Dramaturgy in Dialogue: Kate Chapman

Interview with Kate Chapman, artistic director of Theatre Writing Partnership

Please could you describe the role of the dramaturg as you understand it?

Kate: A dramaturg is someone who looks at the skeletal structure of the work. Someone who is involved in the development of a script or a work in progress. Their role is to look at the underworkings of the piece, beat by beat. They might look at the narrative, the characters, the overall structure. They are perhaps looking at how the piece is translating meaning to an audience. Sometimes it feels like a swan, on the surface it’s calm, but its feet are paddling underwater.

Burt Cardullo describes the role of the dramaturg to a play as similar to that of a mechanic to an automobile, they understand how the engine works etc.

Kate: The thing about dramaturgy is that it is not so much of a mystery as an engine. Under the bonnet of a play there is a shared language and understanding between the people; writers, performers, directors, who are in the thick of making it.  From my experience of dramaturgy, the role is always changing.

How have you worked with or as a dramaturg in the past?

Kate: When I worked in radio as a producer for the BBC, I would work on the page as a script editor as well as on recording the reading of the material so I suppose you could describe that as a form of dramaturgical support. It’s an experimental realm in radio, where as a ‘dramaturg’ you are the writer’s friend. You oversee the process from scratch and support that process. You are a sounding board for the writer’s ideas and you understand where those ideas are coming from and how best to communicate them to an audience. You balance awareness of technical needs with an understanding of the ideas and structure.

How would you describe the role you play now with Theatre Writing Partnership?

Kate: We are playing a role as facilitators, enabling conversations to take place between writers and theatres and helping writers to retain ownership of their work. I see the role of a dramaturg as to shine a light through the words, to find out what is happening between them and behind them. We write in layers and we watch theatre that is made up of layers, the dramaturg identifies the layers.


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