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Her Job: Dramaturg...Know What She Does?

Kate Raines/Plate 3 Photography
Dramaturg Sarah Ollove

As the lights go down, and the play or opera begins, you may be wondering about the meaning of a word you read in the theater program. WRTI’s Meridee Duddleston introduces Sarah Ollove, who says most people don't have a clue what her job entails.  

As a dramaturg, Ollove helps the whole production team develop a birds-eye view of the structure of their piece. She acts as a sounding board, researcher, synthesizer, critical eye, team builder, unifier or messenger. Some dramaturgs are self-taught and others have degrees. Ollove has an M.F.A. in Dramaturgy from the American Repertory Theatre Institute for Advanced Theater Training at Harvard University.  

Radio script:

Meridee Duddleston:  Set designers, lighting and sound professionals, directors, stage managers, actors: all crucial elements of theater that rely on the abilities and creativity of people. Add another expert to that list, one whose hidden hand helps guide a theatrical production to a unified whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts. It’s the dramaturg, a.k.a the dramaturge – a word that comes with a variety of pronunciations.  

Sarah Ollove: I am a dramaturg.

MD: That’s Sarah Ollove who’s worked with the Philadelphia-based cabaret company The Bearded Ladies, and The Arden and Azuka theaters. What does she do?

SO:  Essentially, a dramaturg is a theater artist who works with a playwright and/or a director and/or production, sort of the way an editor works…. Somebody to be a critical voice to question choices that are made so that the final product reflects the story that the group wishes to tell.

MD:  It sounds a like a secret ingredient: the one hard to identify, but noticeable by its absence.  Exactly what the multifaceted dramaturg - also pronounced “dramaturge” -  does depends on what the production needs.  Ollove says she also puts a historic frame of reference around a play by Shakespeare or Tennessee Williams, or The Three Penny Opera.

SO: ...So that everybody feels like they have a firm understanding of the world. I call this "worldbuilding."  I feel like my primary responsibility in those cases is to help everybody imagine the larger world outside of the play – so that flavors of that are then imbued back into the production.

MD:  A dramaturg might teach actors how to play a believable game of Canasta, lead a post-show discussion, or act as a liaison between creative personalities. Next time you see the word "dramaturg" in the program notes, think sounding board, detached critical eye, researcher, and yes, even team builder.