The first Dramaturgy Hub, Henry the Sixth Part One, University of Waterloo, 2015. Click the image to visit.

The Dramaturgy Hub initiative was established in 2015 in support of a production of Henry the Sixth Part One, a rarely seen Shakespeare play produced with original practices techniques at the University of Waterloo, Ontario. As a working professional production dramaturg, I had spent time providing research support to professional companies around the world. In 2013 I began a post-doctoral fellowship at Waterloo where I was tasked with dramaturgical processes for in-department productions. In this role I offered physical binder-based dramaturgy support, which is the traditional approach to dramaturgy research presentation. For each production over a five year period, both professionally and academically, I would provide research to a rehearsal room, only to see that research sporadically used, and often ignored. I realized that to ask an actor to read research on their own time was a major challenge: some directors, designers and actors enjoyed the challenge of research, but the majority prioritized character and line learning. I found that dramaturgical research was welcome for the first day or two of rehearsal, but maintaining interest – and particularly asking actors to take the time to sit with pages of photocopied, underlined paper – was a challenge. Something had to change.

As I started work on Henry the Sixth, Part One, I started to field questions from actors about the historical context for their characters. As very young, inexperienced actors, they were understandably unaware of a lot of the historical context around their characters, and especially the intricacies of the political climate that drove the Wars of the Roses. I began to work on a research binder, when I considered that these eighteen and nineteen year old actors might respond more effectively to something more familiar to them. Would they, I asked, be more interested in research that they could read at home, in bed, on their phones? What if I built a website?

Dramaturgy websites are nothing new: contextual websites support productions often, but this new initiative was built to be an interactive resource that would grow as the production grew. Since the establishment of the first Dramaturgy Hub in 2015, another two dozen pages have supported productions in two countries. This is not a proprietary concept. The idea of ‘Ask the Dramaturgs’, a real-time support email for questions about the production, is a digital approach to the in-person questions in rehearsal, except that it can be centralized and displayed for all to see, even as someone posts a question from home, on their phone.

An ‘Ask the Dramaturgs’ page from a production of Urinetown.
Hub page generated by Ryan Benson Smith to contextualize the LGBTQ+ community for a 2019 production of Fun Home. Click the image to visit the page.

From the beginning, each Dramaturgy Hub has been positioned as a pedagogical process. In five years, over fifty student dramaturgs have worked to construct these pages. I consult on each page as a mentor, but primarily these pages have been created by students, both at the University of Waterloo and at the State University of New York at Oswego.

For questions or queries on the process of the Dramaturgy Hubs, please reach out for a conversation.