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  • Dramaturgy in the Making: A User’s Guide for Theatre Practitioners by Katalin Trencsényi
  • Daniel Devlin
Dramaturgy in the Making: A User’s Guide for Theatre Practitioners. By Katalin Trencsényi. London: Bloomsbury Methuen Drama, 2015; pp. 352.

In the foreword to Katalin Trencsényi’s Dramaturgy in the Making, Geoffrey Proehl makes an explicit comparison between the work of the dramaturg and the work of the actor, arguing that the dramaturg is a role as pivotal, active, and involved with the process of theatrical creation as the actor herself. Understood this way, the “user’s guide” portion of Trencsényi’s subtitle takes on particular importance: she seeks to promote a shift in the conversation from “the question of ‘what is a dramaturg?’ to ‘how does a dramaturg operate?’; ‘how is dramaturgy done?’; and ‘what do we need in our “dramaturgical toolbox”?’” (xx).

Trencsényi defines dramaturgy as the neurocognitive process of pattern recognition and arrangement—a broad definition that conceptualizes dramaturgy as both theory and practice simultaneously. Focusing on the practical angle of dramaturgy, she describes diverse dramaturgical practices through explicating specific case studies in the areas of “institutional dramaturgy,” “production dramaturgy,” and “dance dramaturgy.” As a user’s guide to active dramaturgy, Dramaturgy in the Making outlines some major issues in the field, and offers professional insight into solutions to those issues, rendering it useful as a guiding text for undergraduate dramaturgy coursework. It may be said, however, that a user’s guide is effective only insofar as it can provide guidance, and most guides are designed for those with limited functional knowledge. The issues and solutions that Trencsényi outlines are, correspondingly, fairly obvious; dramaturgs with even only a show or two under their belt may find that they have exceeded the scope of the work.

Part 1, “Institutional Dramaturgy,” concerns the work of dramaturgs as a function of a greater whole, whether a theatre, a company, or a festival. The first chapter traces the development and evolution of the role of the dramaturg at theatrical institutions, arguing that “the dramaturg emerged together with the development of bourgeois drama, that is to say it came about at the conception of modern drama” (3). Chapter 2 takes on the curatorial role of the dramaturg, whose role is to reach “out to the audience and help in the understanding and interpretation of the theatre’s work” (32). Trencsényi argues that such labor serves as the “macrodramaturgy of an organization [sic], an activity that shapes how this theatre (or festival) wants to create meaning; how it wants to be seen and be present in the wider community” (33).

Chapter 3, “Methods: Dramaturgy and Translation,” examines case studies from the Royal Court and National theatres, which highlight the challenges of working from an existing translation, or commissioning a new translation. Trencsényi concludes that within each process, “there is a strong, underlying role that is concerned with communication, facilitation and acting as a mediator” (66). Part 1’s final chapter, “Methods: New Drama Development,” develops the strongest argument for the active and involved dramaturg. Trencsényi argues that dramaturgs must “tailor their process to the given work’s or playwright’s needs” while constantly negotiating both support and distance with the playwright (103).

Part 2, “Production Dramaturgy,” foregrounds the working collaborations that mark director/dramaturg relationships. Trencsényi argues that postdramatic theatre—primarily known through the overturning of Aristotle’s unities—led to a destabilizing and reshaping of definitions of roles that, in turn, led to “rethinking what composition and thus what dramaturgy may mean” (127). Chapter 6, “Methods: Product-led Production Dramaturgy,” juxtaposes two examples of canonical dramas: Toneelgroep’s 2007 Roman Tragedies and József Attila Theatre’s 2008 The Visit. This juxtaposition illustrates that “‘traditional’ production dramaturgical work in contemporary theatre has embraced the paradigm of postdramatic theater and responded to ‘open’ dramaturgies” (129). An open dramaturgical approach to production, Trencsényi notes, provides the dramaturg with a powerful opportunity to shape the mise en scène, reaffirming the active and participatory construct of the dramaturg’s work.

Chapter 7, “Methods: Process-led Production Dramaturgy,” examines work in which “the content, form and...


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