LMDA Canada - newsletter Sept. 04

Document Sample
LMDA Canada - newsletter Sept. 04 Powered By Docstoc
                                September 2004


                             NOTES FROM THE CHAIR

                                       – BRIAN QUIRT

           The LMDA Annual Conference, Philadelphia, June 2004

                                      – ERICA KOPYTO

                       BLURRING THE BOUNDARIES
              Notes from the LMDA Dramaturgy Mini-Conference

                                 – NATASHA MYTNOWYCH

                       PRODUCTION AS DEVELOPMENT
                       Re-thinking our Models of Dramaturgy
                                    – ANDREA ROMALDI


• LMDA Canada • 36 St. Paul Street, Toronto, ON, M5A 3H3 • 416-214-1992 • •
                                    LMDA CANADA

September 14, 2004

Dear Colleagues...
Conference season is over, and as we head into the fall season, LMDA Canada brings
you the reflections of three emerging dramaturgs from the Toronto region. They are new
members of LMDA, bringing fresh energy and perspective to the field. I hope their
observations give you a sense of what occurred at the Philadelphia and Toronto
conferences; if you couldn’t attend this year, I hope these articles pique your interest for
LMDA surges ahead on a number of fronts. New president Liz Engelman and Board
Chair Mark Bly are busy building contacts in Mexico in preparation for a planned
dramaturgy symposium in Mexico City next year. Liz and I are travelling to London in
October to meet our counterparts in the UK Dramaturg’s Network. We’ll keep you posted
on developments – we’ll be pursuing opportunities for exchange and future
In other news, CanStage dramaturg Iris Turcott has joined Kelly Robinson on the LMDA
Board of Directors, maintaining an important Canadian voice in the organization’s
Thanks to those of you who have renewed your membership for 2004/05. If you’re
reading this but haven’t renewed (check the mailing label to confirm), please do so.
LMDA’s activities, events and publications are dependent on your membership fees.
And please keep in mind the upcoming deadline for nominations for the Elliott Hayes
Award. There is so much good work happening in Canada; it deserves recognition.
If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to contact me.
Have a great season,
Brian Quirt - LMDA Canada

                                    LMDA CANADA
                                 EVENTS TO REMEMBER:

•       LMDA Canada Annual Meeting:                                 Friday March 4, 2005
        Alberta Theatre Projects, Calgary, AB                       1pm - 3:30pm
        ATP playRites Festival Blitz Weekend

•       PGC Conference:                                             May 26 - 28, 2005
        Ottawa, ON

•       PACT Conference:                                            June 3 - 6, 2005
        Banff, AB

•       Magnetic North Theatre Festival:                            June 8 - 18, 2005
        Ottawa, ON

•       LMDA Annual Conference:                                     June 10 - 12, 2005
        Austin, TX (tentative)

• Mini-Conference on Dramaturgy:                            July 4 & 5, 2005
      Toronto, ON

all dates subject to confirmation

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Dramaturgy
The LMDA Annual Conference, Philadelphia, June 2004
by Erica Kopyto
I’m a work in progress and the annual LMDA conference held in Philadelphia from the 24th-
27th of June was my workshop.

I had never attended a conference before; LMDA or otherwise. My expectations were limited to
“Hello my name is...” stickers and time management seminars. Well, the stickers have given way
to sturdier laminated stock cards and the time management seminar was balanced with a session
on “Having time to play.” I saw the faces of names I’d only read, negotiated some existential
queries I’ve been mulling over about a career in dramaturgy and found a community of people
who talk almost as much as I do.

The focus of this year’s conference was life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in one’s job,
one’s field and one’s life. The conference sessions were categorized thusly. Obviously, because
of the constitutional wording, a decidedly U.S. flavour was imbued into the conference’s
atmosphere even from the start. The Canadian contingent, though small in numbers, was huge in
presence. We do boast DD Kugler and Iris Turcott as our very own, after all.

