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theatre research international vol. 31 | no. 3 | pp283297 International Federation for Theatre Research 2006 Printed in the United Kingdom doi:10.1017/S0307883306002240

Towards an Expanded Dramaturgical Practice: A Report on The Dramaturgy and Cultural Intervention Project
peter eckersall

This essay is a report on the Dramaturgy and Cultural Intervention Project (Dramaturgies), a forum for the investigation of issues in professional dramaturgical practice in Australia. It reviews the textual orientation of historical theatre practice in Australia before describing a series of events aiming to promote a wider and more culturally interactive understanding of dramaturgy. New forms of dramaturgy arising in response to the post-dramatic turn in theatre are discussed as a basis for exploring an expanded dramaturgical practice. Proposals for a politics of dramaturgy that revive theatre as a forum for social critique conclude the essay. While specic to one set of theatre interventions, it is intended that the proposals discussed herein have wider applications.

Dramaturgy is: a conuence of literary, spatial, kinaesthetic and technical practices, worked and woven in the matrix of aesthetic and ideological forces.1

Since the 1960s, in every decade in Australia, the craft of dramaturgy seems to come into focus as a part of theatre practice calling for our attention and reassessment. In this essay I will consider one set of investigations taking place over the last few years arising from conversations among dramaturgs in Melbourne. I will locate this discussion in the context of Australian theatre practice, wherein the gure of the dramaturg as opposed to the work of dramaturgy done as a matter of course in theatre production experiences a degree of ambivalence and misunderstanding. While scholarly authors have extensively mapped dramaturgy as a dramatic and aesthetic discourse of theatre, others who practice dramaturgy have begun to write about their experiences of working on the oor.2 Here I focus more on the notion of a working and creatively interventionist dramaturgy, while also attempting to acknowledge and develop theoretical frames from which we can engage critically in questions of artistic practice. The two aspects are interrelated; dramaturgy as a practice of theatre theory and theatre ecology allows for and in fact insists on extensive discourse and analysis. As Dramaturgies member Melanie Beddie
This essay is developed from my paper titled What is Dramaturgy? What is a Dramaturg?, Realtime, 70 (December 2005January 2006), special dramaturgy supplement. (available at, Dramaturgy Now link, pdf download, p. 2). The supplement features writings on the project by the Dramaturgies team and was published in Reatime and distributed widely among the Australian performance community. It also available as a pdf le at Dramaturgy Now link.



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writes, Dramaturgy can be thought of as the midwife between theory and practice. It can provide a process for bringing ideas into a concrete form.3 A reference point for the framing of our project was an essay written by Eugenio Barba in which he describes dramaturgy as a weave:
The word text, before referring to a written or spoken, printed or manuscript text meant a weaving together. In this sense, there is no performance without text. That which concerns the text (the weave) of the performance can be dened as dramaturgy.4

Just as Barba asserts there is no performance without text (in a polysemic sense), discussions about contemporary theatre point to the fact that there is no text without performance. Thus, for Barba, dramaturgy is everything that has action or effect; not only text and actors but also sounds, lights, changes in the space and so on. Actions in the theatre come into play only when they weave together, when they become [performance] text.5 It is important to note that the weave not only is the creative combination of theatrical elements, but also expresses an attitude or belief system about the context surrounding theatres production and reception. Barba, for example, explores the political dimensions of the dramaturgical weave in comments about art as a state of refusal and disorientation:
Artistic discipline is a way of refusal. Technique in theatre and the attitude that it presupposes is a continual exercise in revolt, above all against oneself, against ones own ideas, ones own resolutions and plans, against the comforting assurances of ones own intelligence, knowledge and sensibility.6

Dramaturgical processes might productively be rethought through this framework. To realize the potential of theatre, dramaturgical states can point to acts of creative enunciation but also moments of strategic refusal. In Barbas terms, this means working towards a refusal of singular experiences and grasping a dramaturgy of changing states when the entirety of what we show manages to evoke something different.7 Taking this idea further, it is productive to think about dramaturgy as a process of being undecided and, by virtue of the fact of creative indecision, of being in a relational state of intercession. I am not suggesting that we adopt a strategy of wilful confusion or obscurity in theatre as a way of discovering a political voice. We should not be trying to keep alive the collapse of representation in the avant-garde notion of performance as ecstatic chaos, rather to remind ourselves that theatrical representation is dramaturgically gestic; our process is about structural critique, not structural disorganization. Dramaturgy is subversive in that it is a process that reects on theatre production from the perspective of the production, while simultaneously being that aspect of the process that keeps an open view. In this sense, the dramaturgy we are exploring is a somewhat Brechtian mode of theatre-making and is conditioned by a relational manoeuvre: intimacy intermingled with alterity. It is a memory of possibilities, of traces of creative processes that arise and are potential. While dramaturgs must work in response to the demands of production, we may be able to explore a creative tension with those same production systems. The


