Early Career Dramaturg Manifesto
Composed July 8, 2016 at the 31st Annual LMDA Conference in Portland, Oregon
Presented July 9, 2016 to the LMDA Board at the Annual General Meeting
Dramaturgy is evolving, and we are the next phase in its evolution. We are on a journey to find our people, and being here at LMDA is part of this search for our people.
From our discussion about the anatomy of an ECD, a dialogue about the dramaturg with multiplicitous operatives has emerged. As ECDs we are “the slash” – as in theatre/slash/dance/slash/problem solvers/slash /readers /slash/creators…. We are liminal. We are culturally aware. Both digitally, and in terms of equity.
“Early career” refers only to the beginning of the search for the forum where the “slash” is supported, where it creatively nourishes us… before (or if) we need to fit into the establishment.
Education: How We Learn
We are hungry for a diversity of perspective. An exposure to/from our increasingly eclectic community of dramaturgs. We are all on a journey along a road that can last a lifetime. You have, through the grace of time, explored the turns and detours that, we are, for whatever reason, afraid to explore. Show us the path. If we wander off the path, we need you to tug at our collars before we step of the edge of the cliff. We need you too, sometimes, let us fall. There are/will be barriers. Help us hurdle them, or simply smash through them. We learn from success and failure, so let us learn as we walk, letting steps turn into yards/meters, kilometers/miles, together.
Education: Where We Learn
What do you gain from a formal dramaturgy program that you can't get from field training?
It's a pro and con of access. If you are in a formalized program you have access to: possible mentors, internship opportunities, libraries, to a credential which validates your work, and opportunities for experience where you are afforded the ability to try, "fail", and learn. If you are not in a program you have access to different communities, a web of networks rather than a bubble, and a validity of experience where you were the best person selected for each line on the resume rather than automatically assigned a project through your studies.
Internships, as currently administered present a conundrum: they ought to provide career advancement but don’t, yet the lack of internship experience can also block career advancement. In addition, organizations that administer internships nominally value diversity but do not practically cultivate it. We want parallel field work experiences to be valued alongside internship experiences. We want interns to either be paid a living wage or be able to concurrently pursue a living wage and enjoy a supportive, educational experience without penalization, questioning of loyalties, or loss of opportunity.
Finding employment is incredibly difficult and, right now, takes a lot of exploration, networking, applications, and luck. Employers and potential employers make a lot of assumptions about us and our ability (or lack there of), but once we’re hired, we are willing to work from the bottom up and change (or destroy and rebuild) the system. Trying to get employment as a dramaturg is hard, stressful, and sometimes disheartening—but we know it’s not impossible. We know we’re useful. We know our perspective is important. And we’re not going to give up.
We would like to propose a reform to the LMDA Mentor Match program. Being assigned a mentor in a digital space can create a forced relationship. For that reason, at the next conference we would like to invite you to speed date to find your next mentee… organized by us. We would like to experiment with this, because we feel that it is the best way for mentors and mentees to find their ideological match.
As ECDs, we are looking for a mentorship that is based on mutual respect. We are looking for someone who can teach us tangible skills like creating resumes, and negotiating contracts, as well as someone who can connect us with other people who can help us fulfill our goals. Put simply, we are looking for someone who not only can open doors, but teach us to open them for ourselves.
In a year's time, we hope that instead of presenting proposals as a separate contingent, we are more integrated within LMDA's board and structure, so that these conversations are already happening, and that we are already represented as equal members with value.
It is because of the remarkable mentors and industry trailblazers who have come before us that we stand here today, confident and prepared to engage in the most perplexing conundrums of our industry. As you have each come into your own from your predecessors' teachings, we honor your pedagogy in our practice, and hold responsibility for the legacy we leave to those after us. At the same time, we hope that these points will illuminate conversations we must continue to address together, not just as your students and mentees, but as your professional peers.
We aren't asking for you to solve the problems, but to acknowledge that we are on the same journey, and that we are in this together.
All of the Early Career Dramaturgs who attended and contributed to the ECD Forum on July 8, 2016, at the 31st Annual LMDA Conference in Portland, Oregon