My first thought was that it's been a little while since I was last billed as a dramaturg on a production, so maybe I should refer her to someone else who regularly holds that job description. But then I thought about my favorite recurring discussion at the LMDA Conference I attended at the Banff Centre a year and change ago, where the consensus was that dramaturgy is as much a way of thinking as it is a job description, and that ideally everyone involved in a production should be thinking in dramaturgical terms. Along those same lines, most of the better designers I know across various disciplines generally speak in dramaturgical terms on many levels, so I decided to answer her questions primarily from the perspective of how I apply dramaturgy to fight directing.
Below are my answers (with minor edits). I'd also like to thank the student, as her questions made me articulate some stuff I'd been thinking about for a while. Anyway...
The first two questions were about where I start my research after reading a script and if I've come up with a process that I use for every script. I see these as really being one question as the first presumes the second.
I've come to the belief that dramaturgy is at once both a way of thinking and a job description, and that the way of thinking is more important than the job itself and can be applied to any other discipline. I was at an LMDA conference a couple years back where it was said that in an ideal situation, everyone on a production is a dramaturg.
I always work on a case by case basis with the regulating factors often having more to do with the situation I'm working in than with the script itself. These days my dramaturgical contribution to a production is most likely to come through my work as a fight director.
In the case of using dramaturgy in a stage combat context (I've started calling this "fightaturgy" as a joke and then it sort of stuck), I'm always looking for how the violence and the work surrounding it supports the story. I need to say that my first concern in that area is always safety, but I'll proceed with the assumption that that's being taken care of.
I always read the script and take notes as to any incident of scripted violence, as well as where I feel violence might add ot the story, and where the rest of the production staff and the cast might need to know information relating to the violence. As I've studied this stuff for a while much of it I can relate off the top of my head, but if certain aspects need to be researched I make notes of that for myself.
If the actors are wearing weapons I try to give them instructions on the etiquette & customs of whatever they're wearing. Usually this is modified for the production to some extent but I've come to believe that consistency is more important than historical accuracy. By way of example: a Japanese sword worn on the right side means that the
wearer comes in peace, whereas on the left it means that they are prepared to draw the sword at any moment. There may be scenes that do not contain a fight where the tension can be escalated simply by switching the position of the sheathed sword. This would be applied fighturgy outside of the context of choreography.
In an ideal situation I would send this list to the director and we would have a meeting based on it and go over it point by point. We might discuss the intensity of various fights and what the characters want and need, as well as scripted repercussions that should be addressed. If there are things that would benefit from a presentation (customs around dueling for example) we might set a time that I can give one before choreographing, or if an actor only wears/carries a weapon but does not fight I will find a time to pull them aside and instruct them.
If this is a situation where I am writing a program note or blogging, it depends on deadlines and company procedures.
Outside of violence (and here I am assuming that my job decription is dramaturg), it depends on what I do and don't know about the script/period/subject/whatever. Last year I turg'd (and FD'd) Neighbors, which has several blackface characters. I helped educate the actors on the stock characters from the 1800s that their characters were based on.
The next question was about my interactions with the cast and production staff.
Again, this is all context. The last time I was a production
dramaturg I was also fight directing the same show so there were a lot of gray areas where my job descriptions overlapped.
If a rehearsal is dedicated to me as fight director, I instruct the actors directly. The director may or may not be in the room but I would bring them in to ask questions about how things were fitting into the larger picture. Ideally no one should know where their work ended and mine began and vice-versa. If I was watching a run I might give the director notes that would go to the actors through him/her or I might get a moment to give notes directly. Other times my notes go only to the director.
With designers it depends on overlap. We discuss options and availability of resources and make choices from there.
We then moved on to my job job during the rehearsal process.
Again, all context. This very much depends on the relationship with the director and/or the writer in the case of new work. One of the things about dramaturgy as a job description as opposed to a methodology is that there is influence but not necessarily power. As different people have different styles of diplomacy and facilitation it becomes all about the chemistry of different working relationships. Asking the right questions is one of the most important skills. Learning when to pick the right moments to ask those questions is just as important.
It's important to learn to prioritize. You will find yourself in
situations where you are working with a director who does not know how to use you. Or one old enough to be your grandparent who lived in the era the play is set in. In the first case, there is an element of teaching them how to benefit from you without appearing invasive. In the second, you might think about how to make their knowledge more accessible to the audience and/or cast in ways they might not be aware of.
The hardest question was last. Advice for someone who wants to be a dramaturg. Most of this is advice to anyone who wants to work in the arts.
Cultivate multidisciplinarity in yourself and others. The broader your range of competencies the better you will be. That said, don't become the cliched "Jack of All Trades Master of One." Ideally think of mastering 2 -3 disciplines (including dramaturgy if that's your thing), and develop reasonable competency in other stuff as it comes up. One of my best friends is a prop & costume designer as well as a dramaturg. I sometimes think that she gets to apply more
dramaturgical thought as a designer than when she is strictly working as a dramaturg. Multidisciplinarity is hard, and you may find that you aren't taken seriously until you've accomplished enough in each of your main disciplines to be taken seriously in them separately as if they were your only focus. That takes time but can pay off very well.
Get to know playwrights, and to be especially gentle with the early career ones. You'll find as you transition out of academic contexts that investing in good collaborators pays off in the long run. Be good to work with, be good to work for.
Make yourself aware of job prospects as early in your studies a possible. The money tends to be pretty bleak, in dramaturgy moreso than other disciplines. That is not a reason not to do it, but it is a reason to cultivate multidisciplinarity (see above). Multidisciplinarity might extend outside of theatre, and if that's the case figure out what else you can do that enriches your theatre work if that's your first priority.