Dramaturgy in Dialogue: Chris. Dugrenier

Chris. Dugrenier is a live artist and theatre maker who collaborates with companies such as Stan’s Cafe and 30 Bird. I am working with Chris as an outside eye on her performance, Wealth’s Last Caprice.

What is the role of a dramaturg?

Chris: One question I’m going to ask as an answer is what is your distinction between dramaturgy and outside eye? I was thinking about this regarding Wealth’s Last Caprice and Elan Vital. I was thinking about your role in that and how that role will be different. Because in Wealth’s Last Caprice it’s clear now that your input has been as an outside eye and I think that your input for Elan Vital might be more of a dramaturg because from reading your blog and my limited theoretical understanding of the notion of the dramaturg, I have been thinking about the dramaturg as the person who might collect material and tie those things together in a way. In Wealth’s Last Caprice you came in clearly as an outside eye and in that sense you were able to be the audience’s eye but a bit more critical. You were able to offer readings that the audience might get from what is presented to them, so I was thinking about what it is that you did during the two days you worked with me.

You looked at the whole piece and then we worked on sections which I felt needed more of an outside eye. Sections that maybe I thought looked clumsy or unblocked or problematic but I didn’t know why they were problematic. So I was thinking about precisely the work you did on the dance and the text at the same time, when I sit on the table and refer to meeting my lover, where you suggested speaking in both English and French and the deconstruction (not the right word because it is imbued with a theoretical context) more like the unbuilding and taking apart, you took the elements that were in that scene, physicality, text and the transition to another section. You took this one apart and we looked at each element on its own and what you suggested was putting the elements as a layer so we put the elements that were layered on top of each other next to each other. Now that section is totally in the context, related to notions of love, two histories of love. Because you unbuilt the section to its core elements, one of the texts leads naturally to the dance and it links to me, the present linking to the past.

So that’s the key element for me of your input, how you helped to unbuild the scene and work on its bare elements and reorder them or remove them. I was surprised when you asked me how I see the work you will be doing with me? I thought ‘I don’t know. You’re the dramaturg’. But it was a very useful question to make me think clearly about what we would work on. I only had a very basic theoretical understanding of the rules. It’s a very wide rule. It depends on the person you are working with, the project you are working on, where your input is at, if you are asked to look at the script, or the performance at a point there and now. Or other artists might mean more of a reorganising role, or a directorial role rather than a dramaturgical role. Suggesting things like the stapling of the will, when I had a difficulty with the sentence, making a full stop out of the text with the sound of the staple. It is very revelatory how you made conscious what in some way was there when it was unconscious to me, when I was not very conscious of the direct links. So for example you connected the cardboard box full of treasures with the cardboard coffin full of the things I wanted with me when I die. These are the connections an outside eye makes.

How does it help to know this now?

Chris: I quite like this circular notion. The ending mirrors the beginning. It’s never quite an ending because if it mirrors the beginning it means it can start again. This circularity helps with the connections. Mentioning the Forget-me-nots near the beginning, which I also mention at the end. Making those connections which close the circle. It doesn’t matter for the audience, I think, it’s not something I want to emphasise to an audience, but all the threads are tied up, and tying up the knots. They are good terminologies.

French dramaturgs refer to their job as ‘untying knots in the narrative’.

Chris: We work less linearly, more with making connections, We splice up a story and the audience now are able to make the link between one section and three sections ahead and they are able to make the connection to the invisble thread, to make reference to a section half an hour later and say ‘yes I get that now’. It is a magical moment for the audience, Because we work non-linearly that’s why we need to tie the knots instead of untie them I think.

What is this invisible thread?

Chris: Like tapestry, if you look at the image from the front, it’s all there on the front, beautifully rendered and put together. Turn the tapestry round to the back and that’s what I’m describing. It’s threads, intricacy, process and structure. Maybe you have changed the colour, or tied off. It’s messy. When you turn it around it’s messy. And when you turn it forward it’s clear, and there are no knots or not holes. Hopefully. Watching the documentation and remembering the sensation when I finished the run through with you, I thought it just flew, it has become the whole, it has become the front of a tapestry. Everything flowed. Everything made sense. The transition worked, but not as a transition, but as an element of the work. It was no more: this is the beginning, this is the middle, the end. It became a performance. It is so important to have an outside eye. Even moreso when you work on your own. I have spent three years trying to make this piece on my own and now I would tell anybody you need an outside eye. There is no way you could make a solo performance without the input of an uninvolved but critical person that can ask questions about the knots that are in the piece and can offer methods, ways or just ask questions and let you work out the way to unpick it all. There is more work to be done in terms of delivery and rhythm and responding to the audience and that will come with performing it but in terms of the content there is nothing that is missing.

Is a dramaturg a luxury or an essential part of the creative process?

Chris: When you are in a company it is an essential luxury, as an individual it is an essential. For a company maybe it is an intruder, to an aesthetic, to a range of concerns or methods, shining lights on the dark corners, the dusty sections, the messy bits. My experience is that it is essential, it is a necessity.

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