Friday 1 June 2012

Without the turg, there's too much drama

On 23 May 2012, Melita Rowston was a guest blogger on Griffin Artist Card.  She wrote it for Erin.

Without the turg, there’s too much drama.

Workshops, rehearsal processes…. For some writers, they are the stuff of nightmares. I’ve always been a little nervous and a lot excited just before a workshop or rehearsal process commences. I love working with actors and I love hearing my words come to life. Although, sometimes I have not loved anyone very much after a workshop – especially when the actors and director have pummelled my words into a former shadow of themselves.

Over the years, I’ve learnt how to come out of this process unscathed, and wildly happy with the results. So, here’s my Writer’s List of Ingredients for a Great Rehearsal Process. Or something like that.

The process for the writer is about listening. Constantly listening. And reading. Reading between the lines, reading body language, reading motivations, reading gesture. It doesn’t matter what the overlying structure of the rehearsal process is – in the case of Crushed – four weeks of intermittent script workshops, then four weeks of actor rehearsal, what matters for the writer, is being constantly present in the room, reading and listening and definitely not speaking.


I stopped speaking during the rehearsals and workshops a long time ago. I found that the more I spoke, the more destructive I was being to the process. The more I defended my choices or explained the meaning behind a line or a scene, the less benefit I was gaining from the expertise in the room.


Why does a sentence sound chewy? Why is a scene falling flat? Why is a joke not playing? Simply listening to the dialogue, the actor’s inhale and exhale of breath, the words that are emphasised, laboured over or underplayed is the first step. Listening to the type of questions the actors and director are asking of you and the comments they are making, the next.


Reading the actor’s body language while they deliver lines, ask questions and make comments is the third important step. Is it the text that is the problem? Or is it a gap in the actors knowledge about the subject matter of the scene they are reading, ie: they don’t know much about astrology so all the technical terms are falling flat. Is it that the actor doesn’t want to come across as a ‘bad’ character, so all their feedback is about twisting that character into someone likeable? Does the actor want more lines, a bigger role? Is an actor saying something, anything, just so they look like they are contributing?

And the director, is the director’s feedback more about driving the text into the directorial vision they wish to impose on the play? Is there is a problem elsewhere in the scene, and the director’s instinct is right, but they are articulating the wrong source of the problem?

Is everyone just tired? And of course, are they just plain right?

The elephant at the table.

It is an absolute necessity to have a dramaturg at the table. Now, this comes back to all that listening and reading and not speaking stuff. It’s tiring work. It is like rocket science. Especially when a cast of three and a director may all have different ideas about a scene and are all getting rather passionate about vocalising them.

Who do you listen to without listening too much? Should you take a hatchet to the lot? Who’s speaking for you?

The dramaturg. They speak for you. They back you. They fight for you. They’re your AD, your PA. They don’t have a directorial vision or a line count running through their heads. They’re not looking at the play through the eyes of one character or the shades of ‘shall we turn this scene into a pre-recorded animation?’

They are looking at the words, the overall shape, the drive, the relationship and action lines, everyone at the table, and the writer.

Sometimes a writer can be overwhelmed by too much feedback. Sometimes a writer listens too much or loses contact with their intuition. Sometimes a writer gets a little lost.

Often undervalued and ignored, the dramaturg will become the player you will be oh-so relieved to have beside you, holding your metaphorical hand, a spare pencil and eraser always close by. They are the ones who will calm the room and suggest an altogether different solution - perhaps a perfect word to round off a final scene…  

Do yourself a favour and go out and get one today.

And while you’re there, buy a ticket to my play:

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