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Student Blog: Dramaturgy and Why I'm Afraid to Ask For the Seat at the Table I Know I Deserve

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My recent experience as a dramaturg is giving me an identity crisis about performing arts in general, so here are some of my finest thoughts.

Student Blog: Dramaturgy and Why I'm Afraid to Ask For the Seat at the Table I Know I Deserve Hi, my name is Paige and if you don't know me, I'm a dramaturg. I love the work I do as a dramaturg, but I just closed my first in-person show and I have a lot of emotions surrounding the process and how I was treated. I also want to go ahead and say that I love the people working on this show and the experience I got from it, but there are things that I've realized about dramaturgy that just need to be said.

Going into the process of working on a show, I knew that I was going to be alone and working by myself, which I was fine with. Something I didn't realize was how much not being a part of the cast or crew in the traditional manners that we think of them would affect me and the way I, and others like me, would be treated because of it. I tell myself that I should have been more prepared for the lack of appreciation I would get for my work because I knew how dramaturgs were treated, but it still hurts. Since a dramaturg does not fall into the strict confines of what is cast or crew, where do I fit? There are so many other people who don't fit into cast or crew slots and work on shows including board operators, technical directors, production managers, and more. All of these people are stuck in some sort of limbo where you don't really fit in anywhere.

I know it's a very millennial and GenZ thing to say, but I need people to tell me my work is good. Simply, I thrive off of it. When someone tells me that my work is good or that they read it or that they learned something from it, I am sent on a high that powers me through my work. Without being praised, it's hard to get work done because you feel like no one is caring about the work you do. There was a moment in rehearsal when my director told me that the work I did was great, but the cast wasn't at a place where we could discuss it. Being praised by this director was amazing and made me feel so good, but the second half of his sentence threw me off. I kept thinking to myself "If this cast can't discuss my work, what's the point of it?" I still don't know the answer to that. This was what began my identity crisis and propelled me to write this piece. I began questioning whether or not dramaturgy is the right thing for me. It's a question I still don't have an answer to and I don't know if I ever will.

I know what I deserve when I'm in the rehearsal room. I know that I deserve time and attention and the respect of my peers. I know that I deserve a seat at the table with everyone else. But there have been times when I literally didn't have a seat at the table. It is such a peculiar place to be in, knowing what you deserve but being too afraid to ask for it. I know that the work I do is good and I know that it would have a positive effect on the performance if people even looked at it. But, in such a close-knit industry, I feel like it's sometimes impossible to ask for the things you need. There was a time when I almost left the show I just finished working on and I was afraid to talk to someone about it, out of fear that they would blacklist me from working on shows at my school. It sounds like I'm trashing the people who I work with, but I'm not because I know it's not just them, it's the world we work in. I want to work in theater so bad that I've been willing to put my feelings, wants, and needs aside so other people see me as someone easy to work with. I'm at a point where I'm trying to decide if that's worth it. I think it is, but I'm just trying to find my place where I can ask for the seat at the table I want and deserve, without feeling like I'm going to face backlash or be labeled "hard to work with".

I don't blame any of the bad things I experienced during my time with this show on the cast or crew or anyone working on it. Being constantly forgotten about and ignored as a dramaturg is not their fault. I see it as the fault of our education system and our industry. People aren't taught about dramaturgy or production management or technical direction unless they encounter it on the off-chance. Personally, I didn't know what a dramaturg was until my sophomore year of college. I wish I would've had the chance to learn about it earlier because I am so in love with what I get to do. But, I didn't. In my perfect world, students would learn about career choices that aren't just actor or designer earlier in their education because it can change their whole life. We should be learning what our options are and that's there's so much more out there than what we're taught in class. Why should I be forced to take classes in acting, costume construction, set construction, and design, but not dramaturgy or research? I understand that it's a small section of what happens in the theater, but is it not as important?

And so, I leave you with this: Respect others. No matter what someone does in the theater, respect them. We are all working people trying to do what we love. No matter if it is the dramaturg or the technical director or the lead actor or the front of house manager: we are all here. Every single person in the theater has put their life-blood into making it work and there is no reason why anyone should feel like they do not deserve to be there or that their work is not useful to the company. Next time you're in a rehearsal room, learn everyone's names and what their roles are. I promise that if you introduce yourself to someone when you meet and you're nice to them, they're going to be so much more willing to help you if you ask for it. So, just be a good person and know that everyone around you is working just as hard as you are and they deserve the same kindness and respect you do.


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