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What is Dramaturgy?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Dramaturgy is a branch of the theatrical arts which involves bringing productions to life on the stage. The role of a dramaturg in a production can be quite varied, depending on where he or she trained and the philosophy of the theater the dramaturg is working for. Different national theater traditions also have differing beliefs on the role of dramaturgy in theater production, which can sometimes cause confusion with international productions.

While a dramaturg can be a playwright, dramaturgy is a much broader field. Dramaturgs can write plays, but they can also edit and restore plays, assist with adaptations of stage works, and work on musical productions such as operas. A playwright may work with a dramaturg on the development of a play, and dramaturgs can also be retained by composers as consultants.

In addition to being involved with the language and music of the stage, dramaturgy also involves staging itself, including blocking of actors, set design, and the aesthetic composition of theatrical productions. Dramaturgy also encompasses choreography and placement of aesthetic elements on the stage, with dramaturgs studying topics like lighting design, costuming, props, and set design in the course of their training. Dramaturgy can also involve theatrical criticism, which is why some theater directors, producers, and advisors are trained in this field.

The study of dramaturgy also includes the study of the history of theater. An experienced dramaturg is familiar with the history of the theatrical tradition, often in many cultures, and he or she can put historical plays into context. A theater which wants to mount a Shakespeare festival which is true to the Elizabethan roots of William Shakespeare, for example, would probably retain a dramaturg to learn more about the historical context of the plays, what the theater experience was like during this period, and how actors spoke and moved on the stage.

Many large theaters retain a full time dramaturg to assist with all productions, and the he or she may also manage the theater's resource library and maintain detailed records on production history. Smaller theaters may hire a consultant for specific productions, or may split the duties of a dramaturg and creative director or similar member of the theater staff. Dramaturgy is so widely recognized as an important part of the creative process that they have successfully won lawsuits arguing that they are entitled to copyright over their work, and a share of the royalties for productions they have worked on.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Language & Humanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By ellefagan — On Sep 18, 2009

I am so busy these days, but your articles always win a moment anyway! :-) I even find myself copying some of the more relevant-to-my-work ones for my reference. Thanks so much. elle fagan

By anon45440 — On Sep 16, 2009

Sorry to hear that anon45054. She sounds like the feminist variety. Hang in there.

By anon45068 — On Sep 13, 2009

Cool. Thanks for that.

By anon45054 — On Sep 13, 2009

My wife is a dramaturgist! She feigned being married and living as a "wife" for almost twenty years! She even bore three children, feigned being the "mother" of their father, and then ditched her name, marriage and home to claim a free inheritance home from daddy! She could write a play: "The family that almost 'was'!"

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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