it academically. I didn't think I had the right skills, having not majored in English or ever having performed in theater. But I've realized that that's not true and, while I'm taking a risk and am facing ridiculous odds, it's a chance I want to take.

Since deciding to apply for the Shakespeare Studies program at King's, I've had more motivation than I've had in months. I oscillate between daring optimist and terrified fatalist, but for the most part, I feel positive. After recently finishing a book called The Shakespearean Dramaturg, I struggle to see how I could have ever thought that there was anything else I ought to be doing with my life. But just a year ago, reading such a book would have filled me with doubt that I would be capable of such work. But now it fills me with hope.

Have I ever spoken at length about dramaturgy here? I don't believe I have. In the risk of repeating myself, I'll discuss it, as it's not a term everyone is familiar with. I was only first told about it while discussing my interest in the Cultural Studies grad student office and a student came up to me and said that, essentially what I'd been describing about wanting to do with theater was dramaturgy. I recall being told that it's sometimes easier to describe what dramaturges aren't than what they are. They don't make the decisions in the production. They don't act it out. But they do a whole lot of other things that are fantastic. Professor Tandy, the instructor I had for my Shakespeare class, said a dramaturge she knew described it like being a midwife - you don't have the baby, you don't raise the baby, but you're there to help.
Dramaturges are somewhere between researchers and academics doing textual analysis, writers helping adapt a play and deciding what should be cut out, mediators between the text and the production, but most of all collaborators with the production team. The biggest part of their work is supporting the production and helping it to be its best. Sometimes that come in fighting for some part of the text you believes should remain in the play. Sometimes it comes from letting go of your interpretation of the text and allowing a different one to take its place. I saw how important dramaturgy was to me when I realized how deeply I loved Shakespeare and seeing how it was adapted. In an odd way, in seeing the Hollow Crown adaption of Henry V done by BBC and PBS, I realized how much dramaturgical thinking was already a part of my mind due to my interests in theater, writing, and in cultural analysis. Though I greatly enjoyed this version of Henry V, I was disappointed to see one of my favorite scenes cut, that of Henry's soliloquy on ceremony in Act 4.1. While I can see that it may not be the most important scene and may be necessary to cut for time's sake, I think it's deeply important in understanding Henry's role as king and the tension he faces between the public and private spheres. And thus I became really curious in how decisions are made in what to include in Shakespearean adaptations and how a production team deals with cutting a scene like this, especially if members of the team really adore that scene.

Most of all, I long for the community that being in theater creates. Something I loved about being part of the orchestra pit in the musicals my high school performed was being part of this larger group, this amazing diverse collective of people that came together to produce something amazing. I felt much the same about performing in band, but there was an added sense of magic with the musicals, perhaps with the element of all the layers built in to staging a show. It was incredible to see the show go from the early rehearsals and tech week into opening night and there was a thrill to it that I've missed dreadfully.

But somehow I didn't realize I missed it. I'd buried it underneath my concerns for other things and my fears that I wasn't meant for theater work because I'd been led elsewhere or I'd led myself away from it. Then I interned at the Guthrie and things began to change. I realized that there was definitely a place for me in the theater world. I was still afraid to jump into immediately, but I knew where I wanted to end up eventually. And while trying to take paralegal classes at Globe University, I did exactly as Professor Tandy so wonderfully stated, "You realized you were at the wrong Globe."

I've been considering why I ever closed off my love for theater and my longing to work with it in the first place. Was I disappointed in myself for not pursuing acting in high school? Was I devastated about not getting into the School of Music at my university? Did I think doing something like this would distract me from writing? Did I try and replace theater with an interest in other things - film, TV, media studies in general? Did I feel tempted to listen to the woman who, in my first year of high school, told me science made more money than theater and play-writing and though I ignored her, her comments continued to echo in my mind? Was I afraid of choosing something to pursue, afraid it would box me in from other options? Yes. Yes to all of these.
I've spoken before about my agnosticism and being a doubting Thomas. This is a trend that extends beyond religion and into much of my ways of thinking. I find doubt comforting in that I don't have to decide upon something, that I can keep my options open and don't have to worry about closing my mind off to something. However, when it comes to life choices, I can't stay undecided forever. I felt the pressure of needing to make a decision and found one that seemed perfect. And I was wrong. But if I hadn't made that decision, if I hadn't made that mistake, I don't think I'd be where I am now. My strange, circuitous path has given me a certain sort of decisiveness that I didn't have before. Everything is clearer and, while I have decided against certain things, my mind doesn't feel closed off. This comes from the ridiculously obvious realization that you don't know until you know - I didn't know what I wanted to do until I knew for certain. And I'm just grateful I didn't realize it too late.

Dramaturgy and academic study is so multifaceted and full of so many opportunities that I know I won't feel closed off to anything. But I am afraid. So many friends of my friends have been rejected from the grad schools they have applied to and I'm beginning to worry that I have no chance, especially as an international student applying for a program that only accepts a small number of people. I feel like I have an interesting program and at least a good chance of being noticed by the program. But my sentimental heart and skeptical mind continue to duke it out is fluctuating between optimism and brutal realism and I have no idea what to expect. I worry that getting another internship with limited theater experience is a long shot and hoping to land both the internship AND grad school is asking for far too much.

But I'm going for it. And that's what matters to me. I've been throwing myself into so much theater the past few weeks - seeing several shows performed here in Minneapolis, revisiting the theater community on the U of M campus and envying their collaborative supportive community, volunteering at the Minnesota Thespian Conference at the Guthrie and experiencing the sheer joy of being back there again. I have to at least try for this program and, if I don't get in, it won't be the end of the world. I'll find other opportunities and other routes to do this. I'm just happy to know what I want to do now. And I'm excited to do it.
It feels a bit vainglorious to write all of this down, but I want to celebrate how far I've come in just the last year. Too much pride may be a vice, but I'd at least like to allow myself some pride, as for too long I didn't have any for myself. Especially, I share this here because somehow, incredibly, I have discovered an amazing, supportive environment of incredibly clever, kind individuals in the readers of this blog. Some of you are very interested in what I'm doing with my life and, while I feel a bit baffled that people actually are that interested in my shenanigans given my general insignificance in space and time, I certainly owe you an update on my life happenings. I quite honestly owe you all more than I can ever give and I'd like to take the opportunity to thank you all for that. The support and comments I get on this blog are astounding to me, especially when discussing things I struggle to write. I often wonder who you are all are out there, reading and sharing your wonderful thoughts. I cannot express how much I appreciate your readership and I hope that I can somehow pay forward all the wonderful ideas and encouragement you all have given me. I have absolutely no idea where I'll be in the next few months, but I'm excited to see where I'm headed and I'm happy to share it with you. Thank you all, for reading, commenting, and being the most positive group on the internet. While I long to be part of a theater community, it's amazing to see the cyber community that's appeared here. My gratitude for you all is endless.

So once more unto the breach, dear friends! Let's do this thing :)


  1. It's so amazing what you're doing and how you found yourself by taking chances and keeping an open, optimistic mentality. Thank you so much for sharing! I think congratulations are in order because this is such a big realization: finding what you want to be doing with the remainder of your time on this planet and what makes you happpy and productive. :)

    1. Thank immensely, dear anon. I am incredibly grateful for your kind words and your support! I'm happy to share my experiences and so glad there's something to be gleaned from them :D