Now that the first edition of Dramaturgy Open Office Hours – Canadian Edition has ended, we wanted to take a few minutes to reflect on our first sessions. Instead of writing a blog post, we thought it would be fun to put our words into a conversation (which you may read below). We want to thank all the artists who joined us these past weeks and the guest dramaturgs who were so giving of their time. Dramaturgy Open Office Hours – Canadian Edition will return in 2016 and we’ll be announcing the dates in the New Year. Best wishes all and thank you again.
Emma: Hey Catherine!
Catherine: Hey Emma!
Emma: Sooo...! Blog posty/conversationy time!
Catherine: Exactly! How do we want to start?
Emma: Why don't we start by asking a question and get the ball rolling?
To start us off: did you find there were similar questions that kept cropping up from your patrons? Or was it a menagerie of themes?
Catherine: I would say there was a menagerie of different themes, but similar questions seemed to come up every week, no matter the topic. How about you?
Emma: I found our sessions to be quite similar. The questions we received were typically about the work that the artists brought to the table and less about the field as a whole, which was very exciting for us.
Catherine: Oh yeah, that's great!
Emma: What was unifying about those questions was that they so often had to do with just needing an outside ear from the creators' artistic teams or current person. Which was a nice reminder to me that even when you have a very close relationship with your fellow developers, having a somewhat objective outside voice that isn't familiar with the creation process can be a very powerful (and empowering) tool.
Catherine: Yeah, I had a lot of people who just needed a patient set of ears to work through their ideas. It seemed like the process of organizing their thoughts in order to explain it to someone new did a lot for them
Emma: Yes! That's something that I think we use often when we're creating a new show, we'll ask someone to read a draft, a scene, or come to a reading... But is something that I think I will be looking to use in a slightly more structured way in my own work.
Which, quick non sequitur, I think we have to do when writing a grant application. We have to distil our thoughts into a concise manner for a group of people to read...
I found something similar happening at our sessions... though it changed depending how many people were there... if there were a lot, they had less time and had to be more precise... if there were only a few people the artists often had an hour or more to chat with us.
Catherine: I mean, the grant writing process can be tedious and onerous, but it does help you clarify your thoughts and hone in on exactly what you want to accomplish
Emma: Absolutely. It also asks you, in a somewhat interesting/gentle way, to monetize your work.
Catherine: Haha yes! It's the nature of the beast.
I think our conversations seemed to go a similar way. I had a lot of moments where I wasn't exactly sure if I was helping anyone, but then I realized that just the process of speaking out loud was giving them what they needed
Emma: Exactly! Which I think we could all use a little more of in theatre. So often I feel like I need to say something really smart or insightful, when often someone just needs to hear themselves speak to someone else to come to a realization.
Catherine: Yeah, I agree. Or just simple questions here and there to keep their thought process going
Emma: Exactly. I found it to be a real lesson in dramaturgy, actually. I had no prior experience working with a lot of the people who joined us, and often I wasn't super familiar with their work (save a few), so had to be really on the ball (e.g. focused, listening, hearing them, and discovering their thought patterns to know when it was useful to speak and when it was useful to listen)
Catherine: Flexing those dramaturgical muscles!
Emma: Alon Nashman has coined this great term "slamaturgy". Which I think these sessions could turn into if you're not careful...
Catherine: I LOVE THAT!
Emma: RIGHT? It's a great phrase... and I think there are times when "slamaturgy" is really useful... but it's generally a "keep in your pocket"
Catherine: Wait... slamaturgy? As in, you're bringing them down?
Artist: here's a scene, we need it cut in the next ten minutes.
Dramaturg: I call on the powers of SLAMATURGY
It's very fast, quick, to the point, no beating around the bush, work-that-thing quickly and see what happens
Catherine: You just made us sound like superheroes. I'm on board 100%. We had a saying in my undergrad, "Hold on tightly, let go lightly"... otherwise known as "killing your babies"...
Emma: hahaha, that's great
Catherine: Sometimes I think it's the job of the dramaturg to make those tough decisions
Emma: Oh absolutely
Catherine: For the betterment of the project, of course!
Emma: What were the lessons that you took away from this project? We've already started to wade into this a little bit... but I thought I'd formalize it a touch more.
Catherine: Well, I took away something interesting that's may be specific to Ottawa.
Emma: Ooo I'm intrigued
Catherine: Every week, the discussion started to shift towards the identity of the Canadian playwright, specifically the Ottawa playwright. Is there one? If so, what is it?
