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

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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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