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question we might ask ourselves is how dramaturgy can offer the sense of refusal and resistance to closure and help make a theatre of changing states. The Dramaturgy and Cultural Intervention Project The Dramaturgy and Cultural Intervention Project (Dramaturgies) devised by Melanie Beddie, Paul Monaghan and myself 8 is a continuing investigation that aims to generate discussions and workshop activities that focus on issues of professional dramaturgical practice. The scope of Dramaturgies includes our practice as dramaturgs, discussions and research symposia, publishing and teaching, and the Dramaturgies projects, discussed below. The principal aims of Dramaturgies are twofold: to explore the wider contexts and possibilities of dramaturgy as a facet of theatre production that can intervene in and transform aspects of contemporary theatre practice, and to promote socially aware models of dramaturgical practice in the context of real-world professional production systems. Dramaturgies creates contexts for debating and challenging contemporary theatre culture while also nding ways that the work of dramaturgs can become integral to systems of theatre production in a period of neo-liberal capitalist domination. As the name of the project suggests, a model of dramaturgical practice that investigates theatre both as a cultural system and as an aesthetic one strongly informs our perspective. We see our work in developing these forums for dramaturgical research as an aspect of our work as dramaturgs. Our intention is to grow the capacity in Australian theatre for discussion and intervention, and to foster a greater sense of diversity, so to expand political and aesthetic dimensions of theatre as interrelated aspects of contemporary cultural production. Dramaturgy in this sense is seen as a tool to challenge cultural norms and established systems of production while also aiding in their realization and further development. In the present time, when the theatre in Australia has become riskaverse and conservative in both programming and aesthetic terms, it is the front-end experimental processes of theatre-making that become invisible and the possibilities for alternative forms to emerge, not to mention for attracting new audiences, consequently diminish. Dramaturgies therefore aims to revisit and open wider aspects of process and form, ones that have become subsumed by a conservative theatre culture and a radically reduced funding environment. It is a strategic and focused attempt to create space in an overburdened system of cultural production. Indeed, many theatre cultures now experience creative challenges in respect of reduced funding, fewer opportunities for the development of new work and political interference, if not outright censorship of the arts. By working in the background with a focus on process rather than performance which is also where the work of dramaturgs belongs we aim to explore functional and realistic ways to resist and reverse this trend and to open channels for a range of innovative theatrical productions to ourish. The rise and plateau of Australian drama(turgy) and the new eld of practice A number of factors in the recent history of Australian theatre inform the Dramaturgies project and a brief discussion of the rise of Australian theatre as a discrete genre is



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therefore relevant. One consideration is the manner by which the new-wave drama that established an Australian theatre developed predominately as a play-production system. Although experiments in various kinds of alternative performance developed from the formative decade of contemporary Australian theatre spanning the late 1960s to the late 1970s, the rise of Australian drama through a generation of self-consciously Australian writers, directors, actors and designers has been most inuential on the development of the Australian theatre scene.9 Growing from the new wave and supporting the production capacities of city-based theatre companies10 is a raft of play-development organizations. Two key organizations are the Australian National Playwrights Centre (ANPC), which promotes the craft of playwriting and organizes an annual national playwrights conference where new scripts are workshopped and given dramaturgical support, and Interplay, a dramaturgical creative development organization working with young and emerging playwrights.11 A further aspect of Australian theatres development is postcolonial. Like other former British colonies, the Australian theatre has historically grown with a sense of anxiety about speech and language. The colonial stain that measures literary output and spoken drama against the historical centre of cultural empire is often referred to in Australian as a cultural cringe. While popular culture and social trends in Australia are now more inuenced by the United States than Britain, the contests over language in formative debates about national theatre and the later corrective among playwrights from indigenous and non-Anglo immigrant backgrounds have largely determined theatres directions. Australian theatre as Australian drama that speaks to a self-conscious discovery of Australian languages is a powerful mindset in the thinking of our theatres. While major achievements in Australian drama have been noted in Australian theatre studies, my point is not concerned with the nature of these plays.12 Rather, the issue here is the way that dramaturgs have been incorporated as literary specialists into a theatre history and culture that has foremost been concerned with language and writing. While European and especially Germanic styles of performance dramaturgy have evolved in Australia since the 1970s in an ad hoc manner always associated with underground theatre and what is called the independent or small-to-medium company sector dominant practices in the state theatre company sector have strengthened the model of the dramaturg as literary specialist. Until very recent times, mainstream theatres have tended to employ dramaturgs as literary managers whose work became consumed by the task of responding to vast amounts of unsolicited manuscripts. Built into the charters of state-subsidized theatres are principals of access and equality. In theory, anyone can send their play, which, again in theory, can expect expert consideration by the house dramaturg. Thus dramaturgs as literary managers have borne the brunt of such progressive, but signicantly underfunded, aspects of company life.13 And although one might argue that a literary manager is not a dramaturg, and that the two roles have discrete and clear demarcations, the argument is tautologous in this context where people doing the work of literary managers have been called dramaturgs. Dramaturgy, lacking a wider professional prole in Australia, has to a degree become associated with these posts the only ones that have offered dramaturgs continuing employment.


