O’ for a muse of fire

That would ascend the brightest heaven of credible and reliable sources! (Five points to whomever can pinpoint from where I stole and reworked this.)  Outreach, instruction and liaison are among many academic librarians looking for new ways to connect to departments. Getting departments on board can be key in serving patrons and showing off our valuable services and resources. We often define collaboration with faculty and students ourselves. Dramaturgy is an example of how we can let them define the partnership based on their needs.

No, not as in the Motley Crue's "Theatre of Pain" album.

What, you ask, is dramaturgy (besides tricky to pronounce?) It’s a profession long-established in Europe and finally developing in the United States. A dramaturge, or literary manager, is sort of a theatre production’s on-site research expert. Setting “Romeo and Juliet” in World War Two? You’ll need someone who can provide cast and crew with historical context (both the original version’s context and the WWII one.) You’ll need someone who can help costume designers and prop masters ensure they are using cigarette packages or nylon stockings authentic to the period. Performing an absurdist Existential play? Well, someone’s got to tell the cast and crew just what the heck that is in the first place. And if an actor is going to spout poetic on Dinah Manoff (you know, from “Empty Nest.” Marty in “Grease,” that ring a bell?) and her early Broadway work, that actor needs to know the ins and outs of that topic. And perhaps watch some clips, listen to recordings and peruse images to enhance their understanding. Oh dear, do we need primary source material, too? Enter the dramaturge.

When I started as Outreach Librarian I would literally walk across campus, stop instructors, introduce myself and ask if I could have five minutes of their class to introduce myself to their students. The Theatre department chair took me up on it. My schpiel that I could help students find credible sources of information quicker than Google must have sparked some inspiration. A month later a student director called me up asking if I could be his dramaturge for a production of “Biloxi Blues” as the chair thought I might be a good fit, what with my library background and all.  I said yes and then asked what the heck a dramaturge was. And so my meaningful, collaborative and personal relationship with Theatre faculty and STUDENTS was born.

Yes, this takes time out from other activities. Yes, it involves a lot of work at times. I do things like go over the script and provide research notes on words, people, events, places, phrases. I present to the cast and crew information on the playwright, genre, past productions. I research the contexts in which the play takes place (historical, cultural, societal, the world of the play itself, etc.). I attend at least one rehearsal a week (usually at night, which might not work for all schedules.) The cast and crew sometimes pepper me with research needs. I write a dramaturgy note for the audience in the program. And I have tons of fun.

Dramaturgy has allowed me to indulge my passion for research by providing a focus and immediate need. More importantly, it allows me to collaborate with students and faculty. They see and experience the value of my services in a manner meaningful to them. Research is not just the stuff of classroom papers. It’s a means to help them practice their craft better. The inherent value of libraries, so obvious to us, becomes clear to them.

Getting students to come see me for classroom assignment research help has been slow. I end all of my presentations to them with “and let me know if I can help you with school work!” The point is: here is a ripe opportunity for redefining collaboration and expanding our services to meet a real need.

Note: not a lot exists on librarians as dramaturgists…for now. Give me a year to write the article. Helpful sources of information include:

  • The Process of Dramaturgy: A Handbook, Scott Irelan, Anne Fletcher and Julie Felise Dubiner (2010.)
  • Dramaturgy: A Revolution in Theatre (2006), Mary Luckhurst
  • “Peforming by the Book: Library Resources for Theatre Artists,” David Kahn (1994) , Reference Services in the Humanities, N. 47, pp. 167-180.
  • “A Dramaturgical Perspective on Academic Libraries,” Brian Quinn (2005), Libraries and the Academy, V. 5 N. 3, pp. 329-352.

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