Conversation with Elyn Friedrichs, Production Assistant based in Braunsweig, Germany and Assistant Director on The Ashes at Nottingham Playhouse
How does the model of a dramaturg operate in the German theatre system?
In Germany, the dramaturg is responsible for choosing the text, editing the text, liaising with the director and the creative team about the text, auditioning, and during rehearsal, observing the process and keeping an ‘outside eye’ on the representation of the text, how the director’s visions or intentions materialize.
And what differences have you experienced when working on The Ashes in the UK?
It is interesting that firstly, as a writer, you were there in the rehearsal space as this rarely happens in German theatre. In Germany we don’t generally have to ask permission if we want to make changes to the text. If you have a play that has never been played before, you are allowed to change things if the author gives his permission. If a play has been performed often you are allowed to cut things, or it is tolerated. But if you write new things, cut characters etc. you should ask the publishing company or the author himself. I noticed that here I was able to have more input. The role of an Assistant Director in Germany is more like a Deputy Stage Manager here. I also noticed that here the rehearsal space is more open to visitors. In Germany it is a sacrosanct space, an atmosphere built of trust.
One of my main research questions is ‘What is the value of a dramaturg?’ In your opinion, how might a production take place differently without a dramaturg in Germany?
I don’t think it could happen at all. He chooses the play. He rewrites the play. He cuts the play. He edits the play. He has this focus. He knows the audience and their expectation and can intervene on certain scenes if that expectation is not being met. He represents the expectations of the audience in rehearsal.
What kind of training might a dramaturg have in Germany?
They have a literary or philosophical training or background as much as a theatrical one. Often they are working with language, in the work they make and how they communicate about it through rehearsal process and programme notes so it is important they are articulate and know how to communicate their vision. They are working in some way with the repertoire of the mind, the plays they know, the plays they want to produce, the plays they think the audience will like.
We approach theatre as much as a theory or a structure as as a form of practice.
How do you understand the role of the ‘outside eye’ in contemporary performance?
I believe you choose the right kind of people, a certain type of person who will represent your vision or understand what you are trying to achieve. They might be able to tell you that you are not achieving it. They might be able to tell you why. They might be able to tell you how you can achieve it. They have a distant view. Sometimes, people are too busy thinking of representing themselves to think of their audience so it is important to have an outside perspective.