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Further, as already noted, the need to produce new Australian plays has been institutionalized in mainstream theatre culture. As a result, production systems that revolve around three- and four-week rehearsal periods often struggle with the structural issues that arise in attempting to realize a newly written work. A kind of industrial dramaturgy focusing on xing the problem at hand has arisen as result. In this guise, some dramaturgs become known for their capacities as script doctors. The problem here is not with the expertise, rather it is with the institutional economic framing of the dramaturg as the xer, as if this dramaturgical role is the singular function justifying a dramaturgs employment. In a situation of scare funding and commercial pressure, the danger is that the dramaturgs role is reduced to a commodity value that measures their success in terms of industrial output. From the brief view of history, we see that Australian theatre has tended towards facilitating the literary dimensions of dramaturgical practice. This has given rise to various economic and cultural considerations and expectations that have limited the scope of dramaturgical work. At the same time, however, we also need to recognize that the eld of production has simultaneously expanded. Hence, alongside contesting its narrow literary formations, accounting for the growth of a diverse dramaturgical practice has been a further important consideration for Dramaturgies. Alongside the evident plateau of dramatic production in Australia, we have also seen the rising importance of new elds of practice in smaller-scale works and companies. Signalled in Paul McGillicks overview of dramaturgy in Australia in the 1980s14 is the fact that both the specic industrial tasks and a general cultural awareness of dramaturgy have increased. Since the 1980s Australian performance has evolved into complex and diverse systems: hybrid spaces, technical innovations, diverse company structures, alternative means of production, visual-media theatre, dance theatre, physical theatre, and so the categories proliferate.15 The contemporary and/or experimental theatre scene has become more performance-oriented in response to technical, aesthetic and political contests and greater diversity and participation. The rise of small-to-medium sized project-based companies often with singular characteristic performance styles and distinctive production values best exemplies this trend. Similar outcomes are seen in arts festivals (which have grown alongside the rise of new forms of performance) and in aspects of mainstream company production.16 The appearance of performance studies and interest in investigating aspects of cultural theory in performance have generated further complexities in the contemporary theatre scene. In summary, the contemporary theatre environment is structurally complex, intermediated, fragmented, culturally rich and information-rich. The rise of performance dramaturgy that is associated with work of these kinds has corresponded to a rising performativity and metatheatricality, relating broadly to what Hans-Thies Lehmann has identied as postdramatic theatre.17 This has created the need for creative specialists who keep track of the complicated ow of ideas, technologies and forms associated with such work. Professional dramaturgy has therefore moved beyond literary modes of production into new elds of performance, dance and technical and production work.



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We have also witnessed a rising sense of dramaturgical process as the conscious basis or logic in performance-making. As Marianne Van Kerkhoven notes, One of the fundamental characteristics of what we today call new dramaturgy is . . . a process-orientated method of working; the meaning, the intensions, the form and the substance of a play arise during the working process.18 For Melbourne-based group Not Yet Its Difcult (NYID), the notion of process as performance is a cornerstone of their approach, as NYIDs director David Pledger comments: The theatre company is the dramaturgy.19 Thus the interaction of forms and ideas structurally shapes NYIDs performance work and its meanings. These examples show how dramaturgy has become the foundation of contemporary theatre. In this situation we now see a diversity of inuences, some tending towards dramaturgical work on plays and with playwrights and others tending towards working on the oor and in research support for postmodern or devised contexts of theatremaking. At mainstream houses such as the MTC, STC and, most strikingly, the Malthouse theatre, dramaturgs are now beginning to work more broadly on developing programming and expanding the cultural dimensions of theatre as a whole. This trend was pioneered in independent theatre companies in the 1980s and 1990s, companies such as the Sydney Front, NYID and Open City, for example. The Malthouse model perhaps more closely corresponds to a kind of dramaturgy associated with the GermanBelgian Dutch systems that tend to have a cultural and ecological view of theatre production. The MTC/STC model is more concerned with developing the talents of new playwrights, and occasionally directors, and might be compared in these developmental wings to the Royal Court model of play development. Given the postcolonial context of Australian theatre, however, it is slightly reductive to think about European and/or American notions of dramaturgy as being all-inuential and/or mutually exclusive. In the world at large, companies as diverse as the Suzuki Company of Toga (SCOT), Ex Machina and the Wooster Group also demonstrate the fruits of a more intensive dramaturgy at work. Meanwhile, Australian dramaturgy is a combination of factors and is often strategically positioned to resist colonial forms of national cultural authority. Where it comes from is probably less important than if it works. To summarize this brief discussion of the contexts for Australian dramaturgical practices, we see a situation that is at one level positive and dynamic. Thus an evolving theatrical project with a degree of interest in dramaturgy among present-day theatremakers is evident. It would be wrong to conclude, however, that there is a healthy system of dramaturgy in Australian theatre. In the conservative political climate that ourishes there is a marked intolerance for the arts and a strong anti-intellectualism within society is encouraged. The MTC, perhaps Australias most populist state theatre, for example, launched their 2006 season with the up-beat slogan life without the dull bits.20 This euphoric sentiment seems to reinforce a notion of theatre that is uncomplicated and uncritical of social or political events (even despite the evident complexities of the MTCs actual programme). Dramaturgy, as the most intellectual of creative practices and one of the most critical, therefore suffers alongside other critical forms of artistic production. Dramaturgies aims to be one strategy for addressing this situation and for further advancing and supporting in productive ways a contemporary theatre practice


