OSF dramaturg: Bringing the vision to the stage

Amrita Ramanan, director of literary development and dramaturgy, is now in her second season at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. With a BFA in theater history and dramaturgy from the University of Arizona, Ramadan went on to an extensive career in dramaturgy before coming to Ashland. Her credits include production dramaturg for five seasons at the Arena Stage in Washington, DC. We met at the Pony Espresso Café.

EH: What is dramaturgy?

AR: It’s definitely a recent field for America; it first began as an official title in Europe in the late 1800s. It’s a position where you support the contextualization of the piece of theater, support the approach and concept of a production (based on the playwright and the director’s vision) and translate that contextualization and that research to both a company of actors and designers as well as an audience. Dramaturgy is bridging the content from what happens in the rehearsal room to how an audience experiences it.

I create research packets, work with playwrights on the development of their scripts, attend rehearsals and am a second pair of eyes for the director and/or the playwright — in terms of the accessibility of a production and elements that they want to illuminate.

EH: What makes a great play?

AR: A great play is one that is truly in the voice and vision of the author: That challenges; that engages; that creates a sense of inquiry and curiosity; that gives us a new perspective or way of thinking; that allows for a way to see the world that we haven’t seen before; or gives us a different sense of empathy for characters; and that suspends our disbelief, that we can believe and commit to the world of it; and that stays with us in some way.

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The art of storytelling in a dystopian setting

Michael J. Hume directs Southern Oregon University’s “Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play,” Anne Washburn’s dark musical comedy, now playing in OSF’s Black Swan Theatre. The play envisions a post apocalypse world set in Northern California.

Next year Hume will be in his 26th season at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, with roles in “Romeo and Juliet” and “Sense and Sensibility.” We met downstairs at Mix in Ashland.

EH: How did SOU choose: “Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play”?

MJH: SOU wanted to celebrate the art of storytelling. We are doing this play, about people telling the story of The Simpsons, in repertory with Mary Zimmerman’s “The Arabian Nights,” about Scheherazade and a thousand and one tales.

EH: Is the play science fiction?

MJH: It’s dystopian fiction as opposed to science fiction; there’s not much science in the play. It’s about surviving and not uncomfortably. “Mr. Burns” begins with very basic storytelling: Folks sitting around a campfire obsessing about The Simpsons “Cape Feare Episode.” The great irony is that: What if these same people were obsessing about “King Lear” or “Moby Dick,” some great classic piece of literature, as opposed to what some people would call trivial or pop culture? I’m not a huge Simpson’s fanatic, but I am a fan. In terms of social commentary, I think it’s brilliant.

I would argue for The Simpsons that they’re smart. That they are a dysfunctional stupid American family is actually very telling — in terms of who we have become. It becomes a new mythology. We have Simpson’s scenes, we have Simpson’s characters: It’s not “The Simpsons on Ice,” or anything like that. It is human beings talking about The Simpsons and eventually putting on Simpson’s plays to make money. Capitalism is all over this. Continue reading The art of storytelling in a dystopian setting