Looking without pencil in the hand

Theaterschrift 1994English
Theaterschrift 1994 nrs 5-6: On dramaturgy

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“(…) distance is often linked with the most intense state of feeling, in which the coolness or impersonality with which something is treated measures the insatiable interest that thing has for us.” (Susan Sontag)

1. The request to talk or write about it leads time and again to the same awkwardness: the feeling of being asked to reveal someone else’s culinary secrets or recipes.

2. In artistic practice there are no fixed laws of behaviour, or task that can wholly defined in advance, not even for the dramaturge. Every production forms its own method of work. It is precisely through the quality of the method used that the work of important artists gains its clarity, by their intuitively knowing – at every stage in the process – what the next step is. One of the abilities a dramaturge must develop is the flexibility to handle the methods used by artists while at the same time shaping his/her own way of working.

3. Whatever additional tasks – sometimes very practical and certainly highly varied – the dramaturge takes on in the course of an artistic process, there always remain several constants present in his work; dramaturgy is always concerned with the conversion of feeling into knowledge, and vice versa. Dramaturgy is the twilight zone between art and science.

4. Dramaturgy is also the passion of looking. The active process of the eye; the dramaturge as first spectator. He should be that slightly bashful friend who cautiously, weighing his words, expresses what he has seen and what traces it has left; he is the ‘outsider’s eye’ that wants to look ‘purely’ but at the same time has enough knowledge of what goes on on the inside to be both moved by and involved in what happens there. dramaturgy feeds on diffidence.

5. Dramaturgy is also being able both to affirm and to repudiate at the right moment: knowing what, when and how to say something. Based on a realization of the vulnerability of the building blocks, but also conscious that the construction sometimes needs a good pounding.

6. It also invites the building up of a special type of personal relationship, in order to carry on conversations that are on the one hand highly specific – they are, after all, concerned with that progress of practical work – and on the other very serene and ‘wasteful’ in the ay a very personal contact is.

7. By means of his/her writing about a production, the dramaturge smooths the way towards its public airing. Whatever he/she writes must be ‘correct’; it must describe the work in an evident and organic way and lend a guiding hand on its way to its life in society, a life which often has a destructive effect on its meaning.

8. Dramaturgy is also sometimes – one is working after all with ‘groups’ – a psychological mediation. The basis for this lies not, however, in the technical approach of the professional ‘social worker’, but rather in the disinterested motives of ‘a friendship in the workplace’.

9. Dramaturgy is a limited profession. The dramaturge must be able to handle solitude; he/she has no fixed abode, he/she does not belong anywhere. The work he does dissolves into the production, becomes invisible. He/she always shares the frustrations and yet does not have to appear on the photo. The dramaturge is not (perhaps not quite or not yet) an artist. Anyone that cannot, or can no longer, handle this serving – and yet creative – aspect, is better off out of it.

10. Dramaturgy means, among other things: filling in in a creative process, with whatever material necessary; the assimilation and ‘guarding’ of a project’s ‘first ideas’ in order, occasionally, to restore them to memory; to suggest without forcing to a decision; being a touchstone, a sounding board; helping provide for inner needs. For this reason one of the essential axes on which the practice of dramaturgy turns is the accumulation of a reservoir of material – amassing knowledge in all fields: reading, listening to music, viewing exhibitions, watching performances, travelling, encountering people and ideas, living and experiencing and reflecting on all this. Being continuously occupied with the building up of a stock which may be drawn from at any time. Remembering at the right time what you have in your stockroom.

11. There is no essential difference between theatre and dance dramaturgy, although the nature and history of the material used differs. Its main concerns are: the mastering of structures; the achievement of a global view; the gaining of insight into how to deal with the material, whatever its origin may be – visual, musical, textual, filmic, philosophical etc.

12. At present, purely literary or linear dramaturgy is seldom to be found, in either dance or theatre. Dramaturgy today is often a case of solving puzzles, learning to deal with complexity. This management of complexity demands an investment from all the senses, and, more especially, a firm trust in the path of intuition.

“There is an immense difference between looking at something without pencil in the hand and looking at something while drawing it.” (Paul Valéry)