Volume 6 Number 4
April 12 - May 3 2010
Behind the scences of the productions that audiences experience are professional dramaturges – theatre professionals who analyse and research scripts, playwrights and contexts; advise directors and producers on ways to bring a work to life; workshop the background and essence of a script with actors and designers, and generally animate a script from the written word.
“Dramaturgy is the engine room of theatre production,” says Associate Professor Peter Eckersall, from the University of Melbourne’s School of Culture and Communication Theatre Studies program.
“Dramaturges work in the production process to link ideas with artistic expression and to explore the artistic structures, forms and building blocks of a performance. And while the practice of dramaturgy is as old as theatre itself, the work of dramaturges has become increasingly important in the complex world of contemporary theatre.”
With colleagues from the School of Performing Arts at the Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts and Music – Lecturer in Theatre Making Paul Monaghan and visiting artist Melanie Beddie – Associate Professor Eckersall has recently co-convened ‘The Dramaturgies Project #4’, an international gathering of artists, scholars and critics meeting to explore “new ecologies” for dramaturgical practice and theatre production. The project received funding from the Australia Council for the Arts and a University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor’s Knowledge Transfer award, with support from the Malthouse Theatre, Realtime magazine and Playwriting Australia.
“While it is currently experiencing a resurgence, like every other artform, theatre-making is experiencing the challenges of shifting theatrical forms in the 21st century,” says Associate Professor Eckersall. “Dramaturges now work across forms, not just with scripts; and interculturally, making performances much more complex.”
One example is the highly successful French-Canadian Cirque de Soleil, and its colossal circus-based shows which tour the world, using dancers, actors, acrobats, clowns, fire, lighting, costume, staging and incredible music and musicians to present exhilarating theatre. Bringing it all together into a coherent experience is a challenge and it’s where dramaturges increasingly play a role that is not constrained by script or text.
“We now see the work of dramaturges not just working in the rehearsal rooms for traditional theatre settings but also in working to incorporate ever more complex media such as video, sound design, or live music. There is increasing tendency in a lot of theatre to mix certain kinds of performance, such as dance. It’s quite sophisticated, and complicated, aesthetic territory,” says Associate Professor Eckersall.