one hundred essays I don't have time to write*
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58. A love note to dramaturgs
Dramaturgs are beleaguered. They are bashed, they are silenced, they are badly paid. And still, they perservere. They are bashed by the very people they have sacrificed their own family lives and pleasure to defend! Playwrights! Already in these pages I’ve called them nuns. I’ve accused them of sharpening pencils too sharply. Let me honor you, dramaturgs. Let me shower you with love. Here is what we playwrights need and ask of you. We need you. We need you to be nice to us when the director is mean to us. We need you to be nice to us when the audience is mean to us. We need you to be nice to us when the artistic director is mean to us. We need you to sit next to us at the first rehearsal when we feel like we are being flayed open and exposed. We need you to sit next to us at the first dress rehearsal and tell us that it’s good or worth saving even though we feel worthless and doomed. We need you to sit next to us during the first preview and give us two or three notes that are easily accomplished when we want to leave the theater forever and take up marine biology or nursing or any profession that doesn’t involve public humiliation. We need you to deflect strange questions at audience talk-backs and remind the audience members that they are most helpful when they describe their own experience rather than trying to fix the playwright’s play. Or perhaps we need you to excuse playwrights from coming to talkbacks when we already feel flayed alive during previews; dramaturgs are better able to answer questions at talkbacks and then gently relate the audience response to the playwright who is either hiding or incapacitated in the nearest bathroom. (Gently knock and offer brown rice.) We need you to be articulate about our plays when we feel dumb about them, so someone can do the articulating for us while we do the more blunted and blind task of writing the thing. We need you to be as articulate about unconventional structure as you are about conventional structure. We need you to fight the mania for clarity and help create a mania for beauty instead. We need you to ask: is this play big enough? Is it about something that matters? Conversely: is this play small enough? And if the play’s subject matter is the size of a button, is it written with enough love and formal precision that the button matters? We need you to remind audiences that plays are irreducible in meaning, the way that poetry is. To remind our audiences that going to the theater is a privileged, emotional and irreducible experience. We need you to fight for plays at the theater where you work and in the broader culture. We need you to ask us hard questions. We need you to remind us of our own integrity and not to turn our plays into other people’s plays. We need you to remind us to make hard cuts and not fall in love with our own language when our plays are too long. We need you to drink with us if we are drinkers and not drink with us if we are abstainers. Train as an actor, or a director, or a set designer, because we need you to understand each element fully. We occasionally need you to leave the profession and become critics, because you truly love the theater, have critical and insightful minds, and would write about new plays with love and understanding. I love you, dramaturgs. I wish there were a better name for your calling than calling you dramaturgs.
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