Dramaturgy with Micheline Chevrier and Emma Tibaldo


On an unseasonably hot Sunday two weeks ago participants gathered around a very large table to learn about the big D word – Dramturgy – and how to approach a text with Micheline Chevrier, Artististic Director of Imago Theatre and Emma Tibaldo, Artististic Director of Playwrights Workshop Montreal. Both women work as dramaturgs and directors; Emma sometimes serves a play in both roles, while Micheline prefers to either direct or dramaturg, but not both for the same play.

“What is Dramaturgy?” is a question that is commonly asked. Micheline and Emma had a discussion about what they felt dramaturgy was. Here are some notes:

-A dramaturg does not “make the play better”, they are a collaborator with the playwright in the digging to discover the play, bring it to light (although Emma in particular bristles at the term “midwife of the play”).
-The Dramaturg is in service to the play, not the playwright.
-The Dramaturg is also at the beginning of the process, looking at the bigger issues. How is each scene moving the play forward? What purpose does each particular character serve in relation to the story?
-workshopping a text with actors is valuable as actors will sniff out exposition, because they are just saying words, they aren’t playing anything.
-A dramaturg offers friendly fire: constructive criticism.

We were all asked to read Stefano Massini’s An Intractable Woman before the workshop. It’s a challenging text as there are no character allocations and the play can be performed in an unlimited number of ways and by an unlimited combination of cast member(s) (when Imago Theatre produced this play last season, Micheline cast three women from different cultures as Anna). Micheline asked us to finish this sentence: “An Intractable Woman is a play about…”. We were given ten minutes to write as many ways to finish the sentence that is true to us. Here are some of the responses:

The play An Intractable Woman is…

-Anna Politkovskaya, a female journalist who reported the truth about atrocities on both sides during the second Chechen war.
-about a female journalist who is killed for telling the truth.
-about the horrors of war.
-about a woman who would have otherwise been forgotten.
-about a woman who runs towards danger.

What we found, going around the table, was that for each person the sentences became distilled, essentialized as the ten minutes went by. We each choose one of our sentences that resonated with us the most and wrote it down on a large sheet of paper. Micheline then circled words that jumped out to her. Truth. Power. War. Horror. Silenced. Woman. Journalist. Both sides.

We moved on to how to examine the play in more detail around character, dramatic action, the events of the play, the given circumstances, the subject, the themes, the challenges in staging this post-dramatic text (and what post-dramatic means).

Finally, we were asked to finish the following: “When I think of An Intractable Woman, I see… I hear… I smell…”

Our responses:
I hear… babies crying, teeth grinding: bone against bone, dogs barking, skittering.
I see… blood, Anna, rats, cages, a kid asking for a mother’s hand and the mother walking quickly across the street.
I smell… burnt flesh, metal, dust.

The day provided a great insight into the working practices of these two busy theatre practitioners and also for those of us familiar with Imago’s production of An Intractable Woman, it was illuminating to hear of the director’s thought processes around the staging of the play.