Saturday, July 7, 2007

Dramaturg? Dramaturge? Dramaturd? DRAMATURD?!?!!?? Confessions of a Dramaturg (no "e," no "turd.")

Now, gentle reader, I know you've heard me say before that we dramaturgs don't get out much. We also get upset about truly weird stuff, often related to semantics, and send furious emails back and forth about them.

Here’s a case in point.

A few weeks ago, our much beloved and extremely cool publications coordinator, Stefanie, sent the following email to Susie Falk (Cal Shakes' Director of Marketing), to me, and to my trusty Associate Dramaturg, Dan Venning:

----- Original Message -----
From: Stefanie Kalem
To: Susie Falk
Cc: Laura Hope ; Dan Venning
Sent: Thursday, June 21, 2007 6:34 PM
Subject: dramaturg? dramaturge?

Did you know that Merriam-Webster considers "dramaturge" to be the more appropriate spelling?

Stefanie Kalem
Publications Coordinator
California Shakespeare Theater


Seems like an innocent enough question…or so you'd think. She just wanted to make sure we were spelling things correctly in our programs and on our web site. Little did she realize she had opened Pandora's Box – the very topic that makes Dramaturgs (no "e") look up from their books with bleary eyes and go from mild-mannered, sweetly geeky Dr. Jekyll types to full-blown, enraged, academic-evidence citing Ms. or Mr. Hydes.

I was in New Orleans dealing with furniture movers when the email came through, so Dan Venning was the first to respond. And respond he did, with this:

------Original Message-----
From Dan Venning
To: Stefanie Kalem, Laura Hope, Susie Falk
Subject: Re: dramaturg? dramaturge?

Hi Stefanie:

I'd heard that before, but I consider it to be just plain wrong. It's something that the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs (no "e") continue to have a field day about periodically on their listserv, a wonderful source for information and the occasional flame war (I occasionally post there). Their website is

 Similarly, after a looksee, the OED has an entry for "dramaturge" but none for dramaturg. Whoopee.

 "Dramaturg" (no "e") comes from Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, often considered the first dramaturg; he worked for the National Theatre in Hamburg in the 18th C., and wrote the influential Hamburg Dramaturgy, a collection of essays on German theatre of the time. I consider myself a dramaturg: I do research and development, advise the director, and advocate for the play.

 "Dramaturge" comes from the French; in French it means "playwright." 

For these reasons, I'd strongly encourage using the spelling without an "e." We should be working to correct those entries in the dictionaries not kowtowing to them.


When I finally finished with the movers and checked my email and saw Stefanie's original message and Dan's reply, I could not stop laughing. I'm glad Dan got to do the dirty work on this one. I get so weary of playing bad cop on the proper spelling of dramaturg (no "e"). Since Dan did such a fabulous job of clearing up the matter and expressing proper dramaturgical outrage, I simply gave the following reply:

-----Original Message-----
From: Laura Hope
To: Dan Venning, Stefanie Kalem, Susie Falk
Subject: Re: dramaturg? dramaturge?

I totally concur, and I mention this battle when I lecture on Lessing and the history of the Dramaturg (no "e").



Dan was, as ever, correct and thorough in his response. I just love Dan. He kills me. Poor Stefanie will probably never ask another question about the field of dramaturgy ever again. Susie wisely did not respond to any of the emails. She's familiar with a dramaturg's (no "e") tendency to get his or her panties in a twist over semantics. Last season, Susie had to field an extraordinarily lengthy and totally neurotic email from me late, late, late one night before a publishing deadline over the title of my article on Shylock for the "Merchant of Venice" program. It could not have been pretty to read over the internet my sincere agony as I vacillated and futzed over the most appropriate title. People get uptight over Shylock, you see, and I wanted a catchy, but not anger-inducing title. Susie handled it with grace and humor. She's a keeper. It ain't always easy dealing with us dramaturgs. We are a testy lot.

Even as I write this blog, I am enraged and frustrated by the Word program on my computer. It keeps insisting on auto-correcting the word "dramaturg" (no "e") as I type away, replacing it with the totally-incorrect "dramaturge." I keep having to go back and change it, and then the stupid spell checker goes and puts an ugly, accusing red line under the correctly-spelled "dramaturg" (no "e," dammit). I am outraged. I will, however, take it on the chin, as always, and continue to fight the good fight.

