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The Time is Now

Discovering Emotional Dramaturgy

As a graduate student and Literary Assistant/Dramaturg at the Unicorn Theatre in Kansas City, MO, I had the pleasure to attend, volunteer, and present at my first Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas (LMDA) annual conference in New York this past June. As an Early Career Dramaturg (ECD), I wanted to write this blog about my “first-time” experience and the major emotional impact it had on my dramaturgical perspective.

While I have attended and presented at almost ten conferences (including ATHE, ASTR, MATC) in my three years as a PhD student, I had never made it to an LMDA Conference. Each academic and professional conference has a unique feel and a unique vibe depending upon the city, the conference site, and the people who attend. So, as I prepared for the trip—my second trip to New York ever—I felt as though I was preparing for summer camp. I wondered what the conference would be like, how many people would be there, if my presentation was too formal or informal, if I’d get lost on the subway, and even what I should wear. Amid all the questions, though, I realized, the time is now for a new adventure.

a suitcase in front of a building
Columbia University’s Low Memorial Library, the site of the 2015 LMDA conference.

I left the conference and New York with a new hope, a new perspective, and a new recognition of the importance of emotion in the work I do—in the work all dramaturgs do.

Thursday, June 25th
I arrived in New York on Wednesday, the night before the conference began. I navigated my way to my hotel, found a café for Internet access and dinner and started my conference organizational plan. The next morning, I walked to Columbia University, where the conference was held. After I helped assemble nametags and stuff folders, I was assigned to the front gates of the University to direct conference attendees to the library. This was a great way for me to introduce myself to and shake hands with people from all over the US and Canada who were also attending the conference and a few non-conference attendees. Time flew by and soon it was time to present my “Hot Topic” at an afternoon session lead by Geoff Proehl. “Hot Topics” is an annual session that allows each presenter five minutes to share something new and exciting that they are working on or have recently finished. My “Hot Topic” was entitled “Men and Memory: Dramaturgy of the Vietnam Veteran,” which was a brief discussion of the dramaturgical methodology of my dissertation. By the end of day, I felt that the time is now to listen and respond the best, brightest, and newest members in the field of dramaturgy.

Luckily, I purchased theatre tickets months before the conference (and before the Tony Awards) and I was able to see Fun Home Thursday evening. I arrived at Circle on the Square and my heart was pounding. Fun Home, for me, lived up to the hype and my high expectations. Generally, I would not describe myself as an emotional person. I love a lot and laugh a lot, but I do not cry a lot, especially in the theatre. Throughout the performance I saw others wiping tears and I recognized the power and importance of Alison Bechdel’s story. As the performance ended and the audience applauded, the emotion hit me and I fell apart. I stood by my seat and I wept as the entirety of the production and story washed over me. It was clear that the time is now for Fun Home, for what it could mean for the way we tell stories on stage, and specifically how we tell stories in musicals.

fun home program
Fun Home.

Friday, June 26th
Friday was another full day of volunteer work, sessions, and theatre. The session I was most excited for was “The Early Career Dramaturgs Take Charge!” This was an opportunity for people to write questions that only ECD’s were allowed to answer. The questions ranged from discussions about types of dramaturgy projects to career feedback and everything in-between. During a rare break in the conversation someone raised their hand and announced that the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage was legal in all fifty states. The room erupted in an extended applause and, again, I found myself in tears. The celebration, the relief, and the recognition of what that ruling meant for our country overwhelmed me. I spent the rest of the day rejoicing and knowing that the time is now for progress.

Saturday, June 27th
Saturday was comprised of sessions about design and dramaturgy, the power of dramaturgy, and “LGBTQ Stories on Stage.” The panel of presenters was made up of playwrights and performers, which included Sarah Garton Stanley, Shakina Nayfack, Charles Busch, and Basil Kreimendahl. It was in that session that panelists and audience members acknowledged how the Supreme Court decision had, has, and will change the conversation. People began to share inspirations and frustrations as well as hope for the future. Again, I became emotional as these artists spoke of their passion and their mission. I realized that the time is now to appreciate and acknowledge my own desires and passion and that it can be a vital part of my dramaturgical skill-set.

After three days, I discovered answers my previous anxious questions. I left the conference and New York with a new hope, a new perspective, and a new recognition of the importance of emotion in the work I do—in the work all dramaturgs do. So much of the work I do is in relation to my scholarship and academic perspective. The skills I have gained as a PhD student are immensely helpful in the rehearsal room, but that means I often put the personal and the emotional qualities of myself aside. The LMDA conference reminded me of the importance of finding or creating personal and emotional connections to the work that I do. I have found dramaturgs to be fiercely passionate and compassionate, that and the time is now to create my own emotional dramaturgy.

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