Getting to grips with dramaturgy – Annabel Streeton

By Annabel Streeton, assistant director (placement)

I’ve really been enjoying my Regional Theatre Young Director Scheme (RTYDS) placement at Middle Child during the lockdown, as it’s allowed me to engage with like-minded people that at another time may not have been possible. So far, speaking with Middle Child artistic director Paul Smith and Hull Truck Theatre associate director Tom Saunders and picking their brains has especially helped. The various Zoom Q&A meetings and workshops have boosted my knowledge by soaking up loads of information from people with various experiences, from different roles in theatre making.

One topic that comes up a lot in conversation is how to approach a play before rehearsals from a dramaturgical point of view. I was aware of dramaturgy – the composition of a play – but hadn’t ever properly explored it before. Speaking with the likes of Paul and Tom has given me an insight in how to interpret plays, finding and exploring questions that will provoke the writer to create the best work that’s still their artistic vision.

In a discussion with Middle Child artistic associate Matthew May, I learnt more about literary departments in theatre and wrote some play reports on first drafts. These are write-ups on  whether you liked the play and if the company could potentially stage it, then pass it on for another company member to read it through. These exercises have been really useful in understanding how to approach a script when considering form, context and structure. 

The conversation around the reports highlighted the difference between being a play reader – someone who analyses the text – and someone who reads plays for leisure. One really important point that has stuck with me this week is having an honest response to work: it’s OK to read a section and not understand it.

These exercises on dramaturgy have fit well with the Zoom Q&A sessions that Middle Child have been running over the past week, especially the ’Page to Stage’ chat on the process of preparing a script for staging. A lot of important questions were raised that I wouldn’t have considered. These have opened up my eyes to preparing a script for the rehearsal process and future development, which will be really useful for my own project: a piece of gig theatre about warehouse parties and women in electronic music.

Alongside getting to grips with dramaturgy, I’ve also been getting to grips with running a company, thanks to some 1:1 chats with the Middle Child core team. It’s been really useful to discuss the wide responsibilities, such as the general manager. I now have a much better understanding of what goes into the day-to-day running of a theatre company and how this relates specifically to the directing role. 

Finally my second week finished with the chance to direct a scratch piece from Middle Child and Silent Uproar’s Out Loud programme, via Zoom, with members of The Roaring Girls. It was a piece that was recorded for voice only and will be broadcast on local radio next month. I took a different approach and only asked questions so we could all discover the piece together. I had so much fun doing it and felt really relaxed, while Paul was there to give me feedback. It’s awesome that work is still being produced in this lockdown from so many companies across the UK and I’m loving that there’s loads of online plays to get stuck into from the comfort of your own bedroom.