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The art of dramaturgy underpins Actors Theatre’s Festival of New American Plays

Molly Adea and David Ball in "How to Defend Yourself," part of Actors Theatre of Louisville's 2019 Humana Festival of New American Plays.Photo by Crystal Ludwick.

By Gracie Vanover

Floyd Central High School, Class of 2020

The director yells it’s time for rehearsal to start, so the actors gather and get into their

positions. The lights dim and the run-through begins. While the scene starts, the dramaturg sits to the side, smiling at the hard work they put in to perfect the show.

“With being a dramaturg, you essentially help develop a show using research, artistic and

administrative skills,” said Alonna Ray, who works as a dramaturg with Actors Theatre of

Louisville’s Professional Training Company.

Ray is part of the company of apprentices who work alongside professionals each year. She also works with theater’s Literary Department of four dramaturgs.

During this 43rd Humana Festival of New American Plays, which premiered five productions,

including “The Corpse” Washer and “How to Defend Yourself,” the dramaturgs had a lot of

subjects to research about each play — history, language and character backgrounds.

Dramaturgs created packets of information to help actors and the production team.

“As dramaturgs, we guide the writers and actors in production,” said Jessica Reese, a dramaturg in Actors Theatre’s Literary Department. “We help strengthen their toolset and immerse themselves in the shows.”

Being a dramaturg means your responsibility is to help playwrights improve their scripts, help actors understand the pieces better and much more.

Daily tasks differ depending on where the show is in production. In the early stages, jobs range from reading scripts to moving them forward to become possible productions. In later stages, like before the show opens, dramaturgs sit in on table reads, informing the cast and crew of their new findings in researching specifics for the show.

“In working on these shows, I help connect actors with different materials so they can connect better to the character they’re portraying,” said Ray.

Reese said she and her colleagues try to include the apprentices, like Ray, when they can.

“We want to give them experience through a routine and letting them sit in and participate

often,” she said.

These opportunities help these young dramaturgs excel later in their careers. Ray said the

commitment and experience from Actors Theatre helps push her in the right direction. By

including them in the read together process and run-throughs, the apprentices learn from their guides.

“I’ve learned a lot of things since I moved here from Texas,” Ray said. “People like Hannah (Rae Montgomery, resident dramaturg) have helped point me in the right direction in helping these productions.”

The Humana Foundation has helped fund The Humana Festival since 1976. In these 43 years of the Humana Festival, thousands of apprentices have been helped to make their careers thriving ones. With helping the youth of the theater business, they are keeping theater and the passion for it alive.



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