I’m new at this whole dramaturgy thing. For the past seven months, with thanks to a Metcalf
Foundation grant, I’ve been interning at Nightwood Theatre under Kelly Thornton. My
dramaturgical internship focuses on the development of politically arresting yet socially
accessible shows created by women. The side effect is that I gain experience in a career that has
a job description I still struggle to describe. Joanna Falck, who I had met at the Drama Centre at
U of T a few years ago, was on her way to Philadelphia to represent The Tarragon Theatre in her
new role as their Literary Manager. She’s been a member of the LMDA since she was like four
and this was her bazillionith conference. This woman is a born dramaturg. She has served as my
gateway into the larger community of dramaturgs; schools me on who’s who and meets me for
coffee at Balzac’s Café to keep me connected and sane. It was obvious: Joanna and I would take
the trip down to Philadelphia by car and talk for the entire ten hour drive so that we’d both have
a sore throat for the duration of the weekend. When we pulled off the turnpike into downtown
Philly at nearly midnight, our eyes gazed up at the top of one of the old skyscrapers that make up
the city landscape. On a digital moving banner, in bright lights, stories tall, were written the
We gasped, then giggled. We knew we had arrived.
Without any empirical data to back up my theory, I had surmised that the demographics of the
conference’s participants would be old white men. I had also imagined most of them to speak in
heightened English accents, wear corduroy sports coats and have photographs of themselves with
their arms slung casually over Arthur Miller’s shoulders. With this in mind I arrived at the
Wilma Theater for the first session which was a get-to-know-each-other round of “Speed
Dating.” Clearly there are exceptions, but I soon realized that the actual demographics of a
dramaturg in North America is a young woman carrying a business card whose job description
includes at least three hyphens: Dramaturg-MA Candidate-General Manager or Director-
Dramaturg-Critic, for example.

For me the most exciting and helpful aspects of the conference occurred in the pockets of time
between the actual sessions. The first formal session required us to decide if we were Early
Career, Academic, Freelance or Institutional. Making this decision was in itself an interesting
exercise. I panicked. I had recently acquired a Masters from U of T but as mentioned before I am
a new dramaturg at an institution and to top it all off I had just been hired independently to do
dramaturgical research on a new play. I thought it was very clever of Michelle Volansky and her
team of experts to facilitate a dramaturgical-style process on the conference attendees in order to
make them focus and therefore explore and possibly discover hidden details of their own careers.
I found myself at the Early Career session where I learned of an intern-community that existed in
the States. Young dramaturgs, recently out of school, would work for free for a summer, or half a
season, interning at a major American theatre. They’re given mentors through networks in the
LMDA to encourage further development. We don’t have such a system in Canada. I left
halfway through and sat in on the remaining sessions for about ten minutes each. The most
applicable for me was the institutional session mostly because I work in an office that now has a
water cooler. That said, I work for a feminist theatre company that often eschews hierarchical
structuring. Our midsize company, although institutional, really works on a very collaborative
model, so, hearing dramaturgs’ concerns about not having enough time in the production wing of
their theatre offices doesn’t really ring true for me.

One of the major draws of the conference for me was the session on “Political Theatre – What
Does It Mean Now?” Simultaneous with this session was a session called: “Pursuit of Leadership
– in Rehearsal and in Your Career.” The idea was for the conference attendee to choose a session
and then switch to the other session. What a crapshoot! What pressure! I mulled this over all
morning: Maybe, like saving my favourite colour gumdrops for last, I should attend the
Leadership session first, that way I’ll be really looking forward to something throughout the
whole day. Or, come to think of it, all the politicos in attendance would surely choose the
political theatre session first and it is really with them that I’d like to participate. Unless they
systematically eat their gumdrops too; in which case, I should definitely go to the political
session first. That way if I really find it inspiring than I can even stay for it twice and miss the
leadership one all together. I’m an intern. I’m not ready for leadership yet anyway. My decision
was made; I would be greedy and go for it first.

Then Larry Loebell, Literary Manager for InterAct Theatre Company in Philadelphia, saunters
up to me just before lunch. Well, Larry doesn’t really saunter; he’s more of a strider. I had only
just met Larry the day before during the “Using Our Voice to Serve our Communities” session. I
was the eager one in the discussion group that he led, cutting him off to share details of the
specific outreach and community programs to which Nightwood dedicates itself. I was a fan of
his right away. His motivation to promote theatre for social change, in a country where people
pay for basic health care, is really inspiring. So, he strides up the next day after I’ve just made
the very difficult decision to attend the political session first and asks me if I wouldn’t mind
facilitating a smaller group discussion in the second political theatre session. I replied with an
enthusiastic yes, flattered that he would recognize our kindridness and slightly pissed off that I
would not be attending the political theatre session first. In my group we discussed what political
theatre is; whether there is a need for theatres to be political; we negotiated the issues
surrounding a theatre doing political outreach versus necessarily producing political plays; we
questioned what a political play is. It was a little thing for most, but for a young dramaturg
struggling to find her way in the world it was a pretty special thing. I knew I had come a long
way when twenty minutes into the session I cut off Mark Bly mid sentence.

