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Questions are Key!

May 11, 2011

Any Dramaturg who’s had a director scream “I hate your notes!” and then use every one of them, knows that questions are a Dramaturg’s best friend.  Putting a note in the form of a question can be extremely beneficial when dealing with sensitive issues in production.  They make you consider and reconsider a scene and all its possible meanings.  When you are in a tough spot with a director regarding a scene, how do you approach them?  If something just isn’t working, how do you bring it up?  My favorite way is to say whatever you think the problem is, in the form of a question.  This eases the tension while forcing the other collaborators to view the subject in a new way, perhaps a way they had never conceived of.  It is always good, as a Dramaturg, to have a couple of key questions readily available in your mind. I am always amazed at how one question could change the whole tone of a room.

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In my experience the back and forth of what did work and what didn’t can get to be monotonous.  But, if instead of saying this scene is bringing down the whole show, you can simply ask, what makes this scene feel different? Or, what did you want to communicate to the audience in this scene?  The answers to these questions sometimes define what a production will ultimately be seen as.  Are there politics involved? Usually, yes, but they are more easily adaptable than emotions.  Emotions can drive a show and they can drive it into a wall.  Tiptoeing around the finite impressions and allowing yourself to have faith in the process is part of the rehearsal experience.  Nothing is ever set in stone when it comes to theatre, and neither should your impressions.  What you see and what the artists want you to see are sometimes not compatible.  That is when questions like, “What would you like to tell the audience with this piece?” are golden!

What are your favorite key questions to ask?  If not by the cunning use of questions, how do you get your notes heard in an emotionally charged rehearsal room?

One Comment leave one →
  1. The Reflective Artist permalink
    May 11, 2011 10:36 am

    Yes, yes, and YES to your post. I’ve done a bit of collaborative theatre, and questions always force people to justify their choices in a fully articulate way–or make them realize that they can’t do that. Then *they* have to ask *themselves* questions about why their choices are unclear/pointless. Making an observation in the form of a question also usually keeps people from closing up or becoming defensive about the topic being discussed. So much of the work done in the theatre is personal, and if an artist feels cornered by what they could interpret at derogatory comments about their work, it’s hard to get their best work out of them. They’ll be too self-conscious or angry to ever really engage with other collaborators, and they will stop being open to suggestions that need to be heard. Questions are a great way to neutralize that potential situation and still get work done!

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