Not everybody takes this topic seriously, unfortunately. Lynne Soffer, our lovely and talented dialogue/text coach for "Man and Superman" insists on calling us "Dramaturkeys." We are not amused. No. Seriously. We are NOT amused. I should not advise accosting a dramaturg by calling out "Hey, Dramaturkey." Homicide, I tell thee….(Can you guess from which Shakespeare play that little phrase was lifted?)

Then there's my pop. I love the man, even though he inadvertently invented an unfortunate new title for what I do at Cal Shakes. I had just finished updating my CV and showed it to pop, so he could "oooh" and "ahhh" with proper paternal pride. He looked up from the lengthy, and (I thought) impressive document and asked me with total innocence, "What exactly is a Resident Dramaturd?" Yep. Drama-TURD. My mother burst into peels of girlish, southern drawly giggles. My ego immediately deflated and I was silent. Realizing he must have somehow screwed up, he said, "What? What'd I say? I really want to know what she does at that Shakespeare theatre."

And there you have it. Dramaturg. Dramaturge. Dramaturkey. DRAMATURD? We are the Rodney Dangerfield's of the theatrical profession: no respect. Nobody knows what we do. Nobody can spell us. And I just spent a stupidly large chunk of time blogging about this issue from my hot, ventilation-challenged room while a renegade wasp buzzes menacingly about my desk. What am I doing? Geez. "The Totally True and Pathetic Confessions of a Drama-what?"

I think I need to get out more. And Dan does, too. It's an occupational hazard. Kind, gentle, reader: pity us.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Holy mephitic cachinnations, Mr. Shaw! It's first preview tonight!

Happy 4th of July gentle reader! It is also the first preview of "Man and Superman" tonight at the Bruns. I have a good feeling about this evening's preview. Dress rehearsal went swimmingly last night – it wasn't even torturously cold, as often happens at the Bruns. The weather was quite pleasant. I'm hoping for positively balmy temperatures for previews and opening night. (I think we are due after the gale-force winds and frigid, winter weather we had for previews and opening of "Richard III.")

It's great fun to see everyone up there in costume acting away on that beautiful set. Annie Smart has created a visual extravaganza. I love, love, love beautiful sets. I'm not much of a fan of the whole post-modern, post-industrial, super-ugly thing so fashionable in set designs for some contemporary professional theatre. I blame Heiner Mueller and the German theatres. They started that ugly set trend. I hate it. I want lots of colors. I want gently curving lines. I want pretty! Set designer Annie Smart has certainly delivered – the set is absolutely gorgeous. A feast for the eyes. This is also one of the things I love about a production directed by Jon – you know it's going to be pretty. He doesn't do ugly theatre. He as an eye for the aesthetically pleasing, and I really appreciate that about him.

I get a real kick out of Jon Moscone during tech and dress rehearsals. You can tell he's excited…. he has the entire script memorized and mouths silently along during his favorite parts as his head darts back and forth watching the actors on the stage. If an actor calls for line during a tech rehearsal, he usually shouts it out to them before the interns have a chance to do so. That's actually a pretty amazing talent. He must have a photographic memory.

Also, I think it is time to proclaim Dan Hiatt as quite possibly the funniest man alive. I absolutely believe and have perfect faith that Dan could read the entire phone book aloud and somehow make it completely, hysterically, on-the-verge-of-wetting-your-pants funny. He plays Straker the cockney, class-snobbish chauffeur with great aplomb.

Dan also has nice hair. Other bloggers have noted this fact. I believe Jim Carpenter wrote several entries on his "Richard III" blog musing jealously over Dan's hair. Check it out for yourself. The posts are probably still out there in the blog-o-sphere somewhere. I myself am hair-vain and like to look at a good head of hair. (Once again, for more on this, see Jim's blog.)

My mother thinks Dan Hiatt is cute. Now, my mother is a tough customer – very, very Southern, and very, very picky about men. Most of the time when she visits California, she just looks at the way men dress (or "can't" dress, as she puts it), their inability to open doors and pull back chairs for ladies, and sniffs with disapproval at what she feels is the slatternly-ness of contemporary California culture. She always asks, "Where are the gentlemen? No wonder you're not married. I don't know how you stand it out here." She's thrilled I'm moving to Louisiana. She thinks she'll have a better chance at marrying me off. My dramaturgical opinion on this matter is not requested. Wish me luck, I'm going to need it.