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that can be more responsive to the need to address this sense of cultural political disorder. The following report on aspects of the Dramaturgies project is offered as a model for the ongoing development of theatre culture. Optimistic, as well as critically constructive, functions for dramaturgy are suggested. As noted in my prefacing comments, dramaturgs work in a contested and contesting space of creative production. History and innovation in the arts have transformed the dramaturgical undertaking. Many dramaturgs argue that therein lies a sense of freedom, creative tension and re-engagement of theatre with the social world. This sense of productive confusion and diversity of practice is helpful in theorizing an expanded dramaturgical craft. The Dramaturgies forums Thus far, three Dramaturgies projects two symposia and one performance workshop have been held. The rst, Dramaturgies: The Artist as Agent Provocateur and Cultural Interventionist, was a half-day public event held in partnership with the 2002 Melbourne International Arts Festival. Artistic director Robin Archer agreed to contract selected artists from her festival programme to participate in the dramaturgy forum. Importantly, the invitations were framed as a commitment to the festival; we prepared brieng papers in the home language of the artists and requested that they respond. The line-up of panellists (and their performances featuring at the festival) were Federico Leon (writer and director, Mil Quinientos Metros Sobre El Nivel De Jack), David Pledger (writer and director, K), Scott Rankin (director, kNot @ HOME), Renato Cuocolo and Roberta Bossetti (makers, Interior Sites Project) and Romeo Castellucci (writer and director, Genesi). The long-held belief that art creates wide-ranging effects was a central point raised in the forum. Yet among the contributions was also the idea of the artist as somebody who is acted upon with the condition of everydayness informing how one imagines their work as a maker. Castellucci termed this accidental community an almost spontaneous agency to release a sense of vitality and danger in our lives. Here Castellucci seems to argue for the place of everyday sensibilities in theatre by contrasting controversial and baroque images with ephemeral moments. For example, the germination of bodies in his theatre (which, despite the controversy, are normalised as members of Castelluccis family and community) are part of the everyday world. Cuocolo and Boscetti discussed how dangerous theatre could be when artists responded to the environment not in any abstract sense but in the confrontational experience of staging a theatre piece in their home and inviting the audience to stay overnight. Theatre shouldnt repeat politics but make politics, was how Cuocolo expressed his idea of theatre as a ripple effect or site of critical momentum for changes to the social fabric. Pledger and Rankin, both makers of work that addresses politics directly and explicitly, likewise spoke of theatres ripple effects and concentric circles of consequence as a cultural agency that extends from a singular activity and enlivens and creates opportunities for social and cultural interactions. Rankins nKnot @ HOME, a public performance work made in collaboration with homeless people, was described as a framework for political



