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Before their plays hit the stage, our student playwrights work closely with a team of artists to revise and further develop their play in the rehearsal room. A key member of that team is the dramaturg. Here, our New Voices dramaturgs—Paige, Brittany, and Emily—give us a peek into the process through their lens.
The age old question: what the heck is a dramaturg? What do you do?
Paige: One of my graduate school mentors once described the dramaturg as “the defender of the story” and I haven’t found a better definition since. Essentially, my job as a dramaturg is to act as a liaison between the playwright and the artistic and production teams to strengthen a play for production. Often, my work involves doing historical research, expanding or eliminating dialogue, reworking scenes to make their staging more manageable or their meaning more clear, clarifying character arcs and plot, etc. I do a lot of question asking. In New Voices, much of my work has been to be the voice of the playwright in rehearsals, especially when they are not able to attend, to make sure that revisions and staging are in line with the playwright’s voice and their vision for their work. I am also responsible for communicating the actors’ and director’s thoughts and questions to the playwright.
Emily: As a dramaturg for New Voices, I am an advocate for the playwright, in and outside of the rehearsal room. I guide the playwright through their revision process and help facilitate script-based conversation in the rehearsal room.
Brittany: As a dramaturg for New Voices, it is my responsibility to champion the voice of the writer! I need to be very familiar with the plays I am working with, and it is my ultimate goal to help the writers unlock the best possible version of their play (for themselves in this process!) and to see that their play is accurately explored in the production process.
What is the most exciting part of your job as a dramaturg for New Voices?
Emily: Conversation! Whether it's discussing ways to flush out a particular moment in a scene, or a discussion about why this story is being told in the first place, it is so rewarding to have such artistic and insightful conversations with students.
Paige: The most exciting part of being a dramaturg for New Voices is the opportunity to work with young writers, many of whom are just discovering their passion for theatre. They have such fresh perspectives and interesting voices and they are so ridiculously talented. I love working with an organization that takes the work of young people seriously. It’s really a thrilling experience to encourage young artists to take risks and explore their voice and stories. New Voices is also a fantastically collaborative process—I get to work with both seasoned theatre professionals and up and comers. Plus, it has been an amazing and supportive learning environment for me- the majority of my professional work as a dramaturg has been in historical/sociological research, rather than in new play development, and the entire PYP team and my fabulous directors (shout out to Christina May and Ozzie Jones) have been so patient and generous with their wisdom. I can’t imagine a better folks to learn from!
Brittany: The most exciting part is witnessing the students take in the collaboration between professional artists and university students as they fully embrace the play. The work of our young people is important, and having the opportunity to see a collaboration that validates this lights me up.
What is one thing you will remember about this process five years from now?
Brittany: I will remember the compassion that both the professional artists and university students brought to the table. The folks I had the opportunity to work with brought their whole heart, and I know the student writers could tell.
Also, I will definitely remember some of the spinoffs/FanFic versions of Imaginary that the cast/production team created, and hope to be a part of this YouTube sitcom spinoff they keep talking about!
Emily: This year, each play has such a strong, clear message that tackles a larger social issue. I feel so inspired by these pieces and these young writers. I hope they all continue to use their talents to make change happen!
Paige: Five years from now (50 years from now!), I will remember the look on each of the playwrights’ faces when they heard their words brought to life by actors. It was so powerful to watch—and I feel very honored to celebrate them!
This summer, Philadelphia Young Playwrights alumna Angela Bey jetted off to Sundance straight from her months-long internship with us. Read about her incredible experience below!
I didn’t know what to expect from the Sundance Directors Lab.
I got the invitation on a lunch break from my internship at PYP. I met with Tayarisha Poe, the director of Selah and the Spades, at a coffee shop near City Hall. We were catching up from the fall—talks about Ursinus, hair color changes, and other teenage existential crises. Then she asks if I’d be available in June.
“Something at Sundance. I’ll know for sure in a week, but it’d be great if you could make it.”
I wasn’t available. I would be finishing up an internship and my facilitator position with the Performing Identities Project with PYP, I had been offered a Summer Fellowship at Ursinus, I needed a part-time job to put food on the table, and I had a fear of mountains. I spent so much time in my head that I didn’t realize she was waiting for an answer.
“Of course!”, I said. And in that moment I decided that an opportunity like this was too flipping awesome to squander. Even then, it hadn’t hit me yet.
It was the end of the first week and I was sat at my usual table in the back of the dining hall during lunch. My friend Lucas would be going back to Chile the next day, and he asked the question between mouthfuls of pasta. A solemn silence fell over our conversation. It had only been a week, but the mountain air had already leaked into my pores and began to shift how and what I thought about the performing arts.
In this very dining hall were posters of films I watched on Netflix last week, decorated directors, cinematographers, actors, et cetera I never thought I’d meet, and some of the best catered food I’ve ever had. I’m supposed to feel out of place, and I did for a long time, but I quickly realized in this community existed a unifying spirit reminiscent to places and programs like PYP back home. I took solace in the fact that everyone was there to learn from and support each other—whether it was formally etched into our itinerary or found in moments like this sharing stories around the lunch table. Sure—some people were more decorated than others yet there was this camaraderie and respect that didn’t need to be spoken to feel.
Everything and everyone was accessible, tangible, and their passion and success inspired me to do and be the same. It would behoove you to not engage in the madness of it all. Of course Lucas was sad to leave—there’s no other place like this.
Logistically, eight feature films were divided into four teams with advisers sprinkled among them. The week’s work culminated in screenings on Sunday that everyone looked forward to! There was no expectation of perfection, but the opposite, and we cheered as each project came to an open and close. We were genuinely proud of everyone because it was clear that we accomplished something great.
“Same,” said Lucas and to my surprise everyone muttered something in agreement. I smiled ear to ear.
Another friend at the table said he put "Sundance" on his dream board months ago and when he got the call from his agent, he was in a car crash that morning. We continued sharing stories of disbelief. I told my own: I’ve been attached to Selah and the Spades since my junior year of high school.
Coincidentally, this is also when I started my relationship with PYP (I’d told them about us!). Since then, both involvements have grown and flourished into opportunities that I wouldn’t dream of having until now. Both are helping me dictate and discover who I am as an artist. I wouldn’t have gotten to Sundance without either of them.
We were way over time and strongly encouraged to leave by the catering staff. Lucas and some of the others had to get back to shooting anyway. He gave me a quick kiss on the cheek before running off to the shuttle.
“I’m honored to have met you!”
He took off, but what he said stuck with me. Even now it does. There were a million things I wanted to shout back, but instead I just smiled.
Unforgettable. It truly was.
by: Jesse Bernstein
PYP Resident Teaching Artist
Sometimes, I'm still surprised when Theatre does what it's actually supposed to do.
On Thursday, May 11th, we had the first rehearsal for the monologues that are being presented in partnership between PYP and the Arden Drama School for the city's 2017 Youth Theatre Festival. Our part of the evening is comprised of five monologues written by high school students and performed by Arden Teen Drama School students. The rehearsal was attended by playwrights, performers and myself as director.
Things, to my mind, didn't start off great. That's because, as actors and playwrights were trickled in, the teenagers already there and sitting around a table together were all on their phones. I sighed internally. I wanted these kids to engage with one another, not their tiny technology! That's what theatre's all about: cultivating listening and empathy -- not just in the audience, but in the artists as well. It's a place for human interaction.