Dramaturgs are experts in the study of plays, musicals, or operas. It is their job to provide the cast and crew with vital knowledge, research, and interpretation about the theatrical work in question so that they are—in turn—better equipped to do their jobs. Sometimes the information dramaturgs provide concerns the temporal, geographic, or cultural setting of a production, while other times it's about the playwright or librettist's life, or personal and political events that may have influenced the work.
Dramaturgy is a flexible career that often means a mix of office-based work, independent research and reading, participation in rehearsals and post-performance talkbacks, and time spent off the job discussing plays and networking with other like-minded dramaturgs.
Regardless of the specifics, it's the dramaturg's job to bring context to bear on the production, imparting clarity for directors seeking to understand a play's subtext, actors trying to understand the world and intentions of their characters, and designers attempting to incorporate historical elements into the show's costumes, sets, props, or sounds. It’s the dramaturg's job to know as much as possible about the play at hand, including its themes, language, period, history, music, and even past stagings, and to hold the current production to a high standard of historical and textual accuracy.
Dramaturg at a Glance
Theaters typically look for candidates with at least a bachelor's degree in theater or literature, often preferring those with a master's degree. Because the position is a scholarly one that entails research into a variety of topics, including history, sociology, art, and linguistics, dramaturgs are well served by a broad course of study with a base in the liberal arts. Beginning dramaturgs may get their first credits working on college-level or community productions, or work their way up a theater company's literary department—starting with a literary apprenticeship—before taking on freelance dramaturgy work. Although this is not always the case, dramaturgs are often also playwrights themselves.
While dramaturgs working on productions are often hired on a freelance, per-project basis, dramaturgs frequently work full-time for large theater and opera companies as literary associates, hosting post-show talkbacks and conversations as well as providing program notes for the company's productions. Literary departments often have apprenticeship programs in lieu of—or in addition to—entry-level positions.
Theaters and production companies
- Literary studies
- Arts criticism
- Broad knowledge of theater history
- Working knowledge of multiple languages
- Textual analysis
- Written and verbal communication
Working as a dramaturg requires immense research abilities, along with the analytical abilities to dig deep into a play's text and the communication skills to communicate all this information to actors, directors, and designers who lack the same literary basis. Dramaturgs are usually people who love reading, learning, and sharing knowledge with others. At the same time, they're a vital part of the production team, and must have excellent collaborative abilities: knowing when in the creative process to pipe up with feedback and when to hang back and let the director and actors work.
Dramaturgs spend the vast majority of their working hours performing research by themselves. Their moment to shine, however, is the fairly small portion of their time that they spend conveying their research to the cast and crew in rehearsal. All in all, dramaturgy is a flexible career that often means a mix of office-based work, independent research and reading, participation in rehearsals and post-performance talkbacks, and time spent off the job discussing plays and networking with other like-minded dramaturgs.