Why Dramaturgy?

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By: Johanna Orr

I happened upon dramaturgy. Throughout high school, I was an actor, and thought that I wanted to pursue it as a career. The summer after my junior year, I attended a six-week musical theater program at Carnegie Mellon University. The program was set up to be a small taste of musical theater as a major, which includes singing, dancing, and acting class, as well as a dramatic literature class. Within my first two weeks, I realized that I didn’t want to be a performer. Instead, I was more interested in my dramatic literature class. The class tied in theater, history, and English, which are my three favorite things to study. All three allow room for interpretation, analysis, and opinion, as opposed to subjects with black and white answers. Toward the end of the summer session, Wendy Arons, the instructor and dramaturgy professor at CMU, explained what dramaturgy is. I was in love.

Dramaturgy ties together text analysis, historical research, and the world of theater. There is, of course, much more that goes into dramaturgy, but being able to combine those three things is what makes dramaturgy feel so perfect to me. My theater class in high school was my favorite class, initially because I was passionate about acting, a field I wanted to pursue. After years of dance classes and voice lessons, I took an interest in acting because I loved performing. Acting stood out to me more than dancing and singing because there was room for interpretation and creativity; it wasn’t just reading notes off of a page or doing the same steps. But as we started scenes and monologues my second year, my focus shifted from the acting. When we would work on scenes in class, my favorite part wasn’t performing, but breaking down the scene, trying to figure out the context, and researching any references made in it such as names or locations that I wasn’t familiar with. I enjoyed finding beats and verbs in a scene more than I did performing them. When we would start working on scenes or monologues, I became the go-to person in my class to cut the script and explain beats, objectives, and tactics to my fellow actors. When we studied Shakespeare and Greek theater, people would come to me for clarification on historical references and to help break down and define the language used, and I would gladly help. I have realized since my discovery of dramaturgy that I enjoyed drama classes the most when I act the part of a dramaturg, not when I was acting. I naturally think like a dramaturg, breaking scenes down to analyze them and tying in every bit of outside information that I can– I just didn’t know it.

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