The conference of Literary Managers & Dramaturgs of the Americas wrapped up over the weekend, and as usual, I’ve left with not only a new spark and verve for my work, but also a few tangible take-aways.
In this first (long) post on the conference, I’ll offer a summary of the events.
Thursday belonged to LMDA’s University Caucus, which annually allows dramaturgs with ties to academia present Hot Topics, and then turns those topics out into the room for conversation and weekend-long follow up. I love the U-Caucus because it’s not only a good jumping off point for the rest of the conference as a whole, it provides a useful snapshot of what the academic-affiliated portion of the field has been thinking about over the past year. This time we had topics as diverse as:
1. Dramaturgy as a mediation tool between culturally/racially difficult plays and sensitive communities (in this case, a challenging play that needed to reach a socially/racially conservative audience base)
2. Dance dramaturgy practiced as scientific R&D
3. Strategies for restoring women to the canon of dramatic literature
4. Finding ways to honor and evaluate the work of dramaturgs as professors within the academic tenure structure
5. Dramaturgy as a healing process
6. Dramaturg as department chair — how to use the skill set of a dramaturg to question and reformulate something as staid and unmoving as an academic department
7. Explorations of ownership, power, and copyright in the dramaturg/playwright relationship
8. And lastly, a report on the upcoming release of the updated LMDA University Caucus Sourcebook, which gathers together members’ dramaturgy syllabi, exercises, case studies, resources, and the like.
We finished the day with an invigorating and amusing keynote address from Adam Lerner, the curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver. He made an impassioned argument for the need to embrace being more awesome. Or, as he put it, we creative professionals spend so much time trying to be excellent, we forget to be awesome.
For him, “awesome” means leaving aside the snobbery and stuffiness and elitism that contemporary art (analogue: contemporary theatre) seems to inflict upon the public. At MCADenver, he instituted the Mixed Taste lectures, which pair two absolutely disconnected lecture subjects into one evening event, then holds joint Q&A. Examples: Walt Whitman and Whole Hog Cooking; Prairie Dogs and Gertrude Stein; Marxism and Kittens Kittens Kittens. It’s an amusing idea, but also one that unearths completely unexpected patterns in the juxtaposition. It gives attendees time to really appreciate issues of, for example, artificial lighting (which, as I recall, was paired in an evening with Warhol). You walk away with new understandings of things you couldn’t guess you’d care about. For me, the big idea here was that when we find way to connect art to very fabric of our lives, we give our lives and the art meaning; this is authenticity. (Also, the next Mixed Taste will be the starting point for MCADever’s Pigeon Project, whereby Denver residents can check out homing pigeons to take home, care for them for a while, and then release them to find their way back to the MCA roof deck. Amazing and WTF all at once.)
Friday began with several opportunities to take advantage of Denver walking tours and public art. Several colleagues and I (including PwritesCom Associate Producer Corianna Moffatt ) decided to get out into the mountains and check out the Buffalo Bill grave and museum. It was terrific — so utterly theatrical in itself, and a celebration of the life of one of America’s consummate showmen. Also, it was wonderfully kitschy. Check out this motley crew of dramaturgical types:
Friday also saw several larger-scale panel discussions, once the morning walkabouts were completed. We began with a group session on the status of the field in response to Todd London’s 2010 book Outrageous Fortune: The Life & Times of the New American Play. There was a promise from LMDA leadership that the comprehensive powerpoint presentation used in this session will be available online soon. Once it’s out there, I’ll link it here.
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