The H.E.A.T. Collective was founded by Artistic Director Jessica Litwak to create, advocate and inspire artistic expression rooted in healing, education, activism, and theatre. We work to build collectives in every context: in our performances, workshops and community events. Engaging artists across the world, we aim for powerful bridge building art of courageous generosity. In this series, guest experts will write a piece representing each letter of H.E.A.T. - week one will be healing, week two is education, week three is activism, and the last week of the month is theatre. Together these pieces will highlight the work that is being done across all aspects of The H.E.A.T. Collective in the hopes that we can ignite dialogue, spark further exploration, and encourage more people to get involved.
My dear friend and colleague, the dramaturg Sarah Dickenson, https://sarahdickenson.wordpress.com/ has been speaking with me about inclusive dramaturgy and some of what that might mean in practice. She gives the example of 4 playwrights under commission with whom she is working on behalf of the same institution. The two men happen to deliver “first” drafts that suggest they are in control of their underlying dramaturgies, whereas the two women’s drafts are still exploring what those dramaturgies might be. This might just be coincidence, or multi-factoral, but given the gender split it’s worth asking the question.
I’m just about to resume practical work with 3 companies who all make professional touring theatre with learning disabled theatre makers. Moomsteatern (Malmo, Sweden) https://moomsteatern.com/en/start/ Compagnie de l’Oiseau-Mouche (Roubaix, France) http://oiseau-mouche.org/ and Mind The Gap (Bradford, UK) http://www.mind-the-gap.org.uk/. Our first collaborative project, Crossing The Line, http://www.crossingtheline.eu/ ran 2014-17 and this new one, Ogmius, will run until 2021. And before you ask, Ogmius is the Celtic deity of eloquence – proposed by my Swedish colleague Anna Gustafsson. I have recently finished writing a chapter which explores the intercultural diversity of learning disabled performance dramaturgies.
I mention this because my role within these projects is Project Dramaturg. Unlike Sarah Dickenson’s work, this does not involve my direct creative intervention into the work being made on stages in the 3 countries. My role might best be described as curatorial. My presence within the project affords me an opportunity to witness practices from all three companies and explore the three cultural systems that have given rise to their work.
So I have taken liberties with the term “dramaturg”. I take further liberties still in my pedagogical work with post graduate students on the MA in Arts Administration and Cultural Policy at Goldsmiths, where I also teach, in London. As part of that work, I run sessions on how to write dissertations. Students come from all over the world to take this course, with the majority having English as a second or subsequent language. My approach to this is also essentially dramaturgical. I try to uncover, with the students, the journey that they must go on as writers; what the processes might be and what these look and feel like. I’m fortunate in that a departmental colleague does all the heavy lifting on the handbook guidelines and what it will take, in compliance terms, to get their dissertation across the finishing line. This frees me up to be able to invite them to take a curatorial approach to their own work; to see it as creative endeavour. So while bound by conventions such as literature searches, bibliographies, research questions, case studies, research methodologies, introductions and conclusions, the students are fundamentally telling me a story, using other voices in the process to underpin or counterpoint. Each story must spring from a passionate curiosity about and engagement with its chosen subject, which they must then interrogate and critique. The handbook is a necessary primer, but it’s an institutional one-size fits all. Through dialogue, and exploration of languages, mores, cultural contexts, pedagogical traditions of thinking, of presenting argument and evidence, it is possible to create both a more nuanced understanding of the task at hand, whilst effectively curating the diversity in the room.
It is precisely this (kind of) dramaturgical work, which in my view, institutions do not see that they are not providing. And not just our universities, but most of our theatres too.
Jonathan Meth is Curator and Founder of The fence – an international network for working playwrights and cultural operators, across Europe and beyond. He works in Higher Education, teaching theatre, arts administration and cultural policy. He is currently Project Dramaturg on Crossing The Line, a 2-year EU Creative Europe funded project supporting exchange between, and development of, 3 theatre companies making performance work with learning disabled theatre makers in France, Sweden and the UK. He is an Expert Advisor to Ambitious about Autism