Dramaturgical Thinking: A Creative Conversation About Australian Dramaturgy

Robert Ellis Walton* and Alyson Campbell**

Introduction by Associate Professor Chris Mead, University of Melbourne.
Panel comprising graduates of the Dramaturgy Masters program at Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne: Meta Cohen, Emma Fawcett, Stéphanie Ghajar, Noemie Huttner-Koros, Dom Mercer.

Overview

This recorded public panel discussion brings together five graduates of the Victorian College of the Arts’ (VCA) Dramaturgy Masters program with the course’s founder Alyson Campbell. The only course leading to a degree in dramaturgy in Australia was introduced in 2015 as part of the graduate training program at the VCA, University of Melbourne. This course grew from the ecology of VCA’s theatre school and its Animateuring postgraduate course that produced influential graduates working experimentally at the intersection of theatre and site-responsive, community-engaged, solo, and directorial practices. Dramaturgical thinking is central to the course’s pedagogical rationale, designed around the premise that, while we may not always be in the professional role of “dramaturg”, we bring with us a set of practices, ethics and knowledges that can mobilise insight and productive discourse across a wide array of contexts, collaborations, and forms, including community engaged and pedagogical practices, First Nations theatre, new writing, devising, criticism, organisational management, live art, curating, opera, musical theatre, new media, transmedia, screen, and dance.

Together with facilitator Robert Walton, who has recently led the course, the panel reflects on dramaturgy in Australia from the perspective of the graduates from the VCA course, and the value of dramaturgical thinking and training. They collectively address questions including:

  • What is a “post-millennial Australian dramaturgy”? What does it mean to us as individuals, and as a community?
  • What is the significance of dramaturgy training in Australia? More precisely, what does it mean to have this training in Melbourne, what legacies does it draw on and create?
  • What do Australian dramaturgs actually do, and what does dramaturgical thinking bring to current work and practice?
 Prof. Chris Mead opening the panel discussion. Photo: video

The panel works across a broad cross-section of the profession, from mainstage theatre to independent practices, new work to classic text, and in immersive, community-led, and activist forms. It is unsurprising then that their perspectives are sometimes contradictory, and the form of the conversation preserves these points of difference. Despite this, they take on the challenge of attempting to define what an Australian dramaturgy might be and find recourse in the centring of Indigenous voices while questioning the idea of a single Australian dramaturgy. More than half the panel are from states other than Victoria and work interstate and/or internationally. Half the panel were not born in Australia and have since become Australians. This reflects the current population, where around half of Australians were not born on the continent, further complicating the notion of a singular national dramaturgy.

Video
Transcript
Video Contents and Links

00:00 Introduction and Acknowledgement of Country – Chris Mead

03:38 Panel overview – Robert Walton

06:56 Panel Introductions

11:09 Dramaturgical thinking and the history of dramaturgy at VCA – Alyson Campbell

13:38 Why did you come to VCA to study dramaturgy?

15:25 How did your experience differ from your expectations?

16:30 What surprising thing/idea/tool from your time at VCA do you use regularly in your life?

17:14 How did the course change your thinking about dramaturgy, if it did?

18:27 When people ask you what dramaturgy is what do you say? Do you have a short working definition of dramaturgy?

22:54 Do you have a question or series of questions you find useful in your work? What are they?

27:49 What is the best question you ever asked? What was the worst?

35:10 What questions should Australian theatre be asking itself?

46:19 What trends do you see emerging in Australian Theatre at the moment? Can you identify a shift in Australian Theatre in the time you have been working?

51:21 Is there such a thing as Australian Dramaturgy? Could you speculate on a definition?

56:14 Does the world need more dramaturgs? What are they/we good for? Why train as a dramaturg? Why hire a dramaturg? What does a training in dramaturgical thinking offer?

1:00:12 Audience Questions

1:17:57 Final thoughts from the panel


Bibliography

Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne. The Dramaturgy Program. Accessed 7 December 2023.

Beddie, Melanie, Eckersall, Peter and Paul Monaghan. The Dramaturgies Project. Archived by Realtime. Accessed 7 December 2023.

Theatre Works. She Writes Program. Accessed 7 December 2023. 


Photo: Gregory Lorenzutti

*Robert Ellis Walton is an artist and director who has been recognised with multiple awards for his work in theatre, screen, installation, writing, interactive art, and research. He is the Dean’s Research Fellow at The Faculty of Fine Arts and Music, University of Melbourne. In this role, he leads the development of performances and artworks that explore the creative potential of ancient and modern technologies. In the decade prior he taught across all of the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) Theatre programs and has served as head of department. Website: www.robertwalton.net. 

Photo Credit: JulieMc

**Alyson Campbell is an award-winning director, theatre maker and dramaturg whose work spans a broad range of companies and venues in Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. over the last 30 years. Alyson is a Professor in Theatre at the Victorian College of the Arts, The University of Melbourne. Orcid page. 

PANEL PARTICIPANTS

Meta Cohen is a queer composer, sound designer and dramaturg with work spanning music, theatre and interdisciplinary art. Their research focusses on the intersection of theatricality and sound, specialising in sonic dramaturgy and musical thinking in theatre making. Meta is currently undertaking a PhD at the Victorian College of the Arts, The University of Melbourne. Orcid page.

Emma Fawcett is a dramaturg, playwright, performer and educator, based in Naarm/Melbourne. She holds a Master of Theatre (Dramaturgy) from the Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne and Master of Applied Anthropology and Participatory Development from the Australian National University.

Stéphanie Ghajar is a Lebanese-born Australian theatre and filmmaker, mainly working as a director and dramaturge. Her work delves into the human condition to explore the individual in deeply personal situations where the familiar motions of the everyday darken and veer towards the tragic.

Noemie Huttner-Koros is a performance-maker, writer, dramaturg and community organiser based between Wurundjeri country and Whadjuk Noongar country. Noemie’s practice often engages with sites and histories where queer culture, composting and ecological crises occur, and has taken place in theatres, galleries, alleyways, dinner parties and blanket forts.

Dom Mercer is a director and dramaturg, based in Sydney. He is currently the Head of New Work at Belvoir St Theatre where his focus is on new writing and artist development. He leads commissioning and supports the creative development pipeline for Belvoir’s mainstage program.

Copyright © 2023 Robert Ellis Walton and Alyson Campbell
Critical Stages/Scènes critiques e-ISSN:2409-7411

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