So here's more thinking by dramaturg Jenn Book Haselwerdt on Monument by Doug Dolcino, which is definitely a thinker's play. It's got a lot of depth... as deep as any lake you can think of.
By the way, you should take a few minutes to read Jenn's previous blog post her work as a dramaturg on Jason Platt's Strive Seek Find, a reading of which The Inkwell staged last year.
Here are the things I get to do professionally as a dramaturg:
1. Read scripts. (Great, since I’m a born bookworm.)
2. Think hard about scripts. (Great, since I’m a born nerd.)
3. Talk to people about scripts. (Great, since I like to talk at length about things I find wonderful.)
4. Play nicely with others, and don’t run with scissors. (Great, since safety should always come first.)
It’s hard to believe sometimes that I get hired to do exactly what I love to do, especially with a company like The Inkwell, which really appreciates the work of a dramaturg. This season, I was lucky to be able to work on the play Monument, with a group of extremely talented artists, including director Jessica Burgess and playwright Doug Dolcino.
I’ve been repeating something a lot over the last couple of weeks. “If I get hired to work on a play that doesn’t provoke any questions, I wonder why I was hired. I understand why everyone else in the room is there: the actors, the director, the playwright. But why hire a dramaturg if there’s no conversation to be had?”
There was a whole lot of conversation to be had about Monument, and I’m so glad there was.
From the moment I read the complex script, I was excited for the opportunity to have a hand in the process. The play was absurd, taking place in a house that straddles two worlds, with characters who are now one person, now another. To be perfectly honest, I had to read the script three times before I felt equipped to have any kind of informed conversation with Jessi and Doug. There was just so much packed into 120 pages.
The first conversation with Doug played out like the first conversations with many playwrights: we determined what his goals were, what questions he wanted to have answered about his script, and we got answers to some of our more superficial questions (like, “How do you pronounce the characters’ names?”).
The way Doug talked about his play was very interesting: he spoke as if it was a living being, or words he wrote down from some supernatural dictation. He answered “I’m going to have to think about that” for many of our less-superficial questions. At first, I was surprised by this tactic, but I later realized that Doug is an incredibly thoughtful playwright who wanted to hear how his play was interpreted, rather than imposing his ideas on the team. It was a process unlike one I’d had an opportunity to work with, and I’m glad I got a chance to work this way.
The rest of our conversations about the play were anything but superficial. It was so beneficial to hear the actors read the script at the first table read; although I’d read the script silently several times by that point, I always discover something new when I hear actors. I started to formulate my own theories about a play on which one could write a dissertation. More conversations with Doug and Jessi followed our work with the actors. It was fabulous to have two weekends of rehearsal instead of the standard few days; a play this complex needs real time to parse and (begin to) understand before it’s put on its feet.
What did I get to do beyond in-depth conversations about text, relationships, and transversing worlds? I got to think about how adults “play” when they decide to be different characters in their own lives. I got to learn about immense natural features like Lake Tanganyika and the Quelccaya ice cap. I got to figure out how to say Margot, Janos, and I love you in semaphore. And I even wrote a comic song, inspired by a few of our actors.
One of the reasons I love dramaturgy is that I never have to stop learning…about playmaking, about communication, about relationships, about the ways people use words, and about the world around us. The process of working with Monument gave me an opportunity to continue learning about all of these. In spades.
That's Jenn Book Haselwerdt in the photos above...thinking hard at a rehearsal for Monument. In the top shot, Jenn listens as Andres Talero and other actors read the latest draft of the play, In the bottom shot, Jenn and The Inkwell's Artistic Director Jessi Burgess practice semaphore. These photos were taken by the talented Teresa Castracane.