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The intersection of Dramaturgy and Critical Theories




Put simply, the shape and form of an event.

Articulated more academically, how a work creates meaning through multiple linguistic and semiotic sets of codes within a specific cultural, political and personal place and moment.   


critical theory


A marriage of literary criticism and sociology, Critical Theory and critical theory [1] cast a lens on society and culture to expose, critique and challenge structures of power. 



    What does it mean to label oneself a dramaturg? As professional criticism wrestles with ideas of subconscious and confirmation bias, how does a dramaturg reflect on the multiple schools of analysis (accompanied by their intrinsic structures of power) which are absorbed into their reading of a work alongside the complexity of modern forms of individuation and subconscious affinities to multiple cultural groups and practices? Furthermore, how does a dramaturg reflect and support a writing process without resorting to convoluted academic vocabulary (as the previous sentence did so well) which, at best proves minimally successful at communicating ideas, and at worst, sounds ridiculous, alienating, and pointless? In attempting to answer these questions, I have found the study and application of Critical Theories useful.  

    If a professional dramaturg is to be of more use than offering just another opinion in the room, they might first seek an awareness of how their habitus [2], to use Bourdieu’s term, is constantly colouring judgements and responses to a work. Further to that, they may benefit by reconciling their thoughts with the aims of the writers to be aware of which critical lenses are of use and, more importantly, which are not. 

    Depending on what is being asked of them by the writer, director or producer, one role of the dramaturg can be described as being responsible for structural analysis, and this work is supported by a mountain of available textbooks. Further reflection can lead to examinations of both cultural and literary generic and narrative expectations, structures of semiology and psychological evaluations. All of these fields sit within the umbrella of critical theory. This suggests that any analysis has certain structures of power baked into it which the person carrying out the analysis needs to be aware of if they are to ensure ethical practice. At the root of my dramaturgical process is an attempt to work out if, how and when it is best to lean more into certain theoretical readings. Sociological, structural, poststructural, generic, literary, feminist, postcolonial, postmodern, Marxist, queer, historical, psychoanalytic, or reception theories (to name a few) may unearth insights into a work which  reveal underlying power dynamics and tensions which may be of use to the writing process. They might also be of no use at all, or worse, actually harm the writing. I argue that dramaturgical input can be as equally damaging to a work as it might prove profitable. 


    Through the study of Fiona Graham & David Lane’s holistic and questioning methodology of dramaturgy and Maria Shevstova’s rigorous cultural theory, I gained a MA in Dramaturgy focusing my research on interdisciplinary work and the development of new collaborative theatre. I continued my studies with Dr Julia Ng in Critical Theory and am currently preparing PhD applications into the intersection of varying schools of thought into the 'uncanny' and how this may contribute to my practice as a dramaturg. My aim is to support all forms of new writing in an ethical, thorough, and accessible way through the absorption of multiple perspectives to inform dramaturgical decisions in a safe space for creative exploration with a commitment to making meaningful, original and impactful experiences. I believe in the necessity to understand the power and influence that the dramaturg may have when contributing to the creative process and make a commitment to use that power responsibly.

However - we can also seek a balance. Quoting dramaturg, Arthur Ballet:

Why in the hell are we so serious, so pompous, so angry, so pretentious, so portentous?  

    We are so intent on concept, on ‘meaning’ and on being taken seriously as professionals and as artisans creating art that we forget that the whole art form is one of fakery and that we are deceivers. 

    I think we have become literary scholars rather than theatrical magicians; our senses and our defences are becoming largely pedantic rather than truly dramatic. 


[1] Apologies for the pedantic inclusion of both - for some, Critical Theory is the Frankfurt School in particular, rather than the broader philosophical approach of critical theory which includes the disciplines of feminist and critical race theory, for example.


[2] Bourdieu coined the term to describe the unconscious internalisation of objective social structures which appear spontaneous and 'natural', but which are in fact socially conditioned. Bourdieu also identifies multiple forms of ‘capital’ such as economic, social, and cultural which confer social status and power.

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