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Ghost Light

An Introductory Handbook for Dramaturgy

Michael Mark Chemers

Publication Year: 2010

Ghost Light introduces undergraduates to the practice of dramaturgy in the United States. The book emphasizes play analysis and writing proficiency, and is divided into three sections that deal with philosophy, analysis, and practice of dramaturgy. Exercises for each chapter and appendices of useful resources are included.

Published by: Southern Illinois University Press

Book Title

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pp. v


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pp. iv


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

Ghost Light is an introductory handbook for the art and science of dramaturgy specifically as it is practiced in the American theater. Written with the undergraduate student in mind, this handbook is a useful tool not only for students of dramatic literature in general and those who wish to become professional dramaturgs but also for directors, designers, actors, and anyone else who wishes ...

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pp. xv-xvi

No undertaking of this kind is executed in isolation. My views on dramaturgy have developed in conversation with artists and scholars over many years of working in the theater. I am indebted to the scholar-dramaturgs Carlyn Aquiline, J. A. Ball, Mark Bly, Ken Cerniglia (special thanks for his editorial eye), Sergio Costola, Michele di Pietro, Heather Helinsky, Kimberly Jannarone, Ben ...

Part One: Philosophy

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pp. 1

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1. What the #$%@ Is a Dramaturg?

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pp. 3-11

Mark Bly, former chair of the Dramaturgy and Playwriting Program at Yale University and currently senior dramaturg at Houston’s Alley Theatre, comes as close as anyone ever has to explaining the function of the dramaturg1 in modern theater practice. Dramaturgy is a term that refers to both the aesthetic architecture of a piece of dramatic literature (its structure, themes, goals, and ...

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2. Historicizing Dramaturgy

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pp. 12-38

It is always a good idea to historicize (that is, put into a historical context) any concept when it is first encountered. Historicizing reminds you that concepts and terms change, sometimes fairly drastically, over time and distance, and sometimes two authors or thinkers who might appear to be dealing with the same issue have wildly divergent ideas. Conversely, sometimes two people who ...

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3. Power Plays

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pp. 39-65

In 2006, I sat in on a graduate class on Greek drama taught by dramaturg and scholar Brian Johnston. Frustrated by the professor’s analysis of the Oresteia, which brought together a wide spectrum of political, religious, and historical observations, a student remarked, “Excuse me, professor, but don’t you think you’re reading too much into this?” The professor replied, “Well, since Aeschylus ...

Part Two: Analysis

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pp. 67

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4. The Twelve-Step Program for Script Analysts

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pp. 69-92

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s profound meditation above is a reminder that the work of genius is characterized not by those sudden flashes of insight that sometimes come but by a process of engaged, humble, and methodical discovery and refinement that eventually results in something good and useful. In dramatic writing, this is a process that has remained astonishingly uniform throughout ...

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5. Form Follows Function

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pp. 93-107

A play is a machine that produces meaning. As the blueprint for that machine, the script of the play has to actually work—in other words, it has to be performable. All good scripts have that characteristic in common. Outside of that, however, a script can take as many forms as the human imagination allows, and not all of those forms are well served by a classical Aristotelian analysis ...

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6. Why This Play Now?

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pp. 108-120

Chapter 1 discussed how Mark Bly answers the question of “What does a dramaturg do?” with “I question.” The dramaturg asks a lot of questions, but these are really just derivations of one sort of master-question. That question is the dramaturg’s constant companion, and as shown in the final section of this book, it is the question that guides the dramaturg’s inquiries, lines of research, and ...

Part Three: Practice

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pp. 121

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7. New Plays

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pp. 123-143

Dramaturgy is a process of artistic discovery and creation that intersects many creative disciplines, and a dramaturg is a specialist in that process. Having discussed the history and philosophy of dramaturgy and created a frame for the development of dramatic analysis (the dramaturg’s most central skill), we are able to discern that there is a method to that process, a mechanism that can ...

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8. The Company

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pp. 144-160

Edwin Zeydel’s quotation is tongue-in-cheek, but it is a reminder that there is sometimes a gulf between a theatrical event that is artistically or socially relevant, on the one hand, and what makes money for a theater on the other. But a good dramaturg’s “rash interference” can actually bridge this gap by providing a critical (but supportive) eye within the production process. The best troupes ...

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9. Audiences

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pp. 161-175

In the intense and high-powered machine that is theater production in America, the dramaturg is something of a liminal figure, neither this exactly nor that exactly. Some students of dramaturgy initially find this liminality frustrating, but it is indeed what makes dramaturgy work because the dramaturg is at home in the worlds of criticism and scholarship as well as administration ...

Appendix A: The Casebook

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pp. 179-180

Appendix B: The Dramaturg’s Library

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pp. 181-186

Appendix C: Societies of Interest to Dramaturgs

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pp. 187-189

Appendix D: Journals, Periodicals, and Online Databases

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pp. 190-191

Appendix E: Accessing Original Texts Online

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pp. 192-193

Appendix F: Recommended Play Anthologies

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pp. 194-196


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pp. 197-201


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pp. 203-211

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Author Bio

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pp. 213

Michael Mark Chemers is the founding director of the Bachelor of Fine Arts in Production Dramaturgy Program at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama. He holds an MFA in playwriting from Indiana University (1997) and a PhD in theater history and theory from the University of Washington at Seattle (2001). He is the author of Staging Stigma: A Critical Examination of ...

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Series Statement

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pp. 214

The goal of the series is to publish a wide range of scholarship on theater and performance, defining theater in its broadest terms and including subjects that encompass all of the Americas. The series focuses on the performance and production of theater and theater artists and practitioners but welcomes studies of dramatic literature as well. Meant to be inclusive, the series invites studies of traditional, experimental ...

Series Titles

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pp. 215

E-ISBN-13: 9780809385713
E-ISBN-10: 0809385716
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809329526
Print-ISBN-10: 0809329522

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 2 line drawings
Publication Year: 2010