Dear Reader

Hi, I’m Heather H., a dramaturg based in Philadelphia, invited by PACT as a guest artist for their ATHE pre-conference workshop on July 29th, 2015.

If you signed up to participate in PACT’s pre-conference workshop, we will be sending you an email with more information about the events of the day. This blog is a resource for that workshop.

Whether you’re a member of ATHE or not, you’re probably wondering a few things…

What is PACT? Within the Association for Theatre in Higher Education, PACT works to advance both the theory and practice of performance through exploring and supporting every aspect of the development of new dramatic works. PACT produces three major new play events, in addition to master classes, workshops and panels, at the annual ATHE conference.

“Je Me Souviens” (I Remember): Is Quebec’s motto and the theme of the 2015 Conference in Montréal. This blog seeks to be part of the conference-wide conversation surrounding “issues of country/isolation/assimilation, as well as acts of revolt/revolution, quiet and otherwise, give rise to consideration of the silences, the unsaid, the gestures, the sub-text, the dangers, the misunderstandings, the non-discursive in the “in-between” terrain between cultures, countries, and constituencies in Canada and beyond. Building on this, we can also embrace inter/trans-national and inter/trans-cultural exchanges in performance text, process, or production.” (Statement from the 2015 Conference Committee)

Why 30 plays from Montréal? Last summer, when I was invited by PACT to run a pre-conference workshop, I had recently participated in the Philadelphia theatre community’s 30/30/1, a celebration of new plays by US Latino(a) playwrights created by Caridad Svich of NoPassport and hosted by founding artistic director Daniel Student of Plays & Players of Philadelphia. It was a fun day. Hearing thirty plays represent the myriad of voices and issues posed by US Latino(a) playwrights certainly gave the Philadelphia theatre-makers a lot to discuss concerning our intentions and perceptions. Also, as a freelance dramaturg reading for different organizations, reading 30 plays to examine Montréal playwrights seemed like a manageable number. Of course, that’s the goal. Now, it is three months before the conference and we’ll see where this journey takes us.

What is a Dramaturg? I get asked this question every day as a professional freelance dramaturg. There are a myriad of answers, check out the LMDA website if you’ve never encountered the profession before. Hopefully, you have and that experience has been positive. For the purposes of this blog, we’ll be exploring these three basic dramaturgical questions:

  • Why this play now?
  • How is the city of Montréal an essential character in each play?
  • How does this play help us explore the ATHE conference theme Je Me Souviens?

Where did this list of 30 Montréal plays come from? Back in August 2014, when I first started to plan, I started reaching out to Montréal artists and quickly realized that during the month of July, most of the theatre community is away on vacation. Fortunately, I was able to get some answers from two Canadian theatre history scholars who I am now indebted to: Erin Hurley of McGill University and Patrick Leroux of Concordia University. They are amazing. This is their area of expertise. I’m not going to pretend that anything I have to say is as insightful as their body of work. Read their books and articles—I have and it has been invaluable. Thank you Erin & Patrick for sending me a list of more than 30 plays to explore prior to the ATHE conference. The intention is that by reading through these 30 plays, I will learn more about the landscape of Montréal, the views of francophone and anglophone theatre communities, and the spirit of the linguistic and political context of modern-day Canada.

Speaking of that, am I really the right person to be writing about Montréal plays? Honestly, no, probably not. Somehow, I missed Canadian theatre history and contemporary Canadian plays in my education, other than a very general understanding of Robert Lepage’s work in grad school. However, I figured this would be the opportunity to fill this gap in my education. This blog may be very naive of me, but I’m quite motivated to prepare myself before I cross the border.

About a week ago, on a beautiful spring day in Washington, D.C., I was walking along the Potomac River and talking with Canadian dramaturg Iris Turcott.  My main area of expertise in dramaturgy comes from my graduate education at the A.R.T./Moscow Art Theatre School during the years when Robert Woodruff was artistic director. Those years were filled with theatrical experiments of putting international artists in a room together and seeing what resulted. As I talked to Iris, I realized that I have to start from a place of “I don’t know”. Sometimes, I feel the act of dramaturgy is being brave enough to ask the dumb, obvious questions.

Also, this is just my way of preparing for the process. If I am going to work with a playwright that has a published body of work, I better read their plays before I sit down for my first conversation. So, dear reader, this blog is my process before I pack my suitcase and go to ATHE. I know very little about theatre in Montréal, but I’m looking forward to finding out. Oh, and also, probably much to the dismay of the Québécois theatre community, I don’t speak or read French, as Russian is my second language. Onwards!

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