- The Process of Dramaturgy: A Handbook by Scott R. Irelan, Anne Fletcher, and Julie Felise Dubiner
Irelan, Fletcher, and Dubiner parlay their experience as dramaturgs, historians, and professors of US theatre in The Process of Dramaturgy: A Handbook, to the benefit of neophyte production dramaturgs. The authors draw upon their combined experiences in academic and professional venues, ranging from Shakespeare festivals to major regional theatres, as they shepherd the reader through the production dramaturgy process in a linear fashion. Thus, the book is divided into three primary sections—pre-production, rehearsals, and in-production—with each chapter describing the different responsibilities and functions of a production dramaturg during each phase of the process. Succinct, accessible, best-practice suggestions for ways one might accomplish these tasks as the process unfolds are provided throughout the text. Each chapter concludes with a glossary, tailored exercises for classroom or independent study, and a "So You Want to Be a [End Page 194] Dramaturg" section in which the authors offer final, pithy words of advice and encourage the reader to apply the chapter content to their own work. The book culminates in an extended case study, which recounts the research process and outreach efforts of an undergraduate dramaturg working on a university production of Neil Simon's Biloxi Blues.
Throughout the handbook the authors emphasize "workable strategies and practical exercises meant not only to develop and improve but also to expand and extend [dramaturgs'] sensibilities and skill sets" (ix). Emblematic of this focus is chapter two, "Opening a Dialogue," in which the authors offer detailed examples and helpful advice on how to foment a collaborative, trust-filled relationship with the director while also balancing and helping to realize both the playwright's and director's visions of the play on stage. For instance, the authors advise clear communication first with the producing organization (via contract) and director (via letter) to establish the dramaturg's frequently nebulous roles and responsibilities. Their combined experience leads them to relay excellent director-letter content recommendations that convey enthusiasm for the director's project while demonstrating one's utility and skilled dramaturgical eye. Such tips, followed by excerpts from the authors' past dramaturgical work—such as Irelan's letter to the director from his own experience dramaturging My Fair Lady—help the reader see how these suggestions are put into practice. Following this counsel will help one avoid the common dramaturg's dilemma of being sent to hunt and gather information, but then not invited to interpret and apply that information in productive talks with the director and designers. This advice is representative of the authors' interest in mentoring budding dramaturgs and will be welcomed by many neophyte dramaturgs, particularly in a field that remains persistently on the edges of many theatre training programs in the United States.
To limit their examination to the practice of production dramaturgy, the authors omit summaries of topics routinely found in dramaturgy texts, such as the profession's historical development, the many manifestations of dramaturgy, and the dramaturg's longstanding struggle to be accepted as trusted artistic collaborator. This is a logical choice given the authors' aim to relay practical knowledge capable of cultivating keen dramaturgical skills that are useful in both educational and professional milieus, but it means the picture of the field as a whole contains gaps. The chapter on "The New Play," in which the authors describe how regional theatres obtain, evaluate, and develop new plays, is the only chapter to depart from this narrow focus, and serves as one way of acquainting the dramaturgy apprentice with further dramaturgical opportunities.
The authors' affable tone and use of multiple, concrete examples to illustrate their strategies are a significant departure from other books on this subject, many of which focus on the development of a dramaturgical perspective or sensibility rather than delving into the details of the rehearsal process. Even many dramaturgy courses [End Page 195] at the undergraduate and graduate level approach this subject from a theoretical perspective without also offering the...