Ask a Dramaturg

Question: “My theater company is thinking of working with a dramaturg.  How should we go about finding someone and seeing if they would work well with our group?”

Amy, Missoula MT


Excellent question!  I think the answer to the first part of your query at this moment in history is “social media!” Ask everyone to put the word out that you are looking.  And see if anyone in your company knows or has worked with a good dramaturg in the past.  Even if they are not available personally, a friend or former colleague might know someone they would recommend.  Might a former teacher recommend someone?  Or a friend from a theater program where you trained? Ask playwrights you’ve worked with to recommend someone.

Think about location: who is already nearby, especially if you are working in a small group without a budget for bringing in candidates.  Or might someone want to relocate to the location where you are now making theater?  Post-Covid, still in the Zoom era, a new location might be desirable and do-able.

By far the most important thing is to find a dramaturg who, as a person and a theater-maker, fits in with the personality of your group – and challenges and stretches what you might work on in an exciting way by making suggestions of plays that are new to you.  Good questions after the dramaturg has been provided with info on your theater’s past work or process of creation, or knows where to get it, are “What are your favorite plays right now?” “Whose work do you love and think we should know about?  Playwrights AND directors?” What’s the best experience you’ve had so far working on a play– why do you think it was good?”  “Who do you think we should work with?” is always an interesting question, though it might be limited by geography. “What’s your experience with theater outside contemporary new play writing – classical work, devised theater?”

I would suggest sending a candidate a couple of scripts to read – maybe even scripts with the cover pages missing- and ask them to write up their impressions in a page or two: what they liked or didn’t like about the piece.  Do they feel it needs further work and if so, what kind of work?  You might add in one script that your group already agrees about: a script you all love or hate, to see if the candidate is in your ballpark.

Finally, you want to feel excited about this person, and feel that including them in your group will expand and enliven your theater’s prospects.  It’s just a hunch that this person will fit in, and also change the trajectory of your work in some good way.

Question: “What does your community/your neighborhood need and how can you provide it as a theater artist? Especially now when the theater feels fragile and so many up-and-coming theater artists find opportunities few and far between.”


Participant in the 2020 Directors Lab West Zoom chat

This is the most important question all theater people have to ask. And the more creatively you answer it early in your career the greater your potential as a theater artist will be. I would not recommend finding an answer to it alone. Finding the people who will help you start to answer it will tell you a lot about your already developing theater aesthetic. Pick people you love and admire to discuss this question with so you feel that you just can’t wait to talk to them. Feel if there is some excitement or if it stays on the level of “I need job.” Read Harold Clurman’s book about the Group Theater “The Fervent Years’ about how many ideas you can come up with nursing a S-cent cup of coffee to keep warm for a whole afternoon if-you think times today are rough. Don’t forget your future audiences – invite them too from time to time. They will not know how to create the work, or the form of the work, but their general level of enthusiasm will help you gauge what you are doing. And this doesn’t mean your roommates or the people you are dating. Add a second degree of separation – they’ve already heard this at home in the first circle, And where will this be? What community? Would a local political figure or a business owner like to hear what you’re thinking? You’ll need a board at some point! Take six months to talk and widen the circle. Everyone should bring a few new enthusiastic people in to join for an evening. If there is something to emerge, it will emerge. And if it looks exactly like something that already exists, it will be a harder struggle. You need to find your own thing – your new theater’s own thing.