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Meet Our Dramaturg

Welcome to our feature on Dave Osmundsen, dramaturg for Pluck the Day by Kirt Shineman, the first #newworkshop selection in Now & Then's 3rd season. Pluck the Day is undergoing a week of development and will be presented to audiences this Friday, August 30 at 7:30PM and Saturday, August 31 at 11:00AM.

Artistic Director John Perovich spoke with Dave recently about his role in the workshop.

John Perovich (JP): Can you provide our audience with some information about yourself and your art.

Dave Osmundsen (DO): So first things first, introduction: My name is Dave Osmundsen, and I’m a dramaturg (Hi, Dave!). I grew up in New Jersey not far from New York City, so theatre has always kind of been in my backyard. I’ve also always liked reading and discussing literature with fellow readers. The first show I dramaturged was The Drowsy Chaperone, which was cool because I got to research the musical theatre and stars of the 1920s. When I was in undergrad, I was invited to the Kennedy Center’s Dramaturgy Intensive, which was an incredibly informative and formative experience. It was also my first time dramaturging (well, assistant dramaturging) a new play. I’ve been focusing more on playwriting the last few years, but ever since I moved out to Arizona for graduate school (I’m in the MFA Dramatic Writing program at ASU), I’ve been dramaturging more new plays, so it’s been great to really flex those muscles.

JP: I am extremely fond of ASU's MFA program (graduate of 2016...Go Sun Devils!). I know that you probably get asked this question a lot, but each response is different from each artist...so, please tell us: What is a dramaturg?

DO: I’m still formulating my definition of a dramaturg, since you’re right, it is different for each process. It’s such a liquid term that I think I’ll always be refining and defining it.

I think it boils down to the two main types of dramaturgy: There is a production dramaturg, who dramaturgs a full-scale production, and a new play dramaturg, who primarily works in new play development. One definition I’ve conjured that I think links the two is “Keeper of the Text.” A text can either be the script itself, or the director’s vision (what story does the director want to tell through the play?). From there, they can do research about the time period the play takes place/was written in and putting it into context. The questions each creative process must ask is, “Why this play? Why this play now? Why this play for this space?”

Whether you’re doing a full-scale production or a new play, you’re helping to define and refine the vision of the playwright or director. You’re engaging in dialogue. You’re listening to the conversations that are going on in the rehearsal room and synthesizing them. You’re asking questions that (hopefully) deepen the play or production to its maximum potential, and you’re also encouraging the creative team to ask questions, too. When I was at the Kennedy Center, the director, Will Davis, said to a group of us, “If I’m lucky, the best idea in the room is not my own.” That’s something I try to live by as a dramaturg—encourage questions so that the right ideas can arrive.

One risk that I think is inherent to dramaturgy is that a dramaturg can develop a God-like process, especially in the creation of a new play. In this case, a dramaturg should be the conscience of a playwright, not their Svengali. They can question, propose, and ponder, but they ultimately need to keep in mind that the playwright (or director, in the case of a new play) need to have their own agency. Otherwise, the dynamic shifts, and the creative voice of the playwright risks getting lost. A dramaturg is not someone who controls the process, but rather takes in the big picture to ensure that it will fulfill the central creative vision.

A shorter definition is “in-house critic,” but that has negative connotations that I dislike immensely. A critic evaluates a production. A dramaturg encourages it.

Hopefully that answers your question! 

JP: That was wonderful! Thank you for sharing your definition with us. I think that shines a great deal of light on the mysterious role. Each process is different, naturally, because each play is different. Can you provide us with a brief overview of your process on Pluck the Day?

DO: For Pluck the Day, I started by reading the script. For any play I’m dramaturging, I like to read the script at least twice (ideally three times) before stepping into the rehearsal room. As I went through the script, I asked questions and made observations. I sent these to Kirt, and we got together and discussed them. During our conversations about the play at that first meeting, we set up goals that Kirt wanted to accomplish throughout the week. During rehearsals, as we read through the play, I encouraged the cast to ask questions, regardless of how stupid it may seem. As my eighth-grade math teacher said, “The stupid question is the one that doesn’t get asked.”

I also get to do a little fun dramaturgical research: Since numerous wines are mentioned in the play, I get to research them and give the cast and crew a little information about each wine. I like wine, so naturally I like researching it!

JP: I wish I knew more about wine. Someone might say to me, "Can you taste those hints of oak and a peppery finish?" And I'm thinking, "It tastes like wine."

You mentioned goals that Kirt developed for the workshop. What are some goals that you have for this workshop week?

DO: My goal is to help Kirt reach his goals for the play. I hope that I (and the cast and crew) can ask Kirt the right questions that will help him deepen the play’s themes and the relationships between the characters.

JP: As a dramaturg, I totally relate to your answer. My goal is to serve the playwright and...most specifically...the play. Final question...there are so many options when it comes to theatre in the Valley (or staying at home with streaming services). Why do you think audiences would be interested in Pluck the Day?

DO: Pluck the Day is a comedy about privilege. Right now, privilege is such a hot topic, and America is at a point where it’s really confronting its image as a privileged country in comparison to other countries and cultures who aren’t necessarily have the same privileges we have. One fascinating aspect of Pluck the Day is the conflict between attainment of privilege vs. maintaining of privilege. Each character, in their own way, is trying to either obtain the privilege that has been denied them, or defend the privilege that has enabled them to live a life without consequences. I think we’re really starting to see in this country how much privilege allows people to get away with morally dubious actions. I also think it’s fascinating that the backdrop of the play is the wine industry, which has many elitist connotations in and of itself.

Pluck the Day by Kirt Shineman will be presented this Friday, August 30 at 7:30PM and Saturday, August 31 at 11:00AM. For more information, visit our box office.