Wednesday, 22 February 2012

I’ve Written A Play, Tell Me What You Think

By Cornelia Persich, Education Coordinator

In the past Theatre Ontario has put out three different calls for scripts that were collected into anthologies and published by Playwrights Canada Press.  For each call we received so many scripts that our readers were kept busy for days.   Afterwards, we discussed the plays that didn’t make it and how there might be a need for a mechanism whereby someone could have their script assessed by a professional playwright and receive feedback.  Hence our Script Assessment Program was born—and is now available through Theatre Ontario.

The way it works is, playwrights send us a script together with the application, and the script is sent to one of our available assessors.  The assessor is chosen based on what type of script it is (e.g. historical, comedy, musical, etc.)  The assessor is given up to four weeks to read through and complete a questionnaire with specific feedback questions about the script. The script is evaluated under a double-blind situation whereby the playwright and the assessor do not know the identity of either.

One participant told us that they had been looking for just such a service.  Another participant had been through this kind of assessment before, but this program gave her new insights into her script, though it didn’t offer suggestions as to how to fix the problems; it did clarify for her that what she was really after was dramaturgy, rather than script assessment.

After the assessment, another participant took on a dramaturge/director and had rewritten the screenplay for the stage.  It is now in production for a performance in New York at the FRIGID Festival for a six-performance run.  He was also successful entering the Toronto Fringe Festival lottery, and is wait-listed for the Edmonton & Winnipeg Fringe.

As the Script Assessment program is relatively new, we are always looking at ways to make it better.  Feedback helps to do this.  If you are interested in this program, read more about it on our website to find out how to apply.



    I'll admit it, I don't really know what dramaturgy is. This is no doubt partly due to working in community theatre, where dramaturgs or any other odd ducks that wander in are quickly conscripted to sew, paint or act.
    I looked up dramaturgy on the web & found a fair variety of opinion about what it is. The most mentioned example is trying to rewrite some of Shakespeare's plays to make them more comprehensible to a modern audience.
    At our theatre, when we do Shakespeare it is pretty much a point of honour with directors to NOT change the script.
    Our recent survey found that some of our audience love Shakespeare & some are not enthusiastic. This was true of all the playwrights we asked about. But with Shakespeare there was another faction, those who detest Shakespeare and won't come anywhere near his plays.
    1- is this reaction a common situation at other theatres?
    2 - Can "dramaturgy" make a big difference in how comprehensible Shakespeare's plays are?
    3 - And if so, are there good "modernized" (for want of a better word) scripts of Shakespeare available to perform?

  2. Hi, Bill,

    Dramaturgy to me is not about rewriting or modernizing Shakespeare, but about doing all one's homework (in terms of the text [particularly if it is a play with more than one authoritative text, such as LEAR or HAMLET], in terms of the history of the period, in terms of topical references within the text) in the service of creating clarity in the storytelling.

    This can also extend to how one works with the actors to activate the language, to ensure that they understand not just a general 'wash' of a speech, but line by line and word by word. It's only if they understand it thoroughly that we can expect the audience to feel as if they're being invited on the journey of the play.

    1. Hi Kate,
      Just repeating my Twitter thanks here. I believe your 2AM post was one of the resources that I pointed Bill too originally.

  3. Hi Bill -

    I'm not sure where that definition came from, but it's flawed at best - I am a professional dramaturg, both freelance and attached to several theatre companies you've heard of around the country. My main focus is Shakespeare: the 'rewriting' you mention is not exactly dramaturgical: it's far more adaptive. If a company is presenting a Shakespearean text, it is very rare to see a dramaturg employed to 'rewrite' the text. Most often, my role in that sense is two-fold (and explaining this may answer your questions at the end there) - first, I provide a tailored cut of the script, which takes into account design, casting, and logistics in the theatre. So, if a company is working on a large stage with a large budget but needs the piece to come in under three hours, some judicious snips are required. Other times, a company may be working on a small stage with only a handful of actors, so working on a script that takes into account doubling and expediency may be the way forward. Every dramaturgy gig is different, and always changes depending on the company involved. The cutting of Shakespeare is often undertake carelessly: my role is to ensure that it is treated with care and respect, because often, if you cut one speech the structure can begin to unravel.

    If, on the rare occasion that a company chooses to present a Shakespearean text completely untouched, then the dramaturg's role moves to what you term 'comprehensibility' (something that is an important part of my role regardless of the cut): often a dramaturg can act as a secondary layer of attack when it comes to clarifying the minutiae of Shakespeare's text. Often the director will not have time to delve into the imagery, structure, scansion, and textual detail that can be required for strong comprehension. A dramaturg is an excellent person to have on hand for research, clarification, and development - someone who acts as a second set of eyes for the director to point out moments when an actor is not clear, or when the text is turgid.

    So, yes. In my extensive experience, dramaturgy is crucial in Shakespearean performance. It is, of course, also a luxury not always available, and directors who work without a dramaturg can still produce excellent work.

    In terms of 'modernised' Shakespeare - unless you're talking about adaptations (which I don't think you are), such texts exist only as study guides, and are not designed for performance. I have never met a dramaturg who seeks to 'rewrite' Shakespeare, though I know many who tweak obscurities from time to time (myself included - from time to time). in the end, clarity is key to helping your audiences avoid such violent opinions against Shakespeare. It doesn't always work to make an audience lovers of the form, but in my experience, it is critical to the success of a work.

    My apologies for posting anonymously, but I believe the information is more important than who I am.

    1. We're fine with anonymous posts if it's preferred, although I do always appreciate knowing who has joined in on the conversation.

      Dramaturgy may be a topic worth further exploration for us.

  4. To Kate Powers & Anonymous:
    Thank you both.
    I'll test your patience with a question. (This is a 'for example', not in regard to a planned production.)
    In The Night of the Iguana, there is a German family in the script. In a production I saw, my chief reaction to their brief appearances was annoyance. They seemed to me to interrupt the play more than to be part of it. I have no good idea what dramatic purpose Tennessee Williams intended for these characters.
    How might a dramaturg go about finding this out? And is there somewhere I could read about his intention?