Anyway, Mom came to see "Richard III" when she was here in California for my Ph.D. graduation. Most people who saw that show bubbled effusively over Reg Rogers' virtuoso turn as Richard. Not mom. She just said, "He's quite good." Then she turned her attention to Dan Hiatt. During Dan's first big scene as he stood up there on the stage with his long brown robes and lovely hair flowing in the breeze, mama leaned over to me and began to shake her index finger. Finger wagging is a sure sign mama is about to make a very important proclamation. Then my mother whispered in her kittenish, southern drawl, "NOW!" She paused, paused for effect and to make sure I was listening and taking notes. Then, shaking her finger at me with great dramatic intent, she purred, "Thaaat is a goood looookin' man." I could tell she meant it because she managed to drag the word "man" out to a full two-and-a-half-syllable word. "Hee haaas bee-ay-uu-ti-ful hay-er," she further proclaimed. Translated this means, "He has beautiful hair." The more syllables mother drawls in a proclamation, the more serious her intent. She meant business: Dan now has the Southern Belle Stamp of Approval (SBSA). Let me assure you, that is a big whoop-dee-do, for those of you unfamiliar with southern culture, or that strange, enigmatic creature: the southern female. Mother also said he was a very good actor. Honestly though, that was less interesting to her than his appearance. She also has an eye for the aesthetically pleasing.

My pop tells me mother only wanted to go to "Richard III" to hear my Grove Talk before the show, and read my articles in the program during the show. She has nothing against Shakespeare. She just has her own agenda. Pop said she watched rapturously as I blathered on about the War of the Roses, and that it was her favorite part of the evening, other than Dan Hiatt. He did not mention what topped her list for the evening: my Grove Talk, my articles, or Dan. I was afraid to ask, so I let it go. People go to the theatre for all sorts of reasons, don't they? It's not all about Shakespeare's pretty words or Shaw's philosophical musings for everyone, is it?

Speaking of playwrights and their verbiage, I was supposed write about Shaw's vocabulary. We were supposed to be having a very intellectual, pedagogical discourse on his use of phrases like "ecstasy of mendacity," and words like "mephitic" and "cachinnation." You know, stuff that furthers your horizons, gentle reader. Go look those words up in the dictionary so I don't feel quite to guilty.

I seriously hope Dan never reads this. He probably thought he was done being objectified by his CalShakes colleagues after "Richard III" closed and Jim Carpenter was no longer backstage blogging about his hair while waiting to go on as King Edward IV.

How do I manage to digress so? I really, really meant to talk about Shaw's linguistic acrobatics. Ah well, you'd probably rather read about my mother's "sooo hot" list, anyway. I would if I were you. Mama is endlessly entertaining. She can turn a phrase in a way that would make George Bernard Shaw blush! Then again, Shaw was terrified of women. Absolutely terrified. Completely emotionally stunted and sexually retarded when it came to the ladies. Poor man. He would never have survived my mother and her flirty, southern belle manner and steel magnolia ways. I have actually witnessed extremely educated, grown men babbling and giggling like incoherent babies in her presence. My pop and I once watched a man of about thirty walk smack into a wall at a fundraiser because he was so busy staring slack-jawed and dreamily at her that he wasn’t watching where he was going. My mama would have snapped Shaw in half like a twig in under five minutes and stepped over the melted, blushing, cowering, stuttering, Shawpuddle she'd effortlessly created. I wish I could do that. It's pretty amazing to behold. Maybe next season we should do some Tennessee Williams. He definitely got the groove of ladies like mom. She should really be on stage.

See, there I go again, digressing. I'll save the vocabulary lesson for later, gentle reader. Come see "Man and Superman." Hear the cachinnations for yourself.

See you at the theatre.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Andy Murray is the Devil!

Andy Murray is the Devil!

Yep. That's right. Andy Murray is playing the Devil, Lucifer, Old Scratch himself in our production of"Man and Superman." Now how's that for casting? Purrrfect, no?

Andy is also playing Mendoza, the lovesick leader of the brigands encountered by the play's hero Jack Tanner (played by Elijah Alexander), and his chauffer Straker (played by Dan Hiatt) in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Spain. Mendoza is a Shakespeare-quoting, poetry writing, lovesick, would-be revolutionary who pines for his family's former cook, Louisa. Louisa just happens to be Straker's sister in a funny and silly bit of Shavian plot twisting that rivals some of Shakespeare's famously weird plot coincidences.

