The reason I have been involved in theatre, in one capacity or another, since I was cast in my first community theatre production at age 12, is I enjoy—no, love!—the communal nature of it. So, I was struck by an epiphany that occurred to me as I was working late on the dramaturgical research for THE THIRD CROSSING [Debora Threedy's play about interracial relationships] this week. Theatre is an art form that thrives on collaboration, yet there are tasks within the process of creating a show that require practitioners to work in isolation. At times, dramaturgy is one of them.
Depending on the theatre company and the show, dramaturgs can participate in many steps along the production path. In the case of THE THIRD CROSSING, I was first introduced to the script when I taught the Dramaturgy course at the University of Utah in 2007. I wanted to offer a module on new play dramaturgy, so I invited my friend, playwright Debora Threedy, to submit a rough script for the students to read. She accepted and sent me THE THIRD CROSSING, which had been sitting in a drawer for years. The students, in return, read the play and presented Debora with three things: answers to questions she’d posed to them in advance, a brief summary describing what they though the play was “about,” and a list of thought-provoking, open-ended questions that stimulated our in-class discussion.
Taking all of this input with her, Debora then went off to rewrite the play. Graciously, she sent me a new draft of THE THIRD CROSSING and asked me to pass it along to my former students. And over the next few years, new iterations of the play had public readings and even won the 2010 Fratti-Newman New Political Play Contest. When Jerry Rapier announced THE THIRD CROSSING would be produced at Plan-B Theatre Company this season, I offered my dramaturgical services, eager to continue to be a part of the play’s development. After attending a table reading with the cast in August, Debora and I sat down together to discuss the text before her final rewrite. We talked about rearranging the order of scenes, and how each combination could change the arc of the play. We considered the implications of word choices in a show that’s consciously anachronistic. We deliberated on characters’ names and whether they would affect the audience’s ability to follow the historical details of the show.
So, you ask, what about working in isolation?
Since early December, I’ve combed through Debora’s final script to pull out words to be defined, and names and events to be explained in more detail. I then began to gather research materials that will provide the cast and crew with background information on their characters and the historical context of the play’s various locations and time periods. I’ve created a website where I’ve posted biographies of Thomas Jefferson and of Mildred and Richard Loving, images of slave housing at Monticello, newspaper accounts of anti-miscegenation violence, recordings of music popular in 19th century Virginia, and video documentaries about mixed race children. In truth, this is my least favorite part of the dramaturgical process. Not because the research is hard or boring, but because it’s the period in which I work on my own.
My preliminary research is complete and has been shared with the company. I look forward to rehearsals beginning in mid-February. That is when I finally get to see the fruits of my labor being consumed, digested, and absorbed by the actors, designers, and director. It’s when the challenging questions arise and my skills as a researcher are put to the test. That is when the collaboration reaches its peak, on opening night of a world premiere, when we add the final participants in the collaboration: the audience.
That is when I fall in love with theatre all over again.
Click here to read the dramaturgical materials Greg Hatch has compiled for the cast and creative team of THE THIRD CROSSING. Click here for more information on the show itself and to purchase tickets.