American Dramaturgy: A Critical Re-Appraisal

Peter Hay

"The question is," said Afice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."--"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master--that's all."

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland


I

Ever since Stanislavski it has been accepted wisdom that an actor needs motivation. But if an actor requires a reason for crossing the stage, audiences want to know even more why they should come into the theatre and watch that actor cross the stage. Surprisingly little thought is expended within or outside our theatre on the chain of interrelated questions that need to be answered before the whole dramatic experience makes sense. Dramaturgy, I believe, is a process of making sense both for the production and the audience. A good dramaturg helps to articulate that sense.

Dramaturgy is a term most frequently employed to describe the structure of drama. As such it tends to be regarded as a mortician's tool, because most structural analysis is done on dead plays in the study or in classrooms. The theatre employs its share of anti-intellectuals who stamp everything they are too lazy to understand as academic. On the other side there arejust as many theatre people who get overwhelmed by academic theories and scholarship, because research is a more tangible form of activity--and more easily understood by actors--than thinking. People on both sides often forget that the purpose of dissecting a corpse is to learn what to do with the live body.

There seems to be a problem of finding an adequate definition in the English-language theatre for dramaturgy and the role of the dramaturg. When I was the first "dramaturge" at a

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