Dramaturgy in Dialogue: Hetain Patel

Notes on a conversation with visual and live artist, Hetain Patel.

Why did you invite me to work with you as a dramaturg?

I wanted someone I could trust keeping me on track with my intention. The intention or the concept is the most important thing. The worry is when you’re making something, that you can’t always ensure that the intention is being made clear. I wanted someone to keep me anchored to what I told you about at the beginning of the process, to keep me anchored to the starting point. You need someone to ask the right questions, to ask you about that starting point and then to keep you anchored to it through questions and through suggesting practically.

So if you are anchored by a dramaturg, what if you drift?

You said to me that we should hear Mark and Dave’s stories too and that was a really important moment in the process where you dropped the anchor for me. I don’t value drifting without anchoring. Yes, being anchored allows some drift but I can’t fully play or create if I’m constantly drifting.

What was the thinking behind inviting Matthias Sperling to be a ‘choreo-turg’?

I wanted this to be a really in-depth collaboration between artists from different disciplines. It wasn’t about choreography it was about a movement voacabulary and how you have a spatial awareness and how you define yourself in the space. I wanted Matthias to think about how we define what we do and to think more in 3D than 2D especially because this was my first piece for the theatre and I am used to working more in 2D e.g. photography and video installations in a gallery. For TEN, I wanted to work with people who had specialties in a tangible craft.

How would you define the role of a dramaturg?

Dramaturgy feeds into the core of the work, the concept, the reason it is there. It is important to the crafting of narrative, the awareness of space. It allows an engagement with concepts and the reason the piece exists.  The provocation, the reason the piece exists, is the most important aspect for me. Dramaturgy was the best way to ensure this was the most important thing in the process. Dramaturgy was a blindspot of mine.

How would you describe being a dramaturg?

You have to be able to trust whoever it is. To talk freely about the work in the knowledge you are being understood. You have to be able to listen. To be sensitive to taking on board what the artist is trying to say or thinks or what they are trying to do.

It strikes me that the role sits somewhere between suggestion and reflection.

The role reflects what I found in some of the tutors whose valued most at NTU. You would not have been able to know what their practice was in their own work through the way they advised you about your own. They listen to you. They direct, point, you in the right direction in relation to your previous work or practice. Not come in with all guns blazing and try and make it like their own work. But come in to the process ready to take something on board. To listen to what you are saying about what you are trying to do. To make us aware of the difference between what we think we are doing and what we are actually doing. You have to be able to marry the intention of the work with the finished work.

I am looking at the role of the midwife as an example of similar practice

I think of it like the role of a composer. I was listening to a radio interview with a composer who said they are always trying to write the same song but the same song sounds different depending on the time of year, what mood you’re in etc. The artists whose work I admire seem to have this itch they are trying to scratch

When you were my dramaturg for The End you talked about the ‘voice of the work’

The artist is capable of having different voices. All have equal value. Depending on what kind of voice you want to amplify. The artist is trying to do, or play with different voices in different contexts and this becomes the voice of the work, it is like the different songs all having the same starting point. The voice of the work becomes something else and the dramaturg’s role is to nurture that voice if it is a new voice or the artist hasn’t used it before and isn’t sure about how to use it. The dramaturg’s role is to give the artist confidence in the voice of the work.

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