In the last five years, dramaturgs have expanded what they do, while simultaneously searching to identify common ground within the profession. To achieve new understandings and a national identity, and to foster advances in the field, Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas—the only professional service organization for American and Canadian dramaturgs—has accomplished two related tasks: created a statement of “Values and Beliefs” and developed employment guidelines.
In the winter and spring of 1999, a dozen or so leading dramaturgs from America and Canada gathered to discuss the nature and functions of our profession. Two collaborative sessions were organized by then-president Geoff Proehl and facilitated by arts consultant George Thorn, whose appearance was sponsored by New York State Council for the Arts. LMDA then issued the results of these meetings in a statement of shared “Values and Beliefs.” This statement is an essential preamble for the endeavor of LMDA’s advocacy caucus, formed in 1997, to develop the first guidelines for employment terms pertaining to professional dramaturgs. The advocacy committee spent three years researching the then-current practices of the dramaturgy field by studying the history of similar quests for fair work circumstances within all theatrical professions; by conducting surveys; and by generating an ongoing internal conversation. The guidelines were approved by a nearly unanimous vote of the LMDA membership on Nov. 7, 2000.
The outline of employment terms resulted from three years of research into the contract history and current practice of other theatre professions, as well as ongoing surveys of the membership. One research technique was the collection of oral histories during the 1999 national conference. Within a town-meeting format, the advocacy caucus encouraged a number of dramaturgs to share their experiences within the field: working conditions, what we did and how we did it. These efforts, among others, generated the final document. Throughout the entire process LMDA members applied their skills in collaboration and critical thinking to discover a common ground.
After numerous revisions I prepared employment guidelines in ongoing consultation with dramaturgs from both nations. The most important goal and guiding principle was equity. The guidelines are simply employment terms dramaturgs and literary managers can consider when negotiating agreements for service. LMDA cannot collectively bargain on behalf of its members, although it may advocate for its constituents. The guidelines, considered to be reasonable and standard terms, are posted on the LMDA website, www.ups.edu/professionalorgs/dramaturgy, and can be adopted or modified by individual dramaturgs to suit their individual conscience and to suit particular circumstances.
During spring 1999, a group of dramaturgs collectively authored a statement of shared convictions, which serves as a significant introduction to the guidelines.
While no expression of values and beliefs can or should be all-inclusive, here are some that many of us as dramaturgs hold:
- Theatre is a vital art form that has the power to nourish, educate and transform individuals and their communities.
- We are theatre artists.
- Dramaturgy is central to the theatre-making process.
- At the heart of dramaturgy is collaboration, a mutual trust and respect among collaborators.
- As collaborators and artists, we value our differences and continually learn from each other.
- We value critical thinking and questioning.
- We love complexity, ambiguity and mystery.
- We believe in working for fair compensation and credit for everyone involved in making theatre.
- Because we share these values and beliefs, we work to improve the environment for the field of dramaturgy and literary management by defending the function, exploring the practice and promoting the profession. This work will be both internal (amongst ourselves as a community of dramaturgs and literary managers) and external (deepening old relationships and building new ones).
Lynn M. Thomson heads the MFA concentration in dramaturgy at Brooklyn College. She also received the 2000 Elliot Hayes Award in Dramaturgy.