I am a student at Crystal Lake South High School, and I am doing a career research project about dramaturgy. I was hoping I could ask you some questions about your career, and get some insight into being a dramaturg. Thank you for your time.
How Competitive is your field?
Well, that is a difficult question to answer for a couple reasons. A) Is there any field that is not competitive right now with the current economic turmoil and hyperbolic unemployment rates? I feel like I would have quite a bit of trouble getting any job right now if I were not in the very fortunate position of having one already. B) The “field” of dramaturgy has many permutations: there are a number of different jobs that all fall under the title of dramaturg, and there are a plethora of jobs that employ dramaturgical skills that are not normally considered jobs-in-dramaturgy.
Theaters sometimes (but not always) have resident dramaturgs who are responsible for a number of things: preparing research for the artistic team and cast of a show, attending rehearsals, organizing and leading events surrounding the production of the show. As part of the artistic team, they also help the artistic director choose a season. Sometimes, they spearhead new play development and work directly with playwrights; this depends on whether or not a theater also has a literary manager. A literary manager, by distinction (though this distinction is malleable and often useless), primarily reads scripts that are sent to a theater by playwrights and agents and makes decisions on whether the plays should proceed to the artistic director’s usually-overflowing desk for him/her to read. But moving outside of resident dramaturgy, often theaters will bring dramaturgs on for a single show. Their relationship, in this case, is much more one with the director rather than the theater. Likewise, sometimes playwrights will seek out freelance dramaturgs to work one-on-one on a script.
Sticking with this very basic understanding of dramaturgy, it is, like all artistically oriented theater professions, extremely competitive, maybe even the most competitive of all as dramaturgs are a bit of a luxury: it is very difficult to make theater without actors, designers, and a director, but many productions do without having someone in the room with the title “dramaturg.”
Do you make a living solely in theatre, or do you have a job on the side?
Well, yes and yes. But I should preface my answer by saying that, while I consider myself a dramaturg, my title at American Conservatory Theater is not “dramaturg” but rather “publications and literary associate.” Much of what I do I consider to be dramaturgical: reading scripts, assessing scripts, researching productions, creating writings that contextualize our productions, etc. But we have a resident dramaturg, and I am not he.
But, yes, I do support myself primarily though my employment in one specific theater, and I supplement that income by working (for considerably less money) with other theaters on various projects. When I was freelancing in Chicago, I dramaturged with some off-loop companies for free while supporting myself working non-dramaturgical odd-jobs at Goodman Theater.
How are you contracted?
I am not exactly sure what you mean. At my main job, I have a boring, ordinary contract that spells out the annual salary and the benefits. When I was working as a freelance dramaturg in Chicago, I didn’t charge anything so I didn’t use contracts: they trusted that I would show up, and I trusted that they would let me in the room. The paying gigs I have had over the last couple years have been reading scripts for a few different theaters, and they either paid by the script or by the festival. There was also one very random, very unique job in which I was hired to dramaturg/ghostwrite a play for a non-profit organization. That actually fell apart because neither one of us really knew how to create a contract for such a weird project, and miscommunication over ownership eventually led to me walking away. But there are some organizations that help dramaturgs and playwrights negotiate contracts. Be sure to check out LMDA.org
I am going to open this discussion up to the readers of my blog. Hopefully they will have other insights to add.