In Ottawa, there's not really a central body or organization for new play development
Emma: Ahhh... now that's interesting
Catherine: Often, people have to self-produce or go elsewhere. What happens to new work in Ottawa? Sometimes it has one Fringe run and then disappears
There were 2 or 3 different weeks where we talked about getting a play reading series together. Or a playwright's unit beyond the units at the GCTC, which are usually for established writers
How does one hone their craft in Ottawa? I had no answer for them beyond the usual. For that reason (among many), I'm glad there was such a response to these office hours. I can tell there are like-minded artists in the city who are looking for the chance to develop new work.
How about in Toronto? What did you take away from your sessions?
Emma: I didn't feel a unifying sense of that conversation happening... (bummer!) (not really) …
I learned a bunch of things, but a few really stand out for me and somewhat in contrast to Ottawa...
First of all, it took us five weeks to grow our numbers to a "critical mass".
Catherine: What would a "critical mass" be in this situation?
Emma: In this situation it was four artists. Which is a lot when you're trying to facilitate a conversation between a group while tackling one person's individual needs/questions.
It also meant that I had to step up my game in that regard and learn to move a conversation along (something Bob White excelled at)
I'm not sure quite what that says about Toronto, other than that it's a very dense city with a large group of artists who don't necessarily have the luxury of time, or who are hard to reach (not that Ottawa artists have the luxury of time either! Just that it's a smaller community so perhaps word gets around a lot faster).
Catherine: Oh yeah. Word gets around faster in Ottawa, that's for sure.
Emma: Second, and honestly, I had the luxury of seeing a lot of different dramaturgical styles at work with the different hosts. Everyone who guest dramaturged for us had a different approach to working with the people who were there, which was really quite interesting to watch. I felt like I was getting a master class in dramaturgy each week...
Emma: And also made me realize that I need to broaden my interests/reading...
Catherine: Oh, for sure.
Emma: I think that a special strength of dramaturgs is that they tend to have a lot of interesting knowledge at their fingertips that they can throw into a conversation to get their point across... just little tidbits that will broaden the conversation and help artists find a new way into what they're doing. Not to say that I don't have a broad knowledge, but it was a great reminder to stay interested... maybe read one interesting article a day, pick up a book of poetry instead of a novel... that kind of thing
Catherine: But it's also learning how to apply all that information you accumulate
Emma: Exactly! We had people from all ranges of experience join us, and it was also a bit of a lesson in how to talk to artists, not based on where they are in their career/knowledge, but based on who they are and what they bring to the table
Catherine: Which is a very dramaturgical skill set! And also realizing that you can't make everyone happy…
Emma: In one of our sessions we had a pair of young artists, recently graduated, join us all the way from Burlington (amazing!). In discussing their work, which dealt with monstrosity, my guest dramaturg suggested the monster could be metaphorical or physical...
They just nodded when he asked if they understood... but I had this feeling that they were unsure (mainly because I was!) and so I piped up and said "I'm a dunce, explain that to me" – the choice to “out” myself made the conversation much more rich and changed the course of the entire session for all of us
Catherine: I had a similar experience with two artists who came by who both study Public History
Emma: oh cool!
Catherine: I felt so dumb having to ask the difference between History and Public History, but it started an interesting conversation about the similarities between playwriting, dramaturgy, and the work of the public historian.
Emma: That sounds like a very fruitful/interesting conversation
Let's look towards the future... if there are any changes you'd like to institute in the next round, what would they be?
Catherine: Not a huge deal, but I got a lot of feedback about having the sessions in the afternoon. Seems like a small detail, but I forget that not everyone has the luxury of a flexible schedule. (Haha)
Emma: What were the preferred times?
Catherine: If we want to be more accessible to a larger group of people, I had a few people suggest sessions in the evenings.
Emma: That's useful... it would be much easier for me to hold them in the evenings as well
Catherine: There ya go! Also, I'm curious about an online component to the office hours, as we've discussed before.
Emma: Yeah! I'm really intrigued about how that might work and how it would change the conversation. I also want to look more into the satellite idea, to have more across the country.
Catherine: Now that we have a session under our belts, it would be easier to approach people. Theoretically, we have a good idea of how it works now. Or how it could work. I felt like each week required a different approach.
Emma: Something I think that you guys did, which was really important, is you had food
Catherine: Only one or two weeks! It would be nice for it to be a consistent thing. Food automatically puts people at ease for some reason. It's magical.
Emma: It is... breaking bread!
Catherine: Well, this has been great!
Emma: Thanks Catherine!