What if I told you there was a way to jumpstart your NPD process at a fraction of the cost of a staged reading?
There is a way – a standard protocol that’s used by almost every serious producer and significant regional theater out there, including NYMF, Disney Theatrical Group, Davenport Theatrical Productions and many others.
So what is that “secret sauce”?
They all put a dramaturg on their creative team.
And so should you.
What is a Dramaturg?
I am a dramaturg. I am typically that smart person on the creative team whom no one is sure exactly what I do because I seem to be everywhere and do everything. This is not unusual for a dramaturg. Maybe that’s why there’s so much confusion around the term.
A dramaturg is a senior member of the creative team who works with the writer on the script and then functions as a “resident expert” on the play. They sometimes remain on the production team to help maintain focus on the message of the text and to advocate for the intentions of the playwright during the production process.
How I Work as a Dramaturg
I work in NYC as a freelance dramaturg, director and producer with a focus on developing new plays and musicals. As the Literary Manager for a non-profit producers’ organization called Theater Resources Unlimited (TRU), as the Associate Artistic Director of the Rhymes Over Beats Hip Hop Theater Collective, as the Dramaturg for MusicalWriters.com and as an independent commercial producer for my own company, I work with writers to develop their work through writers’ groups, by leading workshops, and by working one on one with writers to create new work.
This is what I do all day, every day: engage with writers on their creative process, work with them over a period of time to help them structure their script, craft their message, make it relevant for today’s audiences and then guide them through the submission and production process.
Including a dramaturg on your creative team can save you time and money and allow you access to a dramaturg’s resources and networks. Best yet, it will give you an experienced and trusted theatre consultant as you head toward the production of your script.
So in my best David Letterman imitation, here are my top five reasons to put a dramaturg on your creative team!
Top 5 Reasons to Put a Dramaturg on Your Creative Team:
Reason #1: A Dramaturg is Objective
As every producer knows, a writer is often the last person to understand what his play is really saying to an audience. They’re simply too close to the work. Every script can benefit from a new set of experienced eyes.
So many writers I’ve worked with walk away from our first conversation with new “a-ha” moments: new insights, new understandings, new messages, and sometimes new plot structures to better communicate their ideas in their script.
A dramaturg should be considered as a “first audience” of a draft, and their feedback as an expert theatremaker is invaluable, especially in the beginning stages.
Just ask Disney – their dramaturg and literary manager Ken Cerniglia was the freelance dramaturg for Hadestown, and the first-ever dramaturg to receive a shout-out at the Tony Awards.
Reason #2: A Dramaturg Saves Money
Quick survey: would you rather hire a dramaturg for a script evaluation or produce a staged reading to make sure your play “works”?
Well, that was a trick question.
You’ll end up doing both, of course. After your first initial table read, or “pizza” read, many writers believe the next step is to spend between $5000 or more on a staged reading to see how an audience reacts to their work.
Hold on, there.
Hiring a dramaturg for a script evaluation costs much less than a staged reading, and by getting feedback from a trusted source you may get that all-important first audience reaction at a tremendous savings.
Talk with the dramaturg first before the staged reading.
Reason #3: A Dramaturg is a Resource
Most practicing dramaturgs have either a M.F.A. in dramaturgy, a vast amount of dramaturgical experience under their belt, or both. Utilizing them opens you to their knowledge of structure, theatre history and theatre-making experience, and may add fresh ideas to your own.
Even if you have a M.F.A. in playwriting, you can still profit from a set of objective eyes on your work (see reason #1). Theatre is the ultimate collaborative art, and being open to talking about your work privately with a dramaturg is a first step.
You never know what new exciting ideas may develop until you have these creative conversations about your work. Welcome them. Invite the dramaturg into your process.
Also, with the dramaturg as a senior member of your creative team, they will invite others in their network (usually other theater people) to your staged reading.
Reason #4: Using a Dramaturg Opens a New Network to Development
And that is another key reason to include a dramaturg: they’ll help you gain access to their network. You’ll meet a whole new set of experienced theatre people who will want to hear about your show.
You don’t have to sit around and wait for your local theater to “discover” you. Why not hire their dramaturg as a freelance consultant? You can get their ideas and maybe gain an “inside advocate” at your local theater at the same time.
I always advise playwrights to be proactive in their quest to get their work produced. Don’t be passive; get out there and find new ways to access the gate-keepers. It’ll do wonders for your self-esteem and your work.
Reason #5: A Dramaturg Can Become a Trusted Production Asset
In a regional theater, dramaturgs and literary managers forge a critical link between artists and institutions, and institutions and their communities. Dramaturgs often work with various aspects of the production, such as crafting educational materials, creating marketing copy, facilitating conversations amongst the artistic team, and running a post-show discussion. If it needs to be done for a production, chances are a dramaturg can do it.
And they can do it for your production as well.
Often I’ll initially be hired as the dramaturg, but as my relationship with the writer grows I might then become a director, an executive producer, or a consultant on the team. I may help to create the show’s logo and website, to identify and develop an audience engagement plan, or sit in on some marketing conversations. I may even end up producing the show Off-Broadway.
I am always the advocate of the playwright and of the playwright’s intentions for the play, and will protect the show from any overly enthusiastic director, investor, or producer that may want to “rewrite” the work. (As Bob Ost, Director and Founder of Theater Resources Unlimited often says, there are three innate human needs: food, sex, and re-writing other people’s work.)
That’s the role of the dramaturg, and the basis of my relationship with the writer.
If you are thinking about contacting a dramaturg I have some open availability in the Fall. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get together to talk about your script.