An argument for not being over-prepared

As I might have said, my current job does not give me a lot of opportunity for production dramaturgy. With only 30% of my time being allotted to our literary “department” and 70% of my time going towards our publications, the majority of what I do dramaturgically is presenting information to our audience, and the minority of what I do dramaturgically is assessing scripts.

But luckily for me, both the assistant artistic director and our dramaturg are somewhat pre-occupied with season planning and a number of other projects, so I was asked to take point on a workshop of Daniel Kramer’s yet-to-be-named devised movement-based piece focusing on Modeste Musorgsky famous Pictures at an Exhibition. You know it, you just may not KNOW you know it.


(No! I did not choose this clip from the hundreds of other versions of Pictures at an Exhibition because of this dude’s amazing hair. I chose it because it was originally composed on piano. And because this dude has amazing hair.)

Daniel is here for only five days, and normally I would have preferred to have SOME idea of what the project is going to look like or what it is trying to accomplish before spending time on the research. But I didn’t get a chance to speak to Daniel before his arrival today. And you know what: it worked out just fine. Actually, it worked out better than fine. Actually, I might recommend this process.

When you are not given the scope or direction of a project, you are forced to start with the most basic of research threads. In this case, Musorgsky biographies and an article from JSTOR (a dramaturg’s best friend) about the composer’s relationship with the man he wrote Pictures at an Exhibition to honor, the artist Victor Hartmann (no, you probably don’t know him). You lay a firm foundation to plant your feet into so that you are ready to sprint in whatever direction you are told to go. Also, going into the research unbiased, you’re able to honestly present new viewpoint. You are able to be surprised and confused by the direction the director / devisor wishes to go. You are able to say, “But my research doesn’t support that hypothesis.”

Would it have helped if I had come into rehearsal today with evidence that Musorgsky’s father abused him? Sure. But it is just as helpful having NOT focused on that element of his childhood and (maybe most importantly) it is helpful that I am resistant to the idea BECAUSE I did not organically come across any information about an abusive father. On the contrary, he was very supportive of his son’s music. That is not to say it isn’t there; that is not to say that his father was supportive of the music to make up for the fact that he was a mean and dirty bastard, and it is not to say that it shouldn’t be in this piece.

But sometimes the dramaturg’s questions are as beneficial as his answers. Maybe this is true most of the time.

Of course NOW I have a buttload of research to do trying to acquire the information Daniel actually wants, but if you don’t like fast-paced detective work, get out of the game. Does anyone happen to know anything about Musorgsky’s daddy-issues?


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