TACOMA, Wash. – In June of 2015 dramaturgs from around North America will gather in New York City to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas (LMDA)—an international service organization representing these theater arts professionals.
University of Puget Sound will play a central role in the year leading up to the conference by partnering with LMDA in revisiting the history of the organization and the field. As of May 2014 Puget Sound’s Collins Memorial Library became the official archive for LMDA.
This summer thousands of audio, visual, photographic, and paper records, which have been in temporary storage since the late 1990s, will be moved, arranged, described, and made available for public viewing in the library.
Geoff Proehl, chair of the university’s Department of Theatre Arts, and Sara Freeman ’95, associate professor of theatre arts, will work with Puget Sound’s archivist, Katie Henningsen, to manage the collection.
“Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas has maintained a close professional relationship with University of Puget Sound for many years through the agency of Geoff Proehl, who has served as LMDA president, longtime board member, webmaster, and archivist,” said LMDA Board President Cynthia SoRelle. “With deep appreciation for the university's support, we are pleased to make Puget Sound the archive's permanent home.”
Mark Bly, one of the organization’s founders, describes the dramaturg as “that artist who helps the director and other collaborators to shape the sociological, textual, historical, acting, directing, and design values for a production.”
The LMDA archives, once processed, will provide the public with a treasure trove of information about the history of theater and the work of the dramaturg. The materials include issues of the LMDA Review from its beginning in 1985; brochures, programs, T-shirts, and audio and video tapes from dramaturgy conferences beginning in the mid-1980s; plays and scripts translated from other languages; the original manuscript of Mark Bly’s introduction and seven interviews for the 1986 Yale University Theater magazine’s Dramaturgy in America edition; award submissions; interviews with early leaders in the field; board materials; and budgets and correspondence.
“This collection represents a significant acquisition and reinforces the university’s commitment to preserving our cultural heritage and to providing our students with opportunities to engage with primary documents for original research projects,” said Collins Memorial Library Director Jane Carlin.
At University of Puget Sound, dramaturgy drives the work of the theatre department, both in and out of the classroom. Dramaturgy demands skills in close reading, along with a wide-ranging knowledge of cultural and historical contexts, making it a natural fit with the liberal arts. Nearly every production on campus has a student, faculty, or staff dramaturg. The dramaturg’s notes on a play can be read by the audience in each production’s program, often offering a unique perspective on the thinking that went into the multiple aspects of a production.
The materials in the collection have already attracted a dramatic literature scholar from England, Rosalind Haslett, who came to research a book on the history of dramaturgy in the United States. Puget Sound student Madeleine Faigel ’15, a history major and theatre arts minor, is also using the archive after receiving a Puget Sound summer research grant for a project titled “Instances of Fruitful Criticism/Instances of Art: Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas Archive at the University of Puget Sound.”
The profession of dramaturgy looks to Gotthold Ephraim Lessing as its progenitor. The 18th-century German scholar and playwright accepted a job as the resident critic at Hamburg National Theatre, but had no intention of kowtowing to his financial backers by praising every production. In his reviews he insulted the public’s taste, infuriated the actors, and described one playwright’s work as “wretched stuff.” Within two years the mismanaged theater’s repertory company was bankrupt and Lessing was forced to resign.
The role of the dramaturg did not emerge until the late 1960s and ’70s in North America. Since then the profession’s talents have diversified beyond resident theaters, and dramaturgs are now engaged by Disney, Broadway, filmmakers, and even dance and opera companies.
Press photos of materials from the LMDA dramaturgy archive are available upon request.
Photos on page: Top right: drawing of dramaturg Gotthold Ephraim Lessing at work; Top left: Cross Pollination flyer for the LMDA's 1995 conference in Los Angeles. Above right: Guest book at the first LMDA conference in 1986. Above left: Minutes of a planning meeting in 1984.
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