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actions art as a way of accessing power. Rankins methodology drew politicians and policymakers into the mechanics of his production. The work was designed as a fulcrum around which various levels of political negotiation might be instigated. Pledgers work K, as a strong condemnation of modes of corporate surveillance and social control, was the basis for identifying the political nature of his practice. For Pledger, as noted above, the elements of making theatre his collaborators, his understanding of the world and his uses of literature and popular culture shape the outcomes of production as a whole. Ks world of hyper-Foucault-like surveillance was literalized in the theatre space as the combination of live bodies and their video images fought for our attention.21 Meanwhile, Leon discussed the importance of crossing borders and how theatre is made as a contract of negotiated effect between the stage and audience. In a world of borders and constraints, interventions through the community of theatre might cross the boundaries imposed on the world: an idea of interaction as intervention.22 Panellists reported how rare and rewarding was the opportunity of speaking with other artists in the festival. This is a signicant comment given that one of our most commonplace premises is that dramaturgical practice works as a conversation among artists. Production schedules and commercial pressures now work to curtail these exchanges. For example, many public discussions with artists in the festival context are formularized as promotional activities in the guise of artist talks. As theatre systems have been observed to become evermore globalized and homogenized, the need to create and facilitate spaces for dialogue and critical reection increases in importance. This is a new and productive area for dramaturgs to work on. The second forum, in February 2003, was a two-day symposium focusing on dramaturgy and professional practice. The forum parameters were broadly set in a talk that explored dramaturgy as a process of intermediation and creative interference. Panels were organized around the themes of performance dramaturgy, text, design and dramaturgy as curatorial practice. Each panellist presented case studies alongside wider discussions extending dramaturgical work and its relationship with arts and society. One session showed documentation of rare and/or paradigm-shifting moments from performance history. For the nal panel, artistic directors and staff from major arts organizations were invited to respond to the project themes as a whole. RealTime arts journal editors Keith Gallasch and Virginia Baxter attended this forum as reporters. The following selected viewpoints casting light on the diverse production capacities of dramaturgy have been garnered from their report:
Eckersall made clear the complex position of the dramaturge as being involved in the creative process but also as critical observer; our work touches so many areas of the production process, we do so in an atmosphere of not really knowing our function, thus leading to a kind of ambivalence that surrounds dramaturgical practice. . . . Eckersall celebrated the signicance of the new poetics of dramaturgy concerned with fractures, disorientation and ows and in which making theatre is a collective dramaturgy. . . . In the session on dramaturgy and devised performance, where collectivity often rules, Maude Davey (Vitalstatistix) declared that because dramaturges are not responsible they can be quite radical in their suggestions. . . . For Bruce Gladwin (Back to Back


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Theatre) the key to dramaturgy is collective continuity of collaboration. . . . Paul Monaghan took up Barbas weave . . . like a multi-track sound recording. . . . Rachael Swain (Stalker, Marrugeku Company) brought into play a stage prior to the usual notion of [the] creative starting point: For Stalker and Marrugeku, dramaturgy is about the process of negotiation with Indigenous people who do not readily give out their knowledge.. . . It had been frequently proposed throughout the conference that in creating a work everyone involved plays a dramaturgical role. However, in the session on Dramaturgy, Space, Visuality, Sound, and Technology Paul Jackson said the important thing, in his case, is to ask, How can you have a conversation with a lighting designer?. . . Rather than seeing lighting as a history of technology, Jackson argued for it as a history of design, of creating narrative with light and shadow, of space reacting to bodies, of how we want space to move.. . . Designer Kathryn Sproul whose projects include working with director Nigel Jamieson on the outdoor orchestral and performance spectacle Flamma Flamma for the 1998 Adelaide Festival, described the designer as visual dramaturge, a scenographer who writes the stage space creating a text, articulating one beyond language.. . . [Discussing her dramaturgical work in dance, Yoni Prior] said she was helping [dancers] break out of choreostructures, integrating different processes, coming up with new combinations of material and dealing with multi-tasking for modern performers who are often in extreme states. . . . Playwright John Romeril . . . [said that Dramaturgy] is research; a constant preoccupation with structure, a blow against antiintellectualism, and our Eurocentricity, legitimising what theatre can talk about. . . . [In the curatorial panel] Alison Carroll [Asialink] described how modernism had disappeared the curator, hiding the signicance of their role, their years of training, their personalities, presenting an illusion of non-mediation. . . . Kevin Murray [director of Craft Victoria] concurred with Carroll, describing the prescriptive view that the curator must not contaminate the data. He argued that the curators role should be collaborative, playing witness to the work, providing the perspective with which to see it, where to stand, how to move, just as a lot of painters use the stage frame in their work. . . . In a nal session . . . Aubrey Mellor [Playbox Theatre Company, National Institute of Dramatic Art] . . . declared, For me, [dramaturgy] is now the most important tool for the creation of an original Australian theatre. David Pledger [NYID] took us back to the other side of the dramaturgical coin: . . . Essentially, the dramaturgy is the operating system of the work for the company, and over a period of time, that operating system accumulates so that you develop a repertoire, and a way of working with a group of people.23

At least three general points can be concluded from this range of perspectives. The rst relates to how theatre practitioners think consciously about dramaturgy in their work. Many of the comments show a kind of structural connection a need to contaminate the data in various productive ways. This suggests a strong sense of theatricality, that structural elements and specialist tasks in theatre production are increasingly visible, the work of artists in the plural evident in the staging of a



