Day #1: Exploring the Past to Build the Future
Where did we, as literary managers and dramaturgs, come from? And, more importantly, where are we going? Day #1 of the 21st Century Literary Office Convening has explored the past and in doing so, begun to tease out the ideas that are crucial in laying the groundwork for the future.
Introductions and Goals
Polly Carl (Director, AVNPI) opened by outlining the current conversation on literary managers and dramaturgs. Citing Richard Nelson’s provocative address to ART/NY, Todd London & Ben Pesner’s Outrageous Fortune in the last decade, Polly noted that dramaturgs and literary managers often received “credit for nothing and blame for everything.” This convening is a chance to talk to the group of people who are more often talked about.
From there, she moved into her understanding of the creation of the literary office citing heavily from Art Borreca’s “Dramaturging New Play Dramaturgy: The Yale and Iowa Ideals” (1997). This quote from the 1977 “Dramaturg’s Guide: A Handbook for Student Dramaturgs at the Yale School of drama and Yale Repertory Theatre” resurfaced several times in the conversation:
“The goals of the program [are]… to resolve the antipathy between the intellectual and the practical, and to fuse the two into an organic whole.”
If the role of the dramaturg, as laid out in the Yale handbook, is to be an inside critic and add intellectual rigor to the rehearsal process, how does this change the rehearsal room? Can it remain a safe space for artists?
From this conversation of the past, Polly moved to the goals submitted by the participants over the last few weeks. She listed some of the goals here, so I won’t repost but additions to the conversation included delving deeper into education and training, dissecting literary managers and dramaturgs’ roles in institutions, cultivating deeper connections in the rehearsal room and with the audience, and clarifying ideas of pride, ownership, pleasure and joy.
Polly closed the session by pulling extensively from Jonah Lehrer’s recent article, “Groupthink: The brainstorming myth.” in The New Yorker to talk about what makes for good conversation and good collaboration.
David Dower Interviews Jerry Patch
David opened with Mame Hunt’s response when asked about the history of the literary office:
“Ask Patch. He knows the history of this whole thing.”
Jerry Patch (Director of Artistic Development, Manhattan Theater Club) talked his way through his experience of the emerging literary office, beginning with his work reading scripts at South Coast Rep before it had a full time staff over 40 years ago. He emphasized that throughout his career, his objective is always to find playwrights with a unique voice and champion them however possible. He believes commissions are key not only for the financial support but also for the vote of confidence in the writer. The literary manager and dramaturg positions are “military staff positions,” he asserted, and to be successful you have to be okay with not being the one to pull the trigger.
David turned to points brought up in the first question. First, what is the “baby” that must be saved amidst the “bath water” when rethinking the 21st Century Literary Office? Jerry suggested two elements critical to the literary office:
1) It is necessary to know what work is in the world. The 21st century technology can be incredibly helpful in keeping tabs on this if it is harnessed correctly.
2) Conversation, connection, and humanity are key to dramaturgy. “As we become more efficient,” he argued, “we become less human.” We must take the time to have the conversations.
Returning to the quote from the Yale Handbook, David asked if the intellectual life is, in fact, antithetical to the practical. Jerry clarified that it is not the role of the dramaturg to add intellectual rigor nor is it the role of the dramaturg to be the “intellectual conscience” of the theater but rather to have the conversations and “be the defense of the artist” in the community. He closed by suggesting that despite a “nationalization” of the American theater, there are not plays that are bringing us all together and he challenged playwrights and dramaturgs to create works that do more to unite us as Americans.
Manifestos for the Literary Office of the Future
The final panel of the day called on Aaron Carter (Literary Manager, Steppenwolf Theatre Company), Julie Felise-Dubiner (Associate Director of American Revolutions: the United States History Cycle, Oregon Shakespeare Festival), Otis Ramsey-Zöe (Future Classics Program Coordinator, The Classical Theatre of Harlem), Amrita Ramanan (Literary Manager, Arena Stage), and Adrien-Alice Hansel (Literary Director, Studio Theatre) to present manifestos on the “Literary Office of the Future.” You can watch these incredible manifestos being delivered below and they will be published on Howlround.com shortly. I won’t attempt to summarize each manifesto but two themes ran throughout and will set the stage for tomorrow’s conversation:
1) The literary office of the future will be gathering places for local and national communities to discuss, explore, and challenge ideas of theater.
2) And, the literary office of the future will utilize technology more effectively.
From the manifesto reading, the group moved into the first breakout session eager to start grappling with the ideas floating in the air. All is set for an invigorating day of conversation tomorrow.