Practices of dramaturgy are at the core of theatral activities. Inspired by the role and profession of the dramaturg as it emerged in German theatre, dramaturgy has become a newly vital and productive force within contemporary European theatre and performance. Today, dramaturgy no longer solely denotes formal principles of playwriting, norms for constructing dramatic narratives and plots, or the application of compositional rules and norms in performance making alone. Even the extended definition suggested by Eugenio Barba, the long-term friend and collaborator of Aarhus University’s Dramaturgy department, of dramaturgy as authorially or collectively crafted ‘actions at work’ encompassing ‘everything that works directly on the spectators’ attention, on their understanding, their emotions, their kinæsthesia’ (Barba & Savarese 1991) no longer fully captures the wide applications of this notion in 21st century theatre-making. Jeroen Peeters (2022) describes dramaturgy ‘as the development of a common ground for sense-making, for analysing material and exploring questions, for constantly observing and articulating the creation process, for pursuing the unfamiliar and accepting the haphazard, for experimenting with labour, time and instituted habits.’ Dramaturgy in this sense is an essentially relational dynamic (Boenisch 2014) that negotiates semiotic, imaginary, kinetic, (multi-)sensory and affective dimensions of action, encounter, conflict and resolution. Firmly situated at cross-disciplinary junctures, it synthesises facts, fictions and affects, mingles pasts, presents and futures, connects the local and the global, intersects diverse fields of knowledge and experience, and interweaves semiotic sense and the senses (Pewny e.a. 2014). The doing of such ‘expanded dramaturgy’ (Eckersall 2006) connects what Marianne van Kerkhoven (1999) influentially described as levels of ‘micro-dramaturgy‘ of a production with the institutional, yet also political, cultural and economic ‘macro-dramaturgy’ of our societies: Dramaturgy intertwines theatre art and material social realities (Kaynar 2006).
For Janek Szatkowski (2019), a core thinker of the ‘Aarhus theory of dramaturgy’, dramaturgy is accordingly a mediating practice of transparent communication concerned with ‘what art should do and look like, when society is as it is’. In his systems-theoretical approach, dramaturgy negotiates between an underlying poetics of aesthetic as well as ethical values and the resulting choices and decisions – in artistic creation as well as in aesthetic responses to artistic experiences. As Konstantina Georgelou, Efrosini Protopapa and Danae Theodoridou (2017) influentially argue, it is a collective, catalytic practice of ‘working on action’ that transcends attributions of individual authorship and authority. Bojana Cvejić (2015) asserts that dramaturgy is about creating, and not solving problems, as only problems force us to think beyond immediate answers, obvious solutions and, at worst, clichés. As we can conclude from these positions, dramaturgy mobilises the unique dialectic force of theatre that allows audiences to partake in a common societal event, while watching, imagining and reflecting – about different, perhaps competing sets of (aesthetic, ethic and societal) values, an ‘otherwise’ to the functional daily reality. It is the connector traversing the ever more ‘shifting grounds’ of – and in-between – social, political and material conditions, disciplines and power structures, both within and beyond the theatre (Lehmann & Primavesi 2009; Kunst 2015; Gade 2018), denoting a practice of navigating through vital ambiguities, multiplicities and contradictions.
As such, dramaturgy is closely aligned with contemporary political discourses on ‘sympoietic’ and ‘material thinking’ (Haraway 2016; Carter 2004 & 2018), with post-representational human and non-human affective dynamics (Ahmed 2006 & 2014; Barad 2003; Berlant 2011), with debates on equality, diversity and decolonisation (Romanska 2014; Sharifi & Skwirblies 2022), and with collaborative ‘commoning’ that counters prevailing neoliberal logics of precarity and singularisation (Hardt & Negri 2008; Reckwitz 2017; Lorey 2020). Almost by necessity, this productive expansion of the term and of practices of dramaturgy thus has no one common denominator. They do not result from a singular linear development (‘from theatre to performance’, ‘from dramatic to postdramatic’), neither have they emerged in parallel from entirely cognate contexts, nor resulted from precisely symmetrical impulses. Dramaturgy today manifests itself as an inclusive and yet diversified concept: but – as Maaike Bleeker (2022) emphasises – ‘although dramaturgy can be many different things in different creative practices, this does not mean that […] dramaturgy cannot be defined more precisely.’
As a dedicated Department of Dramaturgy, rather than a general department of theatre studies or theatre science, we therefore propose to use the occasion of the 6th EASTAP conference at Aarhus to survey the multiple dimensions of the plural concept and practice of dramaturgy in theatre and related contexts. We propose four core thematic nodes to debate and interrogate contemporary as well as historical (and potentially even future, emerging) dimensions of dramaturgy:
CONTRIBUTING TO EASTAP 23
The deadline for submitting proposals for a contribution has now passed. Thanks for the many inspiring proposals we have received, and which we currently assess with our Conference committee and advisory board.
The decisions will be published around 21 February 2023. Conference registration will then also open in late February. Proposers of an accepted contribution will be asked to register for the conference by 31st March 2023. If you have not registered by this deadline, you will be deemed to have withdrawn your proposal.
Please note that all conference contributors and conference attendants must be current members of the EASTAP European Association for the Study of Theatre and Performance with an active, paid subscription. Membership Information can be found at https://eastap.com/registration
The Emerging Scholars Forum gives early career researchers an opportunity to present their research in a supportive environment with room for debate and feedback. It is also a community for networking with other emerging scholars and will include a social event. Papers for the ESF can follow the call theme of “Dimensions of Dramaturgy, or present a topic from the scholar’s own ongoing research. Each participating scholar will have max. 15 minutes to present their paper to allow more time for discussion and feedback. We recommend that you focus your paper on a specific issue or problematic you would like to discuss, instead of presenting the general scope of your research. Keep contextualisation short and focus on specific cases, theories, methodologies and/or concepts and the questions which you would like to raise in relation to these.
If you wish to participate in the Emerging Scholars Forum, please submit as indicated below, stating clearly in the headline or the header that your paper is proposed for the Emerging Scholars Forum.
Convenors of the Emerging Scholars Forum: