- New Play Development: Facilitating Creativity for Dramaturgs, Playwrights, and Everyone Else by Lenora Inez Brown
In her most recent book, New Play Development: Facilitating Creativity for Dramaturgs, Playwrights, and Everyone Else, Lenora Inez Brown offers a framework to theatre-makers for how to work as and with an active dramaturg on plays that are in development. She also wrote The Art of Active Dramaturgy (2010), which differs from New Play Development in that it primarily focuses on set-text dramaturgy rather than new works. While helpful as an introduction into dramaturgy as a field, New Play Development is problematic in its structure and specific content. Although divided into four parts, each takes an entirely different form than the previous one and the lengths vary quite significantly. These choices, while not harmful independently, do not seem to have reasoning behind them, which makes readers question where to place their focus. In addition, the content does not target a specific audience, which can have the positive effect of being a book useful for a broader population, but can also generate doubt regarding when, how, and with whom to use it.
The preface to this work outlines Brown’s agenda to “help demystify the development process and illuminate the philosophy behind many of the active dramaturg’s questions” (xi). The introduction puts forth an analogy (used throughout the book) between a dramaturg and Sherlock Holmes, making the case for why and how dramaturgs dig into the mystery of a new play. Brown then offers a straight-forward outline of the main components that dramaturgs and creative teams need to focus on in a new (or any) play: its rules, its world, and its voice. She also importantly, and frequently, reminds readers to always have an awareness of their biases.
The first of the four parts in the book, titled “Building the Game Plan,” includes two chapters that offer strategies for approaching new work and working with a playwright. Extoling the effectiveness of the workshop, stating the necessity of operating with a communally agreed upon thesis for the play, and providing examples of how to find that thesis are the main items offered here. Brown’s intent toward moving the process along is commendable, and she also provides an outline of how one might structure the process of rewriting a script, offering ideas about how to generate solutions rather than talking around issues. This outline may suggest that the book is targeted more toward new playwrights. In an effort to put the play’s needs first, Brown emphasizes true listening and helpful inquiry to best assist the complex process of embarking on new work with an active playwright.
“Active Dramaturgy, Active Playwriting, and the Workshop” is the title of the second, and largest, part of the book. It is made up of five chapters that cover approaches to workshopping, configuring talkbacks, and shifting from workshop to rehearsal. Brown breaks up the workshop process to help elucidate how each member of the creative team can contribute to the play. The steps she presents provide structure to less-seasoned creative teams, but are not as helpful to individuals who already understand the processes behind theatre-making. Perhaps the most valuable contribution to this part is chapter 4, “Developing a Flexible Eye.” Brown’s focus on flexibility is important for all readers, but especially for supporting an argument of the book that this is one of the challenges that most creative teams face: being flexible.
A plethora of exercises make up part 3 of the book, “The Dramaturgy Variations: Developing Play Development Skills.” While the other three parts seem to target theatre production teams more generally, this one specifically aims to provide active exercises to dramaturgy students. Among these include improvisational exercises (both manuscript-based and not), playing with Shakespeare, and something called the “Dramaturgy Variation IV: The Six- to Ten- to Fourteen-Line Scenes.” These exercises are geared toward offering a student opportunities to engage in an active way, which is ideal for one wishing to understand how to be an active...