Mendoza is a little reminiscent of Orlando in As You Like It. He writes absolutely dreadful love poetry about Louisa that rivals the terrible versified drivel Orlando composes about Rosalind in "As You Like It". Like Orlando, Mendoza also carves the name of his beloved into trees. Now for those of you who saw As You Like It last season at Cal Shakes, this should be fairly hysterical. After all, Andy Murray as "Mendoza" -- our love-sick, tree-abusing author of wretchedly embarrassing verse in Man and Superman is the same actor who played Jaques in last season's "As You Like It." Jaques is the chronically malcontent renegade soldier who publicly scorns Orlando's poetry, derides Orlando for acting foolish over love, and rails at him for carving Rosalind's name in the trees. In our production, he even took a giant pair of scissors and cut down the large banner dedicated to Rosalind that Orlando hung from the trees. So, I get quite a kick out of watching Andy now play a Shavian semi-version of Shakespeare's Orlando after watching him play the foil to the love-sick fool last season. (It is a sad-but-true fact that dramaturgs are often geeky and get their thrills this way. We need to get out more, or so my mother frequently tells me.)

But I digress. Back to Andy as the Devil.

He's pretty much everything you'd expect from an Andy Murray devil. I don't want to spoil it too much, you will simply have to buy a ticket and come see for yourself, gentle reader, but let me give you a few tantalizing clues: hell is carpeted in white, shaggy animal fur, it features Satan's minions in satin pajama pants, Peter Callender in full leather regalia, Elijah Alexander (Loveless in last season's "Restoration Comedy,") as Don Juan, and pelvic gyrations from Lucifer, whose costumes resembles the "Hef." Ladies, it's an eye-candy extravaganza. Helen Gurley Brown would be pleased.

It is a hell you don't want to miss and you won't want to leave. Hell is simply heaven. And Andy Murray really is the devil.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Hell hath no a good Shaw play!

Here we are at the end of the second week of "Man and Superman" rehearsals and we have finsihed the initial staging of the play. This is quite an accomplishment, since this is a long and difficult script.

Jon Moscone is directing this production and he and I spent an entire month before rehearsals started making cuts to the script. Uncut, the play runs over four and a half hours long. Woof. Many productions cut the third act entirely. This is the act that contains its own self-standing one-act play called "Don Juan in Hell." It is a dream sequence in which the hero of "Man and Superman," Jack Tanner, imagines himself as his ancestor, Don Juan, from the opera version of that legend by Mozart, "Don Giovanni." In hell Don Juan encounters his old love, Dona Anna, and, of course, the devil. (The devil is played by Cal Shakes' Associate Artist, Andy Murray. How's that for perfect casting!!) "Don Juan in Hell" basciallly contains Shaw's whole philosophy about love, marriage, procreation, war, econonmics -- you name it, it's in here.

I understand why people often cut "Don Juan in Hell" entirely when producing "Man and Superman," but it seems to me the thematic framework of the play is largely lost without.

Our solution to the problems encountered by a text this long for a production with only 4 weeks of rehearsal and which will be performed in an open-air ampitheatre with extreme temperature changes was to cut a little from all four acts rather than cutting all of act three.

We accomplished this by going over the play with a fine tooth comb individually and coming up with our own recommended cuts. Then Jon and I met four or five times before rehearsals started and went through the play together word by word. We compared his sugestions for cuts with mine. Many times we agreed. Other times we cheerlfully negotiated. Other times we argued. Somtimes we even got snippy and had to slug it out. This process probably sounds like water torutre to many of you, but it was actually fun.

At the end of all this, a month later, we had a version of the script we were ready to take into rehearsals. We hoped for a three-hour version of the script for first reheasal. We knew it would change. Script edits always change once you get into the rehearsal hall. When you have the actors in the room who are playing the parts, you begin to make discoveries. There are always sections of text you didnt' think were important back when you were locked in script editing combat that seem vital when you DON"T hear them in rehearsal. Then there are things that seemed necessary that don't appear so vital once you hear them out loud. It's a journey of discoverey, actually, and it's quite exciting.

