Decorating Coffins in Galveston – Tales from the World of Dramaturgy

Dramaturgy is my chosen field, and even though dramaturgs are amazing and magical people, we’re often under-used. That is, until I have my way with it.

The role of the dramaturg in the production is the complete opposite of the rules of hair care according to Elle Woods, in that they are “complicated and infinite.” It is on this very topic which I am speaking in Florida in a few weeks, and provides me with a continuous challenge. Usually when my friends, my parents, and my parents’ friends ask me what I do/what I want to do with my life.

My relationship with this particular show, Young Frankenstein, at Island Theatre ETC in Galveston, Texas, began with an email of interest that I sent to the theatre’s director, Kim. When she asked me what I could do, this is what I said:

The role of a dramaturg within the production is something that has been hotly debated about in our field and in the real world, because it really depends on the production, the director, and the vision for the show. What I like to be is:

a) a representative of the playwright and the integrity of the script (especially when playwright is absent)
b) a communicator between director/actors/production
c) someone who always has the director’s vision and ideas in mind to help keep the production moving forward
d) a resource and educational tool for actors and directors, answering the questions so that the director can focus on directing and the actors on acting
e) a facilitator between show and audience, by writing for the theatre, doing talkbacks, etc.
In my tenure, I have been everything from basically being assistant director of the show to being a silent partner, and everywhere in between. And I mean EVERYWHERE…choreographer, costume and set design advisor, replacement actor in rehearsals, educator, activity/workshop leader, lobby display maker, makeshift therapist, mediator between quarreling actors/quarreling actor and director, production problem-solver, acting coach, warmup leader….you get the picture.


That was how our relationship started.

Since then, I’ve made an actor packet, spoken at 2 rehearsals, and seen 1 rehearsal to completion. It’s been a great experience so far, and they go up tomorrow night so broken legs to them.

Last week, someone either donated or found a prop coffin, and it ended up in the theatre’s lobby. Since the show doesn’t call for a coffin, Kim had no use for it. I suggested that I use it to make a lobby display, and she let me, so I did.

I drove to Galveston this afternoon armed with 27 pages of history on Frankenstein and several glossy images. I put the coffin in the middle of the upper lobby and artfully arranged the text and pictures into an artistic timeline entitled, “Walk This Way.” I did it in about an hour, and Chelsea, the ASM, helped me out with the finishing touches. Before I drove back to Houston, I took some pictures, but they’re blurry and awful so new ones will be taken when I go see the show. I didn’t get Kim’s reaction immediately, but I emailed her letting her know that it was done, and asking her to mount it on a table and put a tablecloth underneath it to look like an operating table. She said she really liked it. All because of a completely useless prop coffin.

And this is why we need dramaturgs.


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