The Time Management Seminar was a low point for me. I sat angrily at the back row starring at
the clock on my cell phone the entire time. Angry because I couldn’t compartmentalize my daily,
let alone annual, schedule into half hour increments. I have time management issues. It’s
personal. Employers and friends have confirmed this. It was a very conferencey thing to have in
a conference. Accompanying the Time Management Seminar was a session called Having Time
to Play. For most who offered comments it seemed that reading scripts and sourcing empirical
data to benefit a first draft is so much fun that it is play. I was curious where riding my bike to
the park and drinking whiskey fit in.
The Keynote address was delivered by the celebrated Richard Stengel, former national editor of
Time Magazine, current President and CEO of the National Constitution Center and collaborator
of Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela’s autobiography. He is a very seductive speaker. He
shared leadership tactics that Mandela had imparted to him that I suppose could be used in a
rehearsal room, although you might, in turn, be thought of taking yourself way too seriously. The
Canadian attendees were coming home to a Federal Election on the Monday following the
conference and a collective gasp could be heard when Stengel off-handedly implied that most
Americans are pro-capital punishment.

I never did make it to the early morning continental breakfasts at the Wilma but I did gorge on
Philly Cheese steaks with Ben Henderson. I explored the city late at night with Rachel Ditor and
DD Kugler and I was there when on our long drive back to Canada the real evidence of our
weekend was felt. Joanna Falk and I entered a truck stop to buy some gum. She was wearing the
LMDA conference T-shirt from Chicago 2003. The word dramaturg is written on the front and
the phrase “Ask me why...” is written just below. The woman at the cashier told Joanna she liked
her shirt and than asked what a dramaturg is. “Well, I guess I am,” replied Joanna. “What do you
do?” asked the lady at the truck stop. “Well, I help playwrights develop their work.” The truck
stop lady beams and asks if she could shake her hand “That is so greatm, I’ve never met a
dramaturg before, I’m really excited to meet you.” As Joanna’s mouth falls open and my eyes
start tearing with laughter, it was obvious that the weekend had come full circle.

We drove back with more pockets of silence between us than when we had made our journey
south. Between the numerous sessions and the truck stop lady, all had been said.

Now, I am more informed. I am more connected. I was hung over for more than a few days. I’m
still a work in progress but now I’m a second draft.

Erica Kopyto is currently the Intern Company Dramaturg at Nightwood Theatre and Program
Coordinator for ARCfest, a multi-disciplinary arts and human rights festival that will be held in
October in Toronto. She is looking forward to attending many more LMDA conferences in other
exotic locals.
Production as Development:
Re-thinking Our Models of Dramaturgy
By Andrea Romaldi
As a new member of the LMDA, I was thrilled to attend my first Mini-Conference on
Dramaturgy early this July. It was exciting for me to be exposed to professionals from all over
the country, to learn about their processes, and to use their experience to articulate (and often
validate) my own ideas about dramaturgy. Of course, there is always a secret desire that a
conference like this might provide that moment of enlightenment – that key to unlocking the
mysteries of the creative process. For a beginner like myself, that possibility is particularly
tantalizing, but the truth is that there is no fixed process to guarantee good work. And learning
that dramaturges, playwrights and directors are constantly working to discover and explore the
processes that
work best for them is actually quite reassuring.

My experience in the fields of literary management and dramaturgy is still limited. In fact, it was
only during the recent Toronto Fringe that I directed and produced a play I also helped to
develop in (I now realize) a very compact timeline of three months! It is safe to say that I am in
the early stages of uncovering my own “architecture of dramaturgy,” though I have been
grappling with many assumptions about the role of the playwright and the dramaturge in theatre
throughout my studies and previous work.

The first assumption is that the playwright is the centre of theatre. In this paradigm, the text is
the artistic authority, while the performance is regarded as an imperfect interpretation of that
Certainly, I think this view dominates the public’s perception of theatre, and accounts for the
commercially successful theatre we regularly see on our stages. And we, as theatre professionals
and dramaturges, frequently reinforce this paradigm by accepting and encouraging a
development structure that assumes a playwright can generate a complete script in development
prior to and – all too often – independent of production.

