Stories from History, or How I Found my Art as a Dramaturg

     A couple of weeks ago, I was waiting at the bus stop with a close friend when the subject of dramaturgy came up. This friend had only a vague idea of my role in a production, so I walked him through, step by step, my dramaturgical process for Much Ado About Nothing. I told him about the theme of deception, and how all of my research related back to it. I described the never-ending hours in the library pacing from floor to floor, the immeasurable feeling of loss when I realized that all my research on Kantian morals had no place in the final actor packet. I even went as far as recounting my process of going through over 60 paintings and recording their artists, title, year, and categorizing them by which character they apply to.

It was a long wait for the bus. “Oh, so you’re like a librarian for the theatre,” my friend concluded. I was shocked that after a passionate explanation of my work he still reduced me to the pedestrian term, “librarian”. Not only did I take offense at the silver-haired, dust-covered spinster image that the word evoked, but also he was implying that I had no creative input in the production process. I am nothing more than a human card catalog in the rehearsal room that directs actors and designers to books or articles when they need help.

I want to find a way to alter the dialogue so that people outside my field understand the creative side of what I do. A few years ago I would have been content to be described as a librarian or a historian because of the all-knowing power these words elicit. Now I find that knowledge is not enough. With my current work on Intimate Apparel, I constantly think about what I can create with the research I find. I do not want to provide a textbook explanation for the conditions of the play. The production should have its own history. What makes the actor packets unique is that they combine the viewpoints of numerous scholars with those of the dramaturgs, directors, and other members of the design team.

Currently, I wish to reinvent my role from a librarian to a storyteller. For Intimate Apparel, I want the information in the actor packet to function as the prequel to the story told by Lynn Nottage. Stories are important because the take the facts of an era and charge them with meaning by giving them a narrative structure. There are thousands of ways to view history. Intimate Apparel presents multiple perspectives about a specific period in time and finds the common ground among them—the desire for intimacy. Through multiple historical narratives, the actor packet will highlight the isolation felt by the characters to further intensify the need for intimacy.

-Tiffany Wilson

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