A.E. Hotchner festival introduces students to dramaturgy

| Theater Editor

The annual A.E. Hotchner Playwriting Festival will present three student-written world premieres this weekend from Friday, Sept. 25 through Saturday, Sept. 26.

Each year, three student-written works, from 10-minute to one-act to full-length plays, are selected by the Performing Arts Department to be worked on and performed during the following year’s Hotchner Festival. In the weeks preceding the festival, student actors and faculty directors work with the playwrights to develop full-length shows, culminating in a final staged reading. This year, the festival showcases not only the hard work of the production roles with which students are familiar, like directors, actors and playwrights, but the unsung hero of theater: the dramaturge.

Though it can be difficult to give a short and sweet definition of dramaturgy, according to Carter Lewis, Washington University’s playwright in residence and producer of the festival, the dramaturge is essentially “the advocate for the text.”

“The dramaturge helps the playwright shape the play, helps them trim, cut, put in deeper roots for characters in the play and helps the playwright take their play from point A to point C,” Lewis said.

In the weeks leading up to this year’s festival, guest dramaturge Michele Volansky, associate professor in the Department of Drama at Washington College, and assistant dramaturge and current graduate student Danielle Conley have helped students develop storylines that they hope will leave an impact on Wash. U. audiences.

“I’ve never gotten to work with a professional dramaturge before,” Conley said. “It’s really cool to essentially be tutored, guided and mentored by someone who’s been in the field for a while.”

Volansky has worked on over 150 new and established plays. She has been a guest dramaturge for the Hotchner Festival before, which has a long history of celebrated and talented dramaturges, including last year’s guest Ed Sobel, former director of new play development at Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago.

Conley, who plans to go into professional dramaturgy post-graduation, fell in love with the unseen art as an undergraduate at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.

It’s the position that makes everybody else’s dreams come true. You’re the speaker for the playwright, the voice of information from the director—you have so much contact with every piece of the production, and you also know the play better than anyone else…It’s about really knowing what [the play] is supposed to do to the audience,” Conley said.

Lewis, who teaches classes in playwriting at Wash. U., believes that dramaturges should have backgrounds in acting, directing and playwriting in order to aid their dramaturgical work. Though dramaturgy may be an advanced art for those studying theater and the performing arts, students interested in dramaturgy should rejoice; after a four-year hiatus, a dramaturgy workshop will be offered as a class in the Performing Arts Department this spring semester.

“We will look at dramaturgy from four perspectives…new-work dramaturgy, classics and institutional dramaturgy and translations and devised theater,” Lewis said.

It is especially important for Performing Arts Department students to take a class on dramaturgy, since it can apply to and add value to students’ educations from a variety of majors.

“You can dramaturgy architecture; you can dramaturgy a business,” Lewis said. “It’s a good course to look at the idea of breaking something down from its whole to the sum of its parts and building it back up.”

Students and faculty can see all three staged readings this weekend in the A.E. Hotchner Studio in Mallinckrodt. “We the Congressman,” written by recent graduate Katie Goldston and directed by William Whitaker, will be on Friday, Sept. 25 at 7 p.m.; “Library Love Story,” written by sophomore Rachel Wilson and directed by Paige McGinley, on Saturday, Sept. 26 at 2 p.m.; and “The Divine Buoyancy of Being,” written by Cary J. Simowitz and directed by Henry I. Schvey, on Saturday, Sept. 26 at 7 p.m. Admission is free for all three shows.