Dramaturgy Checklist

I was talking to a friend the other day about what a dramaturg does. I know we’ve touched on this before, in fact we’ve run whole workshops on it. And although often people feel they know what it is, it’s not always that easy to put into words.

But it got me thinking what do I do? When I read a script through for the first time what are the things i think about? I find it useful to have a to do list to make sure I’m doing what I’m supposed to and below is an idea of that list.

Now it is by no means exhaustive and each section can (and does have) whole books written on them. But you can look into those once you have identified the areas as something to look at. I also reserve the right to extend, cut and edit this list at any time!

Narrative: What is the story? Can you say it in one sentence? And is this the story that’s being told?

The Point: What are you trying to achieve with this play? Is it provoking questions? Is it attempting answers? Is it achieving either of these?

The Premise: What is the premise of the story? Is it logical, rigorous and interesting enough to demand having a play written about it?

Form: What is the form of this piece? Is this the most successful form for achieving the above aims?

Structure: Is this the best/most exciting way of telling this story? Is it in the right order?

Character: Are these all real characters with real desires and attempts at achieving them? Or are they too functional?

Representation: What are the genders/ethnicities/locations/ages/social standings of the characters? What are the implications on the actors playing them? Is it a piece of theatre that should be being made today?

(And my personal favourite)

Cutting: How much can we lose?

The problems usually straddle more than one of these topics. And, in the fixing or attempting to fix, these then it can feel like the whole thing is tumbling down like a house of cards. However it can almost always be rebuilt, and your play will be stronger, tighter and all the better for it. If not, then maybe this play is not the one for now and you need some time away from it so you can attack it again with a clearer head later.

But no need to be disheartened usually plays just get shorter and more exciting because of it. And often the answers to the above questions are rigorous and complete enough just to highlight where (if anywhere) there may be room to improve.

So next time you read a draft of a play, consider the above list as a starting point and see what questions unfold.

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