Discover the Delightfully Nerdy World of Dramaturgy

Written by Ashleigh Gardner

April 4, 2018

If you’ve ever seen a brand new play take shape on stage or an updated version of a Shakespearean play set in another time or place, chances are that a dramaturg worked on the project from start to finish.

There are TONS of theatre-related occupations that need to be filled by you. Dramaturgy is one of them, and it lends a hand to every single aspect of the theatre, all from behind the lenses of your prescription glasses (or the cool faux ones you wear to look totally hip). 

If you’re a dramaturg, you help give the performance a solid foundation upon which to build a story. You can help directors, designers, and playwrights refine their vision, pinpoint their goals, and find creative ways to express themes and tones. Check out the types of dramaturgs and their responsibilities below to get an idea of what you can do to bring a story to life on stage.

Production Dramaturgs (PDs)

PDs work closely with the director (and sometimes the playwright for new works) to provide a solid foundation for a production’s artistic and technical elements. PDs do a lot of research, and they’re the resident expert on the time period and location in which the play is set. The PD informs the director, the cast, and the design team about the play’s history, what it was addressing at the time it was written, and how it may be important today. Production dramaturgs may generally:

  • Conduct historical research of the play’s time period, location, economic conditions, and social customs.
  • Analyze the play’s theme, tone, and content to determine its messaging.
  • Research unknown or obscure words and compile a vocabulary list.
  • Collect images to use in preparing the director, cast, and crew to understand the world of the play.
  • Compile educational pamphlets for the director, cast, and crew.
  • Create a timeline of important events that happen in the play.
  • Research the playwright.
  • Prepare and deliver a short presentation for the cast and crew.
  • Write study guides for schools and groups.

Institutional Dramaturgs (IDs)

Institutional dramaturgs work closely with the artistic director of a theatre in designing a theatre’s season. IDs also evaluate potential scripts for content and how appropriate they are for the theatre’s character and how suitable they are for a theatre’s particular venue. Institutional dramaturgs may generally:

  • Work for the theatre as a resident dramaturg.
  • Help plan a theatre’s season.
  • Collaborate with directors in rehearsal.
  • Adapt classical works for the stage.
  • Organize community outreach and production talk-backs.
  • Write program notes and press releases.
  • Write grant proposals for funding.
  • Work closely with the education staff.
  • Serve as the literary manager.
  • Recommend scripts (both published and new) to the artistic director.

New Work Dramaturgs (NWDs)

NWDs are very similar to the institutional dramaturg and production dramaturg, but have a more limited scope — NWDs work closely with playwrights during the creation and writing of a new play. Sometimes, based on the needs of the playwright, they may serve as editor or script consultant, analyzing the components of the play and how they effectively (or ineffectively) tie the story together. If a play uses a foreign or original language, the NWD may compile a vocabulary list for the playwright, too. (If an institutional dramaturg also completes the duties below, they may also be called the theatre’s Literary Manager.) New work dramaturgs may generally:

  • Serve as script editor or script consultant.
  • Discuss script deadlines with the playwright and oversee goal-making.
  • Schedule public readings of the script.
  • Schedule and organize workshops in which the playwright may receive feedback (see Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process article on this).
  • Oversee the creation and distribution of marketing materials to ensure that they adhere to the play’s tone and theme.

Interested in playwriting and dramaturgy? Check out our other features below!

Ashleigh Gardner received her MA in Literary, Cultural, and Textual Studies (with concentrations in Film, Gender Studies, and Psychoanalytic Theory) and her BA in English Literature (with concentrations in Victorian, Gothic, and Early American Literature and Gender Studies) from the University of Central Florida; she received her AA in Theatre/Drama/Dramatic Arts from Valencia College. She is a playwright, an actor, and’s Editor.