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?
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:
From Dan Venning
To: Stefanie Kalem, Laura Hope, Susie Falk
Subject: Re: dramaturg? dramaturge?
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 www.lmda.org.
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:
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.