Tim Mrosek is a dramaturg and director based in Cologne (Germany). He works at studiobühneköln. Image: “12” (director: Tim Mrosek / Foto: Ingo Solms).
What is your understanding of the word dramaturg?
TM: I think when I started to become interested in theatre I soon realized that almost every job in theatre, almost every position that is filled by someone is kind of easy to understand from an outside position. So you understand what the actor is or what the director does and what an assistant is but the dramaturg stayed as an enigma because I ran across different types of the dramaturg. I was in a production where I did assistant work to the dramaturg’s assistant. We only did text work. That was a production by Richard Maxwell and what he did was he rewrote the text after every rehearsal and what we had to do was sit with him and listen to the changes and put them in the text version, making copies, that was basically just text work. I worked on another production were the dramaturg came every second week, watched a rehearsal, after the rehearsal he would sit down with the director and me and the assistant and talked about what he had seen and talked about what he had seen two weeks before and always referring back to the general basic idea of what the whole production was. Asking questions like which way are you going? I think you took this or that turn. It might be interesting to go back to the intersection and try the other turn as well. Always asking questions about the way. The way that the production is going. The aim that the production once had. The aim that might be there now. That was one thing, then this production had two dramaturgs, the other one was responsible only for public relations e.g. flyers, posters, programmes etc. When I started here as a dramaturg I thought it would be a strange position. If someone asks me I say I’m a dramaturg and then they ask me what I do and I could always tell them different things and sometimes I do public relations stuff or I talk to the groups here always in relation to what kind of picture we want to be seen by the public. That’s dramaturgical work that sounds more like PR and when I tell people that I don’t do a lot of production dramaturg’s work so I don’t go to rehearsals that often and I don’t talk to artists about their artistic stuff, that’s when I realize that me being a dramaturg here means doing a lot of that part of the dramaturg’s work but when I go to conferences and festivals or talk to other groups then I do the other part of the dramaturg’s work. Then when I work for myself, because I am a director as well, and I am rehearsing then it becomes really strange because often I am my own dramaturg, I am the outside eye watching what I am doing.
How do you achieve that?
TM: By being schizophrenic. It’s about control mechanisms. You can’t undo what you have seen or what you have experienced. When the director says let’s do this and the dramaturg thinks about what that means for the process. The interesting question is how can one not get in one’s own way then. But I think that probably every dramaturg you ask in Germany will tell you different things about what a dramaturg can be and very different things about what he or she as a dramaturg does. Probably the one thing that is really interesting about being a dramaturg is you can define for yourself what it is.
That’s absolutely true. A lot of people say they write their own job description. Part of their role is to define the role. Often when you work with artists you define the role to that artist’s need. What interested me there was when you said you are your own dramaturg and I wondered if you ever invite any other dramaturgs or outside eyes into the process to give you more objective feedback. Usually in Germany you have a director and a dramaturg working together. Do you make a deliberate choice to be both?
TM: No not really. I think I did one production where I had no outside eye of any kind. That was easy because it was a German play that was the most well written play I’ve ever read so there was nothing for a dramaturg to do and that went quite well. Normally the group I work with has two dramaturgs, in inverted commas. One is doing more public relations, the other is available to come to rehearsals, I don’t necessarily hear what he says. I hear what he says but often I know what he is going to say. That’s my personal problem. I invite people but I haven’t found the right person who I trust to give that sort of feedback that helps me. Everyone’s peculiar and I haven’t found the person who could be my dramaturg. That could be someone who comes to rehearsal and says that’s absolute rubbish what you’ve been doing for the last week but I can tell you why and I can tell you that you don’t want to do this – you want to go back to the intersection and go the other way and please do so. That would be the best thing that could happen to me as someone who tries to do theatre. But I think that it is always necessary to have someone who can give feedback. There is also a moment of reassuring the rest of the people you work with. One comes and says OK you’re on the way and the way is interesting, it’s not the way I would have gone but it is working. When you work with a small ensemble as a director sometimes you cannot lie, or you can’t say we’re fine and some actors need that all the time. Someone from outside who can tell them what they want to hear.
A dramaturg I know in England said they have the capacity to be frank. Someone who can say I’m not sure this is working, can we try it this way? You have to have a certain relationship with the artist or company in order to do that. Otherwise there’s a danger that you slip into sycophantic behaviour where you’re just saying this is great all the time.
TM: It depends on whom you talk to. Right after rehearsal when the actor comes and asks what you think, I think as a dramaturg you can’t say that its wrong, you have to give positive feedback. Even if it’s I like it I can’t tell you why. Afterwards when the director comes everything is possible, you should be able to be frank. Maybe that’s my problem because for me that happens when I go home, when I know what I want to say. With other people’s work it’s rather that I want to know where I am. We have a group who works here and I go to rehearsal and afterwards everyone comes to you and asks ‘What are you thinking?’ and you have one version but when you sit down with the director you should give them the truth, what you think is the truth, you should be frank. But when I work on my own this is when my inner dramaturg and my inner director start to communicate.
So the dramaturg needs some distance with the work?
TM: He needs to be alone with the director.