During the conference meet-and-greet session on the first morning, many people expressed
concerns that we have a system that advocates too much dramaturgy: all development, no
production. This leads us to the second assumption about the development process that I want to
address. It is a logical implication of the first, and shapes our perceptions and expectations of
dramaturgy. In a world where a “complete” script can be generated independent of production, it
is expected (and accepted) that the dramaturge work with the playwright to produce a script, but
not necessarily to pursue production, or to invest in a play post-production. This leaves
production out of the development loop altogether. No doubt many intelligent and successful
plays have been generated this way: the dramaturge and playwright work together in workshops
to produce a solid “final” draft, and then part ways prior to production. But often, as so many of
the speakers pointed out, moments have to be worked and re-worked in front of an audience to
finally break them open. Thus, production is actually a step in the development process, rather
than a
completion of it. I think this is the single most important thing I absorbed from this conference:
that plays require and deserve more than one production; that production is integral to
development; and that there might never be a final draft.

Jonathan Christenson (Catalyst Theatre, Edmonton) spoke about the importance of disciplines in
dialogue, highlighting how the offers of actors and designers can shape a play during rehearsal.
He observed that sometimes only physicality can reveal the faultlines in a play, uncovering those
moments of disconnection when the play stops “working”. And he remarked on the importance
of “feeling” the audience during a performance, and how audience reception functions as
important feedback in the development of a production. It is clear, both from Jonathan’s and
Jillian Keiley’s experiences, that there are some things that you can only learn about a play once
it has an audience. Jillian’s admission that it was not helpful to produce Burial Practices of the
Early European Settlers Through to Today (Artistic Fraud, St. John’s) in a real church because
of the baggage audience members carry with them is a prime example. Who could have guessed
that people would weep when they saw a fake coffin processed through the church? Jillian made
it clear that this effect was both unintended and unexpected, and yet it was essential to many
audience members’ experience of the play. Because many people were distracted in this way by
the venue itself, the play did not read as envisioned. It grew a layer that did not exist in text form,
and could only be discovered, explored and revised through a series of productions. Here, we can
see how the text exists as a schematic or a record, to suggest to us or remind us how a
performance lives on stage, but it cannot encapsulate every aspect of the living performance.
This is why, as a dramaturge, it is so dangerous to become wrapped up in the writing – it never
tells us everything we need or want to know.

The other significant idea I picked up is how powerfully non-literary elements shape the text, and
often result in a far more fluid and sensitive play. Andy Houston’s discussion of his site-specific
work in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, suggested to me that, when we are free of certain structural
constraints, we can become more responsive (and more relevant) to our audience. Take, for
example, Ali and Ali and the Axes of Evil. Guillermo Verdecchia told us that 40% to 50% of the
play changed in six months of touring due to audience reception and changing current events.
The fact that the play did not adhere to a familiar structure, and was instead held loosely together
by implicit
principles, seems to have allowed it to be fluid and malleable and therefore to remain current and

Moments after my play closed in the Toronto Fringe, I discovered the pressing need to go back
and begin again. It was amazing how it felt so complete before opening, and by closing felt
incomplete once again. As I felt the audience in the theatre, show after show, I began to
understand what it was I had to do, and I realized I couldn’t possibly have known before
performance. I understand much better now that a dramaturge is not only a “script doctor” or the
writer’s “first audience” as I once thought. What this mini-conference offered as a way forward
is the notion that dramaturgy not only happens between drafts, but between productions. And we
must allow dramaturgy to
happen by being sufficiently determined and entrepreneurial to ensure a play we are passionate
about moves beyond its first incarnation on stage, to its second, third. . . or fourth if that is what
takes to produce the work we want to produce.

Andrea Romaldi is an assistant in the Shaw Festival’s Literary Department. She recently worked
as a director in the Toronto Fringe Festival, and is active as both a dramaturge and teacher.
Blurring the Boundaries
Notes from the LMDA Dramaturgy Mini-Conference – Toronto: July 5/6, 2004
By Natasha Mytnowych

The 2004 LMDA Mini-Conference in Toronto was an incredibly inspiring and encouraging
experience as an emerging dramaturge, director and playwright. I was absolutely delighted to
attend this year’s Mini-Conference as a second-time delegate because of the dynamic, artistically
exciting group of panelists that Brian Quirt had assembled, as well as the diverse array of
participants. The community created by the Mini-Conference was a unique experience to be part
of, as academics and practitioners met head-on to discuss the act of creation in a pro-active
discussion, and optimistically engaged in the debate surrounding the challenges of process and
production development.

