(Re)Search is a six part series by Bree Windham a current graduate student in dramaturgy. It details her experiences as a young dramaturg navigating different resources and the ways she has come utilize them through trial, error, and advice from others. Find the full series here.
One of the hardest tasks for me to perform as a dramaturg is relinquishing my work to an audience. I’ve known the time was coming; I’ve been working towards that first read-through for months. And yet I find myself with the copies thinking, have I revised enough? Have I been clear? Will this be helpful? And the even harder question comes after opening night: What am I going to do now? While this is a feeling that has subsided with each production, I feel that it is still one of the hardest parts of my job. Designers get to see their work come down in an often cathartic dismantling of the set. Directors and actors often receive audience applause at the end of each performance. But it can feel that dramaturgs have to find their own catharsis in a simple handing out of a research packet or a much-anticipated talkback or lobby display. This idea always strikes me when I try to communicate what I have done for a production to friends or family members. As a props master, I could send them a picture of the work I created. “Look for the breakaway table in Spelling Bee, I’ve made four of them this week!” As someone who provides research, the question remains: how do you showcase your work and, furthermore, how do you let it go?
One of the primary ways I deal with letting go is simple organization. Recently, I began my second year of graduate school. On the first day of classes, I went back to my desk in the graduate office that I had not seen in three months. Last semester, “Past Bree” thought it would be a wonderful idea to leave things that I thought would be useful to myself the following year. Now I could not for the life of me remember what each pile meant. There were some very crucial documents I needed to keep, but others had no significance to me any longer. I try to keep my information as organized as possible during research. This can be anything from a nice binder that I can keep for future reference to a well-organized hard drive on my computer. For instance, making sure that loose files have nice specific names so I don’t have to figure out what Untitled 28 is and why it’s more important than Untitled 29. This organization makes it easy to finally put the research to bed. I have the ability to access it at a future date, but I don’t have to stare at it every single day as a loose entity on my desktop. For Apple users, I would also highly recommend attaching an external hard drive and making use of the “Time Machine” application. It saves a copy of your hard drive in a compressed file to the external hard drive daily and when you access it, it brings back your desktop and files as you had them on any specific day in the order or arrangement you had them.
Another way I tend to manage research, on a smaller scale, is by literally putting everything down. I usually schedule my days down to lunch breaks and bed times. When I plan my week I make sure to leave one day free. In the past I would just schedule an hour or two to do nothing. To stop looking at emails, to turn off all of my electronics and just read, sit, or listen to a new album start to finish. This was so successful that I have recently begun trying to implement it on a larger scale. Some blogs inspired me to institute “Analog Sundays.”
I’ve found that when in production, Analog Sundays are very hard for me to honor completely. Someone is usually emailing or calling, and it requires immediate attention. However, I try to make it clear to friends and family members that it will probably be hard to get in touch with me on Sundays. So what do you do on Analog Sunday? Anything that doesn’t require you to plug in—I spend my Sundays reading, listening to music, and generally just mentally preparing myself for the upcoming week. As someone who researches for a living, this time isn’t only beneficial because I get a break. I find that I am able to stay tuned into the news and pop culture in a way I never was when running myself ragged with no end in sight.
But as a researcher how do you let go of an entire production in one fell swoop? I once had a professor tell me that as a director she doesn’t solely watch the performance on opening night—she likes to watch the audience. Since then I have, too. As the person who provided information to the cast, the person who was able to have input in rehearsals, and more importantly as the person who stands in for the audience in rehearsals, this has been a very gratifying experience for me as well. I know the lines with the strange terminology that the actors deliver knowledgeably and effortlessly. I remember those preliminary rehearsals where they asked for a pronunciation or definition. I watch as the word that originally stuck out like a sore thumb now blends effortlessly into the rest of the dialogue. It’s a small thing, but as a researcher that is a big moment.
Moments like these make it easier to know when to walk away from researching in future productions. As I mentioned in my first post, it’s easy to want to go overboard in the learning of new material as a researcher. However, I’ve found as long as you provide an answer in those situations in the most clear and concise way possible, you can walk away later knowing that you’ve done your job and you’ve done it well.
But what is the best way to feel proud and let it go? This is something that happened by accident for me one night while I was waiting for a friend after a show. I stood outside in the lobby at the end of the performance and listened to the audience as they talked about what they had just experienced. I listened as a cast member explained the play and its importance to a family member. You helped create that informed moment. That is your catharsis.