Now at the end of the second week of rehearsal, the script has undergone more changes. We restored some lines we cut some others. It is really starting to look and sound terrific. And we feel confident that it is at a playable length -- hopefully between 3 and 3 1/2 hours. We'll find out for sure the first time we run it from start to finish.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Bloggin' with the Stars: An Interview with L. Peter Callender

I'm sitting here in the rehearsal hall with one of my favorite people at Cal Shakes, Associate Artist L. Peter Callender. Peter was last seen at Cal Shakes as both the good and bad Dukes in As You Like It last season. Here is a picture of Peter and I at the Inside Scoop for "As You Like It" in August 2006 taken by our wonderful board member, Jay Yamada.

LH: What have you been doing with yourself since "As You Like It?" You've been acting all over the place. Tell us about it.

PC: Soon after "As You Like It", I went into rehearsal at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco for a play called Rust by Kirsten Greenidge. I played an old shop owner who sells African-American memorabilia and is haunted by his choice of livelihood. What fun that was! Soon after closing – three days to be exact, I began rehearsal in Kansas City, MO. (KC Rep) in a play called "The Syringa Tree" by Pamela Gein. I played seven or eight different characters in a lovely, painful play about a little South African girl telling story about growing up under apartheid in South Africa during the 1960s. A brilliant cast and a great production directed by Sharon Ott ("Restoration Comedy" at CalShakes). I left Kansas City and began rehearsal for "Man and Superman" one week following the close of "The Syringa Tree."

LH: What is your favorite aspect of working at Cal Shakes?

PC: Now in my ninth season, being lucky enough to play such diverse roles in front of the smartest audiences in the Bay Area. Also, to be a part of a company of actors working hard each season to create theater we are all so very proud of; in a company of artists and artisans completely dedicated to the creation of new and exciting work each year.

LH: Of all the roles you have played at Cal Shakes, what is your favorite?

PC: I have many: Vincent Crummels in "Nicolas Nickleby," Orsino in "Twelfth Night", Dr Chausable in "The Importance of Being Earnest" (my first non-Shakespeare role at CalShakes), Bolingbroke in "Richard II" (with my good friend and fellow artistic associate Jim Carpenter in one of his greatest roles as Richard II). I loved playing these because of the variety of physical and vocal stylings, and the fine casts I've had the pleasure of sharing the stage with.

LH: What's your favorite role of all time that you've ever played anywhere?

PC: Yank in Eugene O'Neil's "The Hairy Ape" at the Pittsburgh Public Theater. At that time, I was the first black actor to play Yank since 1932…Paul Robeson was the first.

LH: What is the dream role you have yet to play?

PC: Othello and Iago in "Othello." I would like to be in a production in which the actors switch off between the two. I think that would be tremendous theatrical event and a tour-de-force for the actors. I would also like to play Leontes in "A Winters Tale." To begin that play with nine months of pent up anger, fear and jealousy, turned into rage and madness, and then to come around to truth, love, and repentance. Oh, my…take a bow, Mr. Shakespeare!

LH: I can't believe nobody has ever cast you as Othello. Somebody should get on that, I mean, geez. Hello? American Theatre? Anyone home? Let's talk about this current production. Tell us something about your characters in Man and Superman?

PC: Roebuck Ramsden is a sort of straight man for Jack Tanner, his nemesis. He feeds off of Tanner's verbose opinions about everything and disagrees with all of them. He fights for his ideas and opinions and argues every point with clarity, and the wisdom of a staunch upper-class Englishman. I love his language, rhythm, and position in the story of the play.

LH: You've been in a production of "Man and Superman" before. Where was it and who did you play?

PC: It was at Baltimore Center Stage over 16 years ago in the 1989-90 theatre season. I played Mendoza (The Brigand) and the Devil in the "Don Juan in Hell" sequence of Act Three. This production was directed by Stan Wojewodski. E. G. Marshall played the part I am playing in this production, Roebuck Ramsden. He was wonderful. We did the full uncut version of this play which ran well over 4 hours. Yikes!

LH: Yep. CalShakes audiences can be eternally grateful to Jon and I for not making them sit for over four hours in the freezing cold or boiling heat. (See previous blog entry on cutting the script for production.) One last question, Peter. Who is your favorite dramaturg of all-time in your bright and astonishing career?

PC: You are, Dr. Laura of Great Hope.

(Editorial note: Yes, he had to say that, or I threatened to make cuts to his lines. Sometimes its good to be the dramaturg.)