Overall, I found the experience to be extremely positive. The facilitated discussions were always
kept moving, and the tight timeline allowed for an appropriate amount of discussion. Participants
as a whole seemed to feel very comfortable engaging in the process. Each panelist seemed to
clearly provide a context for their work, and their reflections on their work were often humorous
and constructive. The overall positive atmosphere of the conference created an encouraging and
optimistic outlook of the future of Canadian Theatre, which maintained that change is occurring
and exciting works are being created across the country.

The content of conference as a whole seemed to emphasize various development processes that
challenged the conventional and historical approaches to developing a new play, by focusing on
production, rather than (what seemed ironic for a dramaturgy conference) the development of the
text. I was particularly taken by two of the guest speakers: Jonathan Christenson and Andy
Houston. Christenson spoke about Catalyst Theatre’s unique development process, which
involves simultaneously developing all of the elements of a production through “sketches” or
workshop versions of each of their shows. It was particularly surprising to hear how Catalyst will
go back into rehearsal for four weeks prior to any presentation of a production, and will re-work
the entire show should an actor need to be replaced. Their dedication to the process and to all of
the production elements made the design, lighting and sound just as crucial to the production as
the text. This concept seemed unique within the context of many Toronto’s mid-sized theatres, as
most appear to adapt a process that involves a playwright developing a script with a dramaturge
for three years, have a few script-focused workshops and then mount the remainder of the
production in three weeks. It affirmed that the processes of Toronto’s more alternative
companies, who are embracing different means of development, are leading to a more visually-
cohesive theatrical experience. In addition, if a production in Toronto gets remounted, it doesn’t
often appear to get completely re-worked, or have design elements completely altered, unless
major elements of the venue demand such a change. It was great to hear from artists from across
the country about how process differs beyond Toronto’s mainstream theatre community.

In the session with Andy Houston, it was interesting to hear how their production situated in the
Weyburn Asylum developed out of the design and the environment of the piece, rather than a
text. For example, the historical Weyburn Asylum allowed for an entire community to embrace
the production, and be included in the creation process, including the former nurses of the
Asylum. I loved hearing about how the nurses, as they were taking the audiences on a tour
through the building, spoke from their own personal experiences; and no two guides ever
presented the same stories.
That was fascinating, dramaturgically, as so much of what the audience took in was never fully
textualized, and most of the rehearsed material involved a great deal of audience interaction and
many elements of chance. It was an especially creatively inspiring work to hear about; the visual
images were stunning, and as a result I began to think about how many of Toronto’s buildings
have such equally fascinating histories left within their walls; there is a great potential for
environmental theatre to be deeply connected to a specific neighbourhood and the people of that

In addition, the Mini-Conference provided a unique opportunity to observe the collision of
worlds of academia and of the practical new-play-creators. As a University of Toronto Drama
Specialist, as well as a young theatre practitioner, it sometimes seems that the world of academia
and the realm of independent theatre are at odds; one presents an entirely cerebral approach to
the theatre, and the other a much more physical and practical one. I have felt pressure to,
essentially, “pick a team.” I’ve found that many of my more academic classes remain historically
and textually based, and usually contest that all of the works of any of the “theatre masters”
evolved out of the mind of the solitary genius; a mythical fairyland seemingly without of any
kind of collaboration or lengthy and challenging process of development. While an intense
analysis of theme and structure is academically fascinating, as an emerging practitioner, the
practical applications of such dramaturgical musings seem few and far between. At the LMDA
Mini-Conference, however, it was absolutely delightful to hear from theatre academics from
across the country who were interested in probing creative processes, and were articulate about
how their academic dramaturgical work was playing a practical role in the creation and
development of Canadian Theatre.

The Mini-Conference seems to be a very unique place because the boundaries between those
who “study” and those who “do” are blurred, and the discussion that emerged this year was quite

Natasha Mytnowych is playwright, director, designer and dramaturg. She is the Artistic
Producer for the Paprika Festival, a two-week-long festival of new works by artists under 21,
hosted by the Tarragon Theatre. Natasha is also Editor for The Theatre Centre’s The Source, a
quarterly theatre publication for the theatre artists’ community.