Dramaturg - Dramatic Composition for the Stage
I spoke with Brisbane-based, freelance Dramaturg, Rhumer Diball, about her experiences in the industry and her journey in developing her career.
Rhumer has worked with Brisbane and Melbourne based playwrights and theatre companies, supporting creatives through the development of their works by facilitating the dramaturgical process. Since graduating from a Bachelor of Arts with an Extended Major in Drama in 2015, Rhumer has worked as a Dramaturg and mentored under national freelance Dramaturg, Kathryn Kelly. As a young creative interested in theatre myself, I wondered about Rhumer’s experiences within the Brisbane theatre industry during these first few years of her practice. So, I contacted her for a chat.
TCI: Let’s begin by exploring what dramaturgy is; what does dramaturgy mean for you?
Rhumer: “To me, dramaturgy is an amalgamation of processes and responsibilities. Dramaturgy loosely translates to “weave action” and is primarily rooted in the process of dramatic composition for the stage. So, whether you’re a playwright, a director, actor, designer, stage manager… any role that helps move a piece from page to stage, you utilise dramaturgical processes to help conceive and conduct a work that is to be performed. A dramaturg then is someone appointed as a facilitator, consultant or specialist whose key focus is on supporting the dramaturgical process. When I am asked what I do for my work, I usually explain it as what an editor is to a writer; I can become that for a piece of theatre or performance.”
TCI: What initially drew you to the career as opposed to other theatre-related positions?
Rhumer: “I always loved learning about theatre and performance through high school and university, but never really found where I ‘fit’ in terms of a role or career path within the performing arts. I’ve always dreaded performance and shied away from the responsibility of directing, so I dabbled in numerous backstage and crew roles to no avail.” Rhumer then explained discovering the specificities of dramaturgy and the role of a dramaturg in her third year of studies; “Having always loved unpacking plays, particularly scripts, I was delighted by the notion of supporting a playwright as they shape and adapt a work for the stage.”
Meeting her now mentor Kathryn Kelly, who Rhumer explains encouraged her “passion for working solely as a dramaturg,” further instilled her passion and goal of honing her dramaturgical craft.
TCI: How do you find working with your mentor, Kathryn Kelly? How do you hope her experience translates to your practice?
Rhumer: “Kathryn is an absolute gem, and she is honestly the main reason I decided to pursue a career as a dramaturg. I am now in my fifth year of practice and continue to grow, learn and reconsider my work thanks to her array of experiences and honest advice. I think my favourite aspect of Kathryn’s mentoring, whether it is with me over coffee or in a workshop with 30+ artists, students or colleagues, is her recognition of a dramaturg’s need for good communication skills. At a glance the work can sometimes seem very commanding and influential; however, if the relationship between the creative(s), the project, and the dramaturg isn’t functioning how it needs to, then the process can begin to crumble very quickly.”
TCI: What do you enjoy most about practising as a dramaturg?
Rhumer: “Overall I enjoy being able to support a creative process from a variety of points in a work’s development. … Currently, my favourite stage of a work’s development is workshopping towards a staged reading or showing. I always treat my role as a dramaturg as an ‘informed audience member’, so when I am able to fuse my support of a work with the opinions, reception and input of an audience I find it the most fulfilling and stimulating.”
TCI: Considering the supportive part of the role is what you find most rewarding, what would you say is your biggest challenge?
Rhumer: “My biggest challenge overall is overcoming the role’s generally elusive nature. I receive a lot of “So you’re not in it?” “Did you write it?” and “Why would anyone want to do that?”’s, but I take these moments as an opportunity to encourage an appreciation for the role and engage others in discussion around the practice of dramaturgy outside of the typical writer, director, actor role assumptions.”
TCI: As a writer, I feel it may be hard sometimes for playwrights to receive critical feedback, no matter how constructive. How do you approach communicating your feedback to the playwrights you work with?
Rhumer: “Ah yes! … Offering feedback can be a delicate responsibility, and as such, I do not take lightly, so I find appropriate and productive communication of that feedback is just as important as the feedback itself. Whomever I am offering the feedback to, I treat their creative work, regardless of the stage it is at, as their baby. So, my primary concern is respect for the efforts that have been made to reach the stage the project is at and understanding that my personal opinion is just that, an offered opinion. My responsibility for the work is far less than the creators’ and curators’, so the trust with their creation really needs to be there.”
TCI: And what about when your feedback affects more than just the playwright, for example in the rehearsal room, where any number of creatives can be involved?
Rhumer: “In terms of delivering feedback specifically, I have used a whole range of formats or platforms. When I’m offering feedback to a … creative team in a rehearsal room … I always try to prioritise my thoughts and responses in order of impact. Just as my responses are freshest when I first witness a work, I am aware that the first responses I share with a team can make or break the relationship, the impact of my input, and most importantly, the team’s faith in the show itself. I try and arrange the feedback I offer in order of broader responses and gradually work down to the smaller details of the script or production.
TCI: How do you find collaborating with creatives in the Brisbane industry?
Rhumer: “Brisbane is an incredibly mixed bag, and I find, if you invest in the opportunities available, the creatives and projects can be incredibly rewarding. As my work stretches from consultations, creative development, production support to reviewing, I have found Brisbane is filled with diversity throughout artist experiences identities, platforms and voices. My work also varies in terms of involvement and contracted timelines. I have worked with playwrights on a singular script gradually over numerous years, as well as attending regular rehearsals and production meetings. My biggest project to date was managing a multi-arts festival where I combined festival administration with dramaturgy.” … “One of the elements of dramaturgy that I relish is that I can dip in and out of many projects at a time and support a multitude of creatives at a range of stages while doing so.”
TCI: Practising dramaturgy sounds like a rewarding experience and a way to be involved with many different types of creative projects and individuals. What advice would you give someone interested in practising as a dramaturg? Where should they start?
Rhumer: “I would encourage them to read! Whether it’s reading into what dramaturgy is and can be and what the role of a dramaturg can entail, or it’s reading scripts, reviews, articles, programs…it’s all very important. The more theatre you can engage with, experience or evaluate, the stronger your personal craft will be. I know many, many creatives who have worked as a dramaturg in addition to other roles as a writer, director, actor, producer, teacher, etc. and their personal experiences have influenced their work as a dramaturg. When I’m not directly engaging with a project, I ensure I’m always continuing to expand and develop my personal experience with theatre.”
For more information about Rhumer, her practice as a Dramaturg and theatre critic, or to get in contact with her, visit her website here.