Wtf is a dramaturg?

17 April 2019

You may have asked; Liam Rees is here to answer

There’s an urban legend that the reason Britain has Literary Managers rather than Dramaturgs is because it sounded too German and foreign. Is it true? I don’t know. Do I care? Not particularly – it still paints a pretty clear image of the confusion surrounding what this somewhat wanky word means. Especially when it's bandied about in reviews and theatre seminars in which everyone has a different definition.

Well never fear, after a few months working in continental theatre and a Q&A with the Donmar Warehouse’s Literary Manager, Clare Slater, I’m here to enlighten you and settle the argument once and for all.

In British ‘writers' theatre’ Literary Managers read scripts, develop relationships with writers and do a lot of, well, management on a programming level. An inside tip from Clare: the Literary Manager is one of the best people to talk to because they’re not as busy as the Artistic Director and more likely to fit you in for a chat over a cup of tea.

Across the pond, in the land of ‘directors' theatre’ where the concept is king and the text knocked off its pedestal, the Dramaturg has a significantly wider remit. Somewhere between an in-house critic and researcher, a dramaturg focuses on the making-of, working on the production as a live theatrical experience, providing feedback and ensuring the concept and intentions of the writer or director or whoever it may be is as clear as possible. They make the work more like what it’s trying to be. Kind of like an assistant director that doesn’t make tea and coffee. However, depending on the nature of each show their role will probably change. Devised piece? They’re probably giving constant feedback and providing the show with an overall structure. New play? A lot of researching and assisting on redrafts. One-man Hamlet set in a Slovakian toilet? Well I’m not sure where they’d start on that but they’re going to have a lot of work to do in making sure that concept is solid.

And that’s not even touching on their role on an institutional level! A significantly wider remit indeed, some literary managers are also dramaturgs but not all dramaturgs are literary managers. But also some directors and producers are functionally dramaturgs even if that’s not their title. Arts job descriptions are hard...

Sooooo…..after all that... it kind of can mean whatever you want it mean…


@noffmag / [email protected]

Image credit: Beatrice Debney