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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Dissecting Dramaturgical Bodies: Self, Sensibility, and Gaze in Contemporary Dramaturgy

  • Author(s): Denney, Patrick
  • Advisor(s): Chemers, Michael
  • et al.
Creative Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license

Dramaturgy is an art form that is still, after decades of existence in the American theater, misunderstood, and often feared, by many theater artists. From quasi-realistic portrayals of TV Shows such as SMASH, to the pulpy B-movie depiction of Law and Order: Criminal Intent, dramaturgs are often portrayed with at least a sense of distrust, if not outright antagonism. Why is this?

In this thesis, I will draw connections between contemporary dramaturgical practices and theory, with analysis nineteenth century medicine, chiefly Michel Foucault’s idea of the “medical gaze,” the revolutionary way of seeing a diseased body that helped facilitate the creation of modern medicine in the 19th century. Inspired by this concept, I put forward a theory of the dramaturgical gaze, a tool for consolidating and illuminating the process by which a dramaturg engages with a script, and the larger process of rehearsal.

I will also examine Derrida’s analysis of the Pharmakos and Pharmakon, a pair of words that can mean either Poison or medicine. Examining this spectrum, I explore the corrupted nature of dramatic texts, and the ways that the dramaturg helps to recognize and treat the corruption. I also engage in an analysis of the Apollonian and Dionysian ways of approaching the role of the dramaturg. Into all of this, I insert an analysis about my work as a dramaturg on two recent productions, California Shakespeare Theater’s production of Charles Ludlam’s The Mystery of Irma Vep, and Gerald Casel’s dance piece Splinters in Our Ankles.

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