Dramaturgs’ rising role as conscience of the play

What is a dramaturg? Curators’ Professor of Theatre Felicia Hardison Londré heads up the Master of Arts program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and prepares her students to be scholars of theatre history and dramaturgs. Author of fourteen books and scores of scholarly articles, Londré says dramaturgs can function as the “conscience of the play,” and instead of focusing on particular design or performance aspects, are able to offer a wider view of the world within the play. Londré says many directors are now “clamoring” for dramaturgs, and Kansas City theatres in particular look to the MAs of UMKC. Graduates of the MA program have studied extensively under Londré and work as dramaturgs for UMKC productions and co-productions. Several of these theatres, including the Coterie and the Unicorn, have hired graduates to serve as staff dramaturgs and literary managers. Londré, who served as dramaturg for the Missouri Repertory Theatre for 22 years, says that UMKC’s MA program trains its students to “create a richer experience” both for those who work on a production and those who view it.

 Alyson Germinder (MA 2015) is the current literary manager with Midwest Dramatists’ Center and works professionally as a dramaturg throughout Kansas City. She sees dramaturgy as “a powerful and necessary part of any theatrical process.” For Germinder, the work of the dramaturg is all about the audience: “I dedicate so much of my time to making the information I collect for each show as accessible as possible for any audience member that may come in contact with the production.” This is in line with Londré’s statement that theatre history is the “absolute foundation” of professional theatrical productions. While Germinder states that “dramaturgs have to constantly fight for their place in the room,” Londré maintains that it is vital to “learn the facts first” before branching off into theory-based studies. This is why even MFA students take at least two of Londré’s courses, to solidify that foundation and strengthen their artistic pursuits. And, as Londré points out, many MFA candidates choose to take additional courses, because the knowledge of where theatre has been is as important as figuring out where it is going.
Germinder says that “One of the hallmark traits of dramaturgs is our curiosity.” As Londré points out, the MA program is structured to be flexible in tailoring to students’ particular interests. MA students are encouraged to branch out into various literary forms, Londré says, “to help them find their strengths” and enhance the impact of their theses. As Germinder says, “You have the ability to make the MA program unique and applicable to your interests  and you don’t find that at every university.”
by Andrew Hagerty