Wednesday, 2 March 2016

The Dramaturgy Database: Introduction to some Analysis

Published from June 2015 to date, the dramaturgy database is a strand within The Vile Blog, an archive of work from The List's Theatre Editor and Glasgow University PhD student, Gareth K Vile. Consisting of over six hundred entries, and ranging across a variety of performance forms, it offers the complete text of email interviews conducted by Vile with performers, directors, choreographers and, more occasionally, other members of the performance communities, such as PR agents.

A quick survey of the database reveals that many of the contributors were presenting work during the Edinburgh Fringe, 2015, although entries after October 2015 tend to feature artists who are presenting work within Scotland or London. The majority of entries come from the directors of theatre. 

The database retains a focus on the discussion of 'dramaturgy'. Vile's own defintion of dramaturgy remains loose: at various times, he refers to it as 'the process of making performance', while recognising that this open-ended definition allows plenty of interpretation. Indeed, in a recent post on the blog (but not part of the database), he identifies, without much argument, a sense of dramaturgy in the self-portraits of Claude Cahun.

Each post within the database shares a structure: a press release (or other artist generated text) introduces the work and maker in question. There is a title that always includes the word dramaturgy, and makes a half-hearted attempt to work this into a commentary on the piece's title. The main body of the article is a series of questions - generic and general - which do evolve as the database grows. 

Vile's own reasons for starting and continuing the database are not always clear. In the supporting documentation, he explains that it is 'part of his research' and that it hopes to show 'a working definition of dramaturgy'. But in the same post, he acknowledges that, by mixing it with his other, more eclectic posts and articles, he has made it difficult to access. 

However, it is quite clearly not, at this stage, an expression of Vile's academic writing, belonging more closely to the populist preview mode of writing and, as he claims, more useful as a piece of media to insert into social media as an advertisement for upcoming performances or, he hopefully adds, as a resource for other researchers. In terms of scale, it is an impressive project, that lacks direction. 

This huge number of entries make the database difficult to assess, although future studies, taking a statistical approach to the content, may yield an assessment of themes within the responses. 

This essay aims to use ten of the entries - chosen without any particular intentions - to explore some of the themes around the discussion of dramaturgy between Vile and a selection of artists. By close reading of the answers, a tentative evaluation of dramaturgy's place within the artists' performances might be traced.

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