The science of dramaturgy and the dramaturgy of science

Book Section

Science. Dramaturgy. Two terms that enjoy opposite disparities in public comprehension. Everyone has a basic concept of what scientists do and what science is; almost no one has the faintest idea what dramaturgs do or what dramaturgy is. Within their discursive frameworks another complicated term emerges as a site of potential generation and complex disagreement: experimentation. Contrasting views of experimentation are a fundamental stumbling block when theatre and science meet on a collaborative field of inquiry beyond the mechanics of illustrative representation. For the theatre, experimentation implies a freedom from constraint, an engineered chaos that frequently refuses conventional narrative content and construction. Experimental theatre often exposes its mechanics to an audience. It can invoke a sense of frivolity or serious urgency but much critical and audience reception remains conflicted over the “success” of the communication. For the uninitiated, such pieces may seem intentionally and frustratingly unintelligible. Scientific experimentation might also be considered as engineering and measuring chaos but one where the disciplinary legibility of the process and results are scrupulously ordered and transparent to other practitioners. Experiments are an investigation of aspects of the unknown through known means and measures. They are an effort to illuminate an answer or specific next steps in a processional inquiry. In its most successful exercise a scientific experiment leads to the confirmation and/or discovery of material facts and forms. Since dramaturgy “concerns the relationship between the subject matter and its framing,” a dramaturg’s role in experimental performance can be to cast audience confusion as a feature instead of a failure by placing an artist’s work in a disciplinary and historical context.1 In some sense the science of dramaturgy or the codification of dramaturgical analysis into “accumulated techniques that all theatrical artists employ or do” connects experimentation across disciplinary domains. In Ghostlight: An Introductory Handbook for Dramaturgy, Michael Chemers offers a step-by-step outline of dramaturgical process that closely mirrors steps enacted in a scientific experiment: [D]etermine what the aesthetic architecture of a piece of dramatic literature actually is (analysis). Discover everything needed to transform that inert script into a living piece of theater (research). Apply that knowledge in a way that makes sense to a living audience at this time in this place (practical application).2.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Odendahl-James, J

Published Date

  • January 1, 2014

Book Title

  • The Routledge Companion to Dramaturgy

Start / End Page

  • 381 - 387

International Standard Book Number 13 (ISBN-13)

  • 9780415658492

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.4324/9780203075944-78

Citation Source

  • Scopus