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work. In a number of instances dramaturgical processes form the operating system of theatre production and are the logic of performance. The second point is the degree to which dramaturgy is understood as a state of intermediation, something that moves and negotiates between the cultural and artistic dimensions and extremities of a production. Dramaturgy in this sense is intercultural and uid. This has importance to developing theatres social and political dimensions. Also relating to this is the third point, that dramaturgys sense of ambiguity as a practice should be greatly valued. In this regard, the new poetics of dramaturgy, with its sensibilities of disorientation and ow, makes for a productive site of cultural negotiation and contest. Dramaturgies #3: from talking to making The third project applied the theoretical discussion of dramaturgy to the context of performance-making: a model where dramaturgy can be experienced in the body as well as the mind.24 Thirty-three participants, from a diversity of artistic professional and cultural backgrounds, and heralding from every state and territory in Australia, participated in the project. A working theme of hope and dread framed the intellectual approach of the project. This theme explores Australias contemporary social condition from various perspectives of critique and possibility. It was pregured in project material sent to participants before their arrival. Each participant was asked to bring an object as a response to the thematic material. The workshop structures were designed to foreground discussion about the politics of dramaturgy alongside structural questions designed to extend and expand the creative capacities of theatre-making. Four interrelating aspects of the dramaturgical process were identied: thematic exploring the theme of hope and dread through a range of intellectual, spatial, visual, sonic and personal dimensions; aesthetic mediums of theatre foregrounding space, light, motion, text and sound; social through exercises and interventions, the project focused strongly on dramaturgical practice as a process ineluctably inside, and responding to, the social world; historical through exercises and interventions, highlighting histories and memories of theatre practice as integral aspects of the dramaturgical craft.

A number of all-group activities were held including an experiential tour, group warmups, talks and feedback sessions. Three intensive workshop groups were also established and given challenges to explore dramaturgical questions through studio practice. They were asked to produce workshop presentations in response to thematic interventions and dramaturgical problems. The project concluded with presentations and appraisal of the work. An all-group discussion and feedback session with reports from each of the three groups and an assessment of the project overall concluded the event. The chief workshop components of Dramaturgies #3 were: On the rst evening, an experiential journey, a bus trip to key sites around inner Melbourne. The ambient exploration of place and space was referenced in visual landmarks such as the futuristic privatized road of city link, dystopic oil reneries,


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architectural monuments contrasting with everyday inner-suburban space, and, nally after being cooped up in the narrow connes of the bus a hike by torchlight in the bush park alongside the Yarra River. Musical selections were played at various times in this consciously experiential revisiting of avant-garde site-specic theatre practice. Group warm-ups. The memory bank of performance-making was explored though warm-ups that drew on exercises and body memories of a history of contemporary performance-making in Australia. Talks on the theme of hope and dread by academics, artists, progressive social commentators and religious gures. Small group sessions, experiments with light and sound in nondescript workshop spaces, later moving to three distinct spaces: a medical dissection room, a nineteenthcentury memorial hall, and a 1960s open space theatre. Each group was allocated one space and were asked to factor responses to the unique space and design elements, alongside the brought objects and thematic material. A show-and-tell and extensive discussion and evaluation followed.

As John Romeril notes in one of the participant reports:

In a word, Dramaturgies #3 had a strongly dened experiential emphasis. It insisted we adopt a learn by doing and observing approach. The convenors set problems. The participants sought to solve them on the oor, on their feet in practical performable ways. I applaud this strategy, and a notable example is that each participant was asked to bring along an object they felt related to the Dramaturgies #3 theme: Hope And Dread. In my group as individuals displayed their chosen object, and explained what lay behind the choice, a deep and meaningful show and tell session developed.25

To claim a space for experimental work as an unrestricted mode of research and development is signicant to the projects aims and outcomes. In this regard, the notion that dramaturgy is an accumulation of aspects of theatre culture is emphasized; it proposes a model of theatre working in cultural and artistic continuum. By contrast, in the present time, theatre as a culture industry is xed on the immediate and the new. For many of the participants in Dramaturgies #3 who are established artists the space for less immediate critical and creative reection is condensed. While it is self-evident that the theatre community as a whole has enormous production expertise and has developed industrial dramaturgical practices to a high level of professionalism, the wider brief of dramaturgy to range across theatrical practice and agitate in the critical and artistic gaps of production is much less considered. As noted above, not only is this a problem for dramaturgs, who nd that the contexts of their work have narrowed, but it also bodes ill for theatre-making as a whole. As the range of options for dramaturgs is reduced, so too are the possibilities for artistic production. In this way Dramaturgies offers a mode of experimental dramaturgical practice that in some senses revisits dramaturgical fundamentals while also aiming to substantially rethink and reinvent dramaturgical craft. As the director Peter Hammond noted, It is very seldom, if ever, that directors and other artists actually get the time to sit down together to discuss methods, meanings,



