Dramaturgy in the spotlight

The public is invited to meet the people who work backstage to solve textual problems in the theater - and the lectures are in English.

stage 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
stage 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Drama-what? Dramaturgy is a long-established and much-respected discipline, especially in Europe. Here, according to Professor Gad Kaynar, it's still very much a theatrical poor-relation, which is why, from May 27-29, Tel Aviv University's theater department is hosting its first-ever International Dramaturgy Research Workshop to raise consciousness and make dramaturgy more effective in theatrical practice. Fine. But what does a dramaturg actually do? Professor Carl Hegemann of Germany, considered one of Europe's top dramaturgs, says that "Dramaturgy asks 'what's going on here?' It's a thinking - not a doing - discipline." The public is invited to participate in three days of on-campus lectures, workshops and demonstrations presented by eminent visiting and local dramaturgs, directors, playwrights, researchers and other theatrical practitioners. These include a workshop on opera dramaturgy - given by dramaturg Sergio Morabito and director Jossi Weiler - and a lecture by auteur director Ruth Kanner, as well as a performance of her latest work, Cases of Murder, to show how testimony can morph from dramaturgy. The lectures are free, but the performances cost. And it's all in English. Dramaturgy happens mostly backstage. A dramaturg reads plays, suggests repertoire, nurtures budding playwrights, helps solve problems within a given text, devises educational programs for schools and so forth, but locally, grumbles Kaynar, is rarely involved with the actual production itself, a common practice in Europe. He cites at least one happy marriage of dramaturgy and production to show what the positive results can be. Back in the late 1980s, the Cameri, where Kaynar was dramaturg at the time, optioned Picnic at Hussmassa by Haim Nagid, a drama in verse and figurative language about a murder committed by a Russian immigrant, and set against the harsh social and emotional realities that newcomers to Israel face. How best to do the piece had everybody stumped until Kaynar suggested rock opera. Ori Widislavsky wrote the music. Jack Messenger directed, and it all worked beautifully. Kaynar, dramaturg for Habimah since 1982, heads the Dramaturgy Studies department at TAU. He's also a translator, actor and artistic director of festivals such as the recent TheaterNetto.