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Who Is The Salty Dramaturg?

Spoiler: It's me. Hi. I'm the problem, it's me.

A few years ago, I used to review theatre on a previous incarnation of this page. I love theatre, always have, and I have a special love for those technical aspects that often get overlooked: the sort of details that, when they're done well, meld into the whole experience and help create a seamless transition into this new world of story and character and creativity.

Reviewing theatre was fun...until it wasn't. See, people have certain expectations of a review. Some people think they exist merely to promote something, to inform the public that it's happening and paint a rosy little spoiler-free picture of it to help entice potential audience members to open their wallets and purchase a ticket. Some people think they are just puff pieces where the old elementary school adage of "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all!" is the rule of the day.

I'm not really interested in that.

I'm salty. I'm snarky. I have LOTS of opinions. But that's all they are - opinions.

Let's be very clear: you should never use something that I (or anyone else, for that matter) have written as an excuse not to see a show. If I hate something, that doesn't mean that it's not the perfect show for you, and vice versa. If you ask me if you should see any particular show, my answer will always be a resounding, "Yes!" Local theatre, and local art more generally, is precious and meaningful and important, and if we want to see more art in our communities, we have to patronize and support and nurture the art that we have.

Theatre, for me, is about encountering humanity through stories. Once I experience those stories, my inclination is to tear them apart: look at the pieces and see how it's constructed. Sometimes it will remind me of other stories, take me down a different path entirely. I want to be free to take those detours and see where they lead; as a reviewer, there is an expectation that you'll stay with this production, this story, this moment in time.

Enter the Dramaturg.

I first encountered this term when I went to a production at UND in the fall of 1996, my first year of undergrad. I don't even remember the play, but I distinctly remember there being a page in the program titled "Notes from the Dramaturg." I didn't know what that was, but I remember that the page had a bunch of really interesting background information about the themes of the play, the historical roots behind parts of the story, etc. I'm a little bit of a research nerd, and I loved that this one little page, tucked away in the back of the program, gave me avenues to begin researching and learning more about the world brought to life on the stage. The experience of the play was temporary, ending with the drop of a curtain, but I found that I could keep the story alive in my head as I dug around in the details, sifted through the context.

I'm not sure when these sorts of pages started dropping out of programs, but I think we're all being deprived of something wonderful.

I also like the idea of the dramaturg as someone who is a researcher and an advisor, but isn't meant to be the final word on anything. Our culture has done something strange to the role of the reviewer. We've given it too much power. I had a boyfriend who wouldn't see movies that didn't have a certain percentage rating on Rotten Tomatoes. "Why would I want to spend my money on something that I'm probably not going to enjoy?" From my perspective, he was giving far too much power to these reviewers. Even if a movie had 5% rating - what if you were part of the 5% for whom that movie resonated? What if that could have been your favorite movie, but you'll never know because you let a reviewer talk you out of it? And even if you don't enjoy it, I think that "bad art" is just as informative and interesting, albeit in vastly different ways, than the art that perfectly vibes with us.

I don't want that authority, and the pressure that comes with it. I'm blessed to be friends and acquaintances with many people who are involved with local theatre, and I've tromped my way across the boards a few times myself. I know how much love and labor goes into pulling off a production. I'm not always going to love every choice that is made in every production that I see, and I want to have the freedom to engage with that, to interrogate why I like or dislike the choices that were made, without feeling the pressure of the reviewer saying that a choice was "wrong" or "right." I prefer the dramaturg wrestling with those choices and saying, "Why isn't this working for me? What other choices have people made? Is there something about this story, some other context, that can help me make sense of this?"

Finally, there is the problem of time. When I was reviewing shows, there was all of this pressure to see things as early as possible, and to pump out a review as fast as I could so that it could be up to help people decide if they wanted to go see a show or not. Again, I think that if you're interested enough to be seeking out reviews and perspectives, you're interested enough to just see the damn show and support some local theatre. Beyond that, however, it just doesn't always work for my life. I want to feel like I have the option to go see a show on closing night, and still write a piece on it if it inspires me. On the flip side, I want to feel free to see a show and just enjoy it without the pressure to write anything if it doesn't move me to hit the keyboard.

So, welcome to my collection of Anti-Reviews.

I'm still going to tell you all about the local and regional productions I see and what I thought of them, but don't be surprised if my brain starts to meander along other pathways as well. Don't be shocked if I talk about what I loved and what I hated with equal voracity, and don't feel like you have to take my word for any of it - see it for yourself!

You can call me a curmudgeon.

You might call me a bitch.

But please, don't call me a reviewer.

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