Dramaturgy in Dialogue: Rachael Walton

Interview with Rachael Walton, co-artistic director of Third Angel

How does the role of the outside eye operate in your company?

Rachael: In the early days, the idea of working with a dramaturg wouldn’t have occurred to us whereas now, because of what we’re doing for What I heard about the world in a German theatre context, it has evolved into us thinking that is something we need more, it is more relevant to us now. But it is not in a traditional sense of script development but more idea development. I suppose it helps us to consider the role that research plays in the work. At the moment, I am working on a new project, The Life and Loves of a Nobody, and I am thinking of engaging with one outside eye in the form of a director for a short period of time to help with the early stages of the process and in the long term, another outside eye, to help move the material into performance.

How do you decide who will play the role of dramaturg?

Rachael: The role helps in developing a piece, developing writing, within the work we’ve made historically. Often that role has fallen more to me, having children, not being in the rehearsal room as much as I would have liked. What is that role? How does it happen? Alex likes to research projects and I like to think about how we make it into a show. He works more instinctively, more organically. If something feels right then that’s OK. He likes to use the big paintbrush. When it comes to questioning the work, I have a slightly smaller paintbrush, I like to look at the detail. I consider how we might theatricalise these ideas, move it on and make sure it doesn’t always remain in a performance lecture format.

How do your two styles complement each other?

Rachael: We are very much opposites but I think from where we were when we started, we have swapped roles, I started out with Live Art and time and movement based work and Alex started out in more theatrical territory and now it is reversed. We influence each other’s work and we complement each other. Whilst we both have the title of co-artistic director, when it comes to the actual process, we can’t have two directors, it just doesn’t work. One person takes the lead, the other person will offer outside eye suggestions. That is how we work now. We have worked together for a long time so we trust each other.

A Smith talks about how a dramaturg has to have ‘the capacity to be frank’

Rachael: I am not sure who is going to have that role in The Life and Loves of Nobody. We have our own style, it’s not foolproof. It has to be someone I am going to trust. I need someone who will challenge me. Who will push me in the right direction. Who knows how to do those certain things that work.

How will the role function in the new process?

Rachael: At the moment there are two characters – we are used to working more with personas. I am looking for someone who can help us balance with character, who can help with language, watch lots of old movies, someone who will bounce ideas around with me and spark off my own ideas. When someone tells me something that I don’t agree with then that is when I know what I want. Someone who understands the type of theatre I want to make.

Are you looking for different qualities in the short term / long term dramaturg?

Rachael: In terms of the short term director that has to be someone who I respect, that is interested in the work and why it exists. Someone who is not too theory based but who knows their stuff. Someone who doesn’t intimidate me so I don’t just do what they say. Then I think I might feel a bit cheated. Because we’re a small company I don’t want all the songs to sound the same. With some tunes that is great but we don’t want to be producing the same piece of work all the time. That is why we work with different associate artists. We bring someone in occasionally. We are much more open to that idea now. Seeing how the work can and does evolve through the impact of other artists.

How much is the work you do with students an ‘outside eye’ role?

Rachael: It depends on the length and time of the project. There is a situation where I see the students several times over a longer period. As part of the module they start up their own company and then make work, so I offer surgeries and watch scratch performances, offer feedback, talk to them. I am a mentor or facilitator as much as a dramaturg, highlighting stuff to look at.

When you are an outside eye for other people do you have to rein yourself in? i.e. Not let Third Angel Rachael bring your taste into the process.

Rachael: It only tends to be in student work. But in terms of taste, I think if someone has asked you to be a dramaturg then they must know what you will bring to the process and that must be why they have asked you. I think the role of the dramaturg is to ask the right questions. To be outside of the process enough to allow questions to be asked, to open up the possibility of discovery rather than framing the discovery process. Dramaturgs are there to unpick, to help to untie what might have become knotted, making it possible to address and resolve issues in the work. Rather than the role of the director that decides things for you, the dramaturg enables you to decide for yourself.

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