Creativity in Dramaturgy: re-imagining Measure for Measure

In class we have been discussing how dramaturgy is, indeed, a very creative job.  Contrary to the image of library monkey that we sometimes have of dramaturges, they provide an absolutely essential service to the play, playwright, director, and audience.  They contextualize the play and help to make it relevant to the current moment.  They discover the need for the play and make sure that that need is felt in the process and reception of the piece.

This summer I saw this concept in action. In mid August, I went to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon.  I saw several plays, including Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare.  Before I saw this production, Measure for Measure was one of my least favorite Shakespeare plays because of the way that the Duke asks Isabela to marry him at the end, and she says nothing.  In the past productions I have seen, Isabela has always simply walked over to the duke