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  • Rehearsing Dramaturgy: Olivia’s Moment 1
  • Geoffrey S. Proehl (bio)

Cesario, by the roses of the spring, By maidhood, honour, truth and every thing, I love thee so, that, maugre all thy pride, Nor wit nor reason can my passion hide.

OLIVIA, Twelfth Night 3.1.161–64

THESIS: That dramaturgy (or more specifically the idea of the dramaturg) is creating new ways of talking about theatre and that these new ways, or perhaps reconfigured old ways, have the power to transform our lives and how we make theatre. That these new/old ways are the product of conditions created when dramaturgy mixed into the theatre-making process another mind and body with a particular nonfunctional function: this person who sits in rehearsal but who does not specifically act or direct or write or design; this person who embraces both theory and practice, often bringing with her the life of a humanist, a love for the liberal arts, for history or philosophy or criticism, and almost always of poetry, of writing, of the words and scraps of paper we pass back and forth across the table.

  What else does it come down to but handing on scraps of paper   little figurines or phials no stronger than the dry clay they are baked in   yet more than dry clay or paper because the imagination crouches in them.

Adrienne Rich, “Leaflets” (Collected 334)

This person whose eyes come alive at words from Beckett or Woolf or Chekhov or Fornes. This ex-English major, ex-math major, ex-journalism major (or maybe not even an ex-) who cannot act, at least not as well as “the actors,” but who loves actors. This person who longs to be in the rehearsal hall—watching; responding; attentively listening and finally speaking, leaning toward the [End Page 197] director to say just this: —. Now sitting across the auditorium, now two seats away. Smiling or frowning at what she sees and hears, there with the director, against the loneliness and emptiness of that space, now in darkness, now in the harsh glare of work lights. The first, often, to register with the director that elusive, transcendent moment when the floor falls away and all are suspended in delight at the ferocious meeting of language and the lived body, the first time the actor playing Trigorin knows the full impact of those words: “I feel like a peasant trying to run as fast as a train. I think in the end all I can really write about are landscapes. About everything else, I’m false, false to the core” (Chekhov 25).

A Minor Revelation

While rehearsing Master Harold and the Boys, I realized rehearsal was as much about talking as any other part of the production: talking in the hallway outside the rehearsal space to the young college freshman playing Master Harold—a difficult, needy, talented, heartbroken, scared, angry, immature, confused young man, as likely to fly into a rage as break down in tears—difficult but not intentionally so. An actor at a turning point in a young life. I wanted to move past that conversation in the hall (each day shifting through some pain or frustration, new or old) so we could return to the real work, or what I thought was the real work: figuring out the structure of the scene. Then one day I realized the conversation in the hall was the work, and I would have to use all my talents as a person who made his living with words if I wanted to do that work well.

THESIS: That central to dramaturgy is conversation, written or spoken: the conversation among the collaborators in and outside of rehearsal, over coffee and in bars, a conversation that then ripples out from rehearsal to conferences and journals and books, taking written as well as spoken forms, eventually linking the verbal contexts of rehearsal to the written contexts of the profession.

These conversations and the writing they inspire suggest the emergence of one or more schools of dramaturgical dialogue. What interests me, as one who has listened to and participated in this dialogue for the last ten years, is the emergence of a more emotionally engaged writing...