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non-meanings and chew the cud.26 Interdisciplinary conversations about theatre processes and cultural ideas are a signicant aspect of dramaturgical practice. Yet the capacities for critical refection and exchange of information in workshop environments seem to be have been reduced, along with the space for experimentation. In fact, the two dimensions of creativity are complementary. A common comment among participants was that the structures, times and places that artists have for such creative dialogue have reduced. While information ows have increased expediently, these are often structured and restrained by their modes of dissemination and inuenced by an instrumental function. Dramaturgies explores the opposite effect, and makes a space where conversation is a function of dramaturgy. One of the achievements of the Dramaturgies project was the degree to which participants were reminded of the creative importance of dialogue and commented on its value. Towards a politics of/as dramaturgy The tone was set for a politics of dramaturgy to be debated in the rst Dramaturgies forum. In comments that fundamentally inuenced the directions of the second and third Dramaturgies projects, John Romeril outlined a sense of crisis in theatre requiring a rethinking of the relationships between politics and theatrical forms:
I live today in an age in which words represent an incredibly corrupt medium. The feeling I have is that we are living in an age of liars, where what is spoken is almost inherently untrustworthy. In those circumstances, I suggest that the theatrical response to go into dream state, to go into physicality, to go into visuality, is to maybe ask an audience to make sense in areas of their own sensibility that have not been invaded by the general corruption to which language in our time is being subject.27

Romeril is referring to recent international events, including the bold lies of American, British and Australian politicians used to leverage their justications for the war on Iraq. Local issues such as the conservative Australian prime ministers expedient misuse of images of refugees in the so-called children overboard affair and race-based election campaign in 200128 are also suggested in Romerils articulation of an age of liars. The question posed is how theatre, a ctional and symbolic form of representation and vehicle of public debate, can work effectively when its tools of dramatization have been taken over for such disreputable ends. Romeril suggest the answer lies in adopting an overtly hybrid theatricality and conspicuously inviting a sense of dialogue and engagement with the audience that requires their overt participation in the making of theatre. Our response to this was to initiate forums and workshops that explore the diversity and hybrid practices of dramaturgy. The diversity of the eld, for example, was articulated in the programming of Dramaturgies #2, a forum that highlighted and debated contrasting and diverse dramaturgical practices. Moreover, in devising a workshop model for Dramaturgies #3, we aimed not only to explore the different approaches to dramaturgy, but to consider how they might work as a hybrid entity. Diverse dramaturgical processes became the basis of developing material for performance


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and the connection between these process and politics as dened by the contexts and themes of the work was stressed. People brought their dramaturgy to a collective space that was also marked by a sense of context and framing. In this way the dialogue between forms and processes of theatre and ideology and politics were highlighted and strengthened. More philosophically, by provoking and activating a dramaturgical model that is diversely informed by wider artistic communities, we aimed to develop a politics of dramaturgy that is visibly about the arts connecting with the social world. We see dramaturgy as a creative problematic and a form of grit in the theatrical process. In this respect the uncomfortable relationship that dramaturgy has in the theatrical process, and the discomfort sometimes experienced by dramaturgs as their role is questioned, might be seen as productive, if not a measure of the dramaturgical process as a whole; in other words, a dramaturgy of changing states and transformation might be explored. Theatre systems understand the qualities of intimacy very well; our workplace is largely cooperative, and the nature of theatre work permits and requires closeness, a sharing of vulnerable states, and so on. But, as we have seen, theatre is also a condition of alterity. The exploration of this state offers us much in the way of realizing and growing a vigorous and relevant art form. Dramaturgy commingles intimacy and alterity; the work of dramaturgs is between these states in the same moment. The Dramaturgy and Cultural Intervention Project aims to discover how arts production can extend beyond singular events and activities and contemplate an artistic life that is yet to be realized. Dramaturgy is a process that might describe this transaction and this possibility. Fresh in the mind is the possibility of dramaturgy as a mode of resistance and a way of refusal. Dramaturgies considers how dramaturgy works for creative and enduring resistance.
notes Peter Eckersall, Melanie Beddie and Paul Monaghan, The Dramaturgies Project, Realtime, 70 (December 2005January 2006), special dramaturgy supplement (, Dramaturgy Now link, pdf download, p. 1). Two texts illustrating the broad scope of writing and ranging from the theoretical to more practically informed work are Hans-Thies Lehmann, Postdramatic Theatre, trans. Karen Juers-Munby (London and New York: Routledge, 2006) and the On Dramaturgy issue of Theaterschrift, 56 (1994), edited by Marijke Hoogenboom and featuring collected essays and interviews with professional dramaturgs. Melanie Beddie, So What Is this Thing Called the Dramaturg? Realtime, 70 (December 2005January 2006), special dramaturgy supplement. (, Dramaturgy Now link, pdf download, p. 4). Eugenio Barba, The Nature of Dramaturgy, New Theatre Quarterly, 1 (1985), pp. 7578, here p. 75. Ibid., p. 76. Eugenio Barba, The Deep Order Called turbulence, The Drama Review, 44 (2000), pp. 5666, here p. 56. Ibid., p. 60. I acknowledge the work of my artistic collaborators in the Dramaturgies project, Melanie Beddie and Paul Monaghan. Dramaturgies has received nancial support from Australian cultural agencies including the Australia Council and Arts Victoria. Additional in-kind support was received from the School of Creative Arts, University of Melbourne. The three collaborators are professional dramaturgs.

