What Is A Dramaturg?

Daniel Sunjata (left) as a blunt-speaking dramaturg in" Smash," faces off against Debra Messing with Christian Borle trying to mediate, in New York's theater district
Daniel Sunjata (left) as a blunt-speaking dramaturg in” Smash,” faces off against Debra Messing with Christian Borle trying to mediate, in New York’s theater district

A dramaturg is a murderer in “Icarus,” the episode of “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” in which everybody thinks Cynthia Nixon playing a Julie Taymor-like figure was the perpetrator.  A dramaturg is a handsome man who lives in a very expensive New York apartment but who hurts the now-scarfless Debra Messing’s feelings in “The Dramaturg,” the latest episode of “Smash.” “Dramaturgs are like dentists,” he tells her.  “No one wants to see them but you’re glad you went once the pain wears off.”

But what is a dramaturg on stage rather than on the small screen? Script-doctor (rather than script dentist), program-writer, literary manager, historical consultant, mediator, play developer…in other words, it depends.

In Dramaturgy 101 in the Educational Theatre Association, Amy Steele writes:

Some dramaturgs say they are literary and historical consultants who work with directors, designers, and actors to make an artistic vision a reality. Others reply that they are scholars who apply their research to make the world of a play come alive. Then there are dramaturgs who collaborate with playwrights to help shape new scripts and stories as well as advocate for playwrights’ intentions during the rehearsal process.

In the latest of the weekly interviews with dramaturgs on 2amt, dramaturg Hannah Daniel says: “When I explain my position today, I say that my job is sometimes to make sure everyone (design team, actors, audience, staff) is in the same world of the play, sometimes to acquaint everyone with the world crafted by the playwright then molded by the design team. Sometimes it is simply to provide context, whether that is historical or otherwise.”

Check out the website of LMDA, the Literary Managers & Dramaturgs of the Americas, which has been around since 1985.


Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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