Friday, April 8, 2011

Susan Jonas, Macrodramaturg, Visits Ghostlight

Susan Jonas was a guest of the Dramaturgy Program this week. I have to say this is kind of a career high for me, because of the tremendous influence that her work has had on mine over the years, particularly since we started building the program. More specifically, she has me thinking about new ways to approach the discipline. Jonas is, to use her phrase and hopefully propagate it, a "macroturg."At dinner on Wednesday night, she presented me with a metaphor. It begins with an image of black and white stripes, and then the eye pulls back to reveal a zebra, then back to reveal a pack of zebras, then a waterhole with its community of animals, then a Serengeti savannahscape. So if we define the picture of stripes as "microdramaturgy," the work an individual dramaturg does on an individual play (WTPN, research support, articulation of vision, written materials, outreach, navigation), then as we pull back we see how that work fits into a larger cultural conversation, including other discourses of art, society, politics, technology, and so on. Macrodramaturgy is the recognition that as dramaturgs we are custodians of that larger conversation as much as we are of the many little ones.

This is an articulation of a prospect that I identify in my book as being pretty important, but I think the book is a little vague about how it looks in reality. It goes back to what Lessing and his forebears argued, that theatre is a way of combating human barbarism. Susan is someone who has spent many years sitting on arts councils and grant-funding organizations, which is where some big decisions are made about how those discourses are shaped. She has made a real impact at this level - one very public manifestation of this was her Report on the Status of Women in the Theater.

Having Susan in our midst has been inspirational, I think, for those students (grad and undergrad) who want to know more about the nuts-and-bolts of professional theatre production than I can tell them (my specialities are in the nuts-and-bolts of academics), but perhaps even more so for me. A career high, which leaves me a lot to think about.

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