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Beddie and Monaghan also work as theatre directors. Eckersall is the resident dramaturg for the Not Yet Its Difcult performance group. Eckersall and Monaghan are theatre studies academics at the University of Melbourne. For further information on the rise of Australian drama see Peter Fitzpatrick, After the Doll: Australian Drama since 1955 (Melbourne: Edward Arnold, 1979); and Leonard Radic, The State of Play: The Revolution in the Australian Theatre since the 1960s (Ringwood, Victoria: Penguin, 1991). For a discussion of more recent theatre see Veronica Kelly, ed., Our Australian Theatre in the 1990s (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1998). For example, the Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC, founded as the Union Repertory Company in 1953) the Sydney Theatre Company (STC, founded 1978) and smaller atelier-style public theatres such as Playbox (now called the Malthouse) and Belvoir Street. For further information on the ANPC see and Interplay at Other organizations promoting script development include Playworks, offering dramaturgical assistance for womens writing, and the Australian Script Centre, which collects and archives unpublished play scripts. Julian Meyrick has pointed out that new play production in Australia has signicantly declined. His recent essay assessing the heath of the Australian repertoire includes statistics showing a signicant decline in the number of new Australian works at state theatres, from forty-nine premieres in 1986 to 29.8 in 2003. See Julian Meyrick, Trapped by the Past: Why Our Theatre is Facing Paralysis, Platform Papers, 3 (2005), p. 14. For example, Peter Matheson, who worked as the literary advisor/dramaturg at the Melbourne Theatre Company for many years, has made this point in a number of forums, most recently at the Dramaturgies #3 event. Paul McGillick, Drama what? Dramaturg!, New Theatre Australia, MarchApril 1989. For example, see Keith Gallash and Virginia Baxter, eds., In Repertoire: A Guide to Australian Contemporary Performance (Sydney: Australia Council and RealTime, 2001). Genres included in this publication are circus, physical theatre, outdoor, multimedia, site-specic and performance. This is demonstrated in a variety of ways at major companies. Examples include inviting controversial directors to direct edgy experimental repertoire on main stages, the development of research and experimental departments such as Blueprints at the STC, and the fact that actors and technical staff regularly move between mainstream and experimental projects, taking with them the experience of both. Lehmann, Postdramatic Theatre. Marianne Van Kerkhoven, On Dramaturgy, Theaterschrift, 56 (1994), pp. 834, here p. 18. David Pledger, cited in Keith Gallasch and Virginia Baxter, Dramaturgy Now: Dramaturgies II: Working the Weave, Dramaturgies Now (, 2003, online essay. See also David Pledger and Rosemary Klich, Interview: Eavesdrop and New Media, Performance Paradigm, 1 (, 2005, online essay. See (artistic director Simon Phillipss Mission Statement). For further analysis of NYIDs K see Peter Eckersall, Surveillance Aesthetics and Theatre against Empire, Double Dialogues, 4 (, 2003 online essay. Transcripts of the Dramaturgies forums were edited and published on the Dramaturgy Now website, in partnership with the contemporary performance and media publication RealTime. See Dramaturgies Now (, 2003, online essay. Edited text from Keith Gallasch and Virginia Baxter, Dramaturgy Now: Dramaturgies II: Working the Weave, Dramaturgies Now (, 2003, online essay. Peter Eckersall, Melanie Beddie and Paul Monaghan, Dramaturgies #3 application to the Australia Council, 2002. John Romeril, Dramaturgies #3, annotators report, 2004. Peter Hammond, Dramaturgies #3, participant feedback, 2004.


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Cited in Peter Eckersall, Melanie Beddie and Paul Monaghan, The Dramaturgies Project, Realtime, 70 (December 2005January 2006), special dramaturgy supplement (, Dramaturgy Now link, pdf download, p. 1). See also transcripts of Dramaturgies 1 (, Dramaturgy Now link). For complex and compelling analysis see David Marr and Marian Wilkinson, Dark Victory (Crows Nest, NSW: Allen and Unwin, 2003).

peter eckersall is senior lecturer and coordinator of theatre studies at the University of Melbourne. He is a specialist in contemporary Japanese theatre. He is author of Theorizing the Angura Space: Avant-garde Performance and Politics in Japan, 19602000 (Brill 2006) and co-editor of the journal Performance Paradigm. He has worked in theatre for more than twenty years as an actor, director and dramaturg. He was cofounder of the performance art group the Men Who Knew Too Much and is a founding member and resident dramaturg for Not Yet Its Difcult. He is a co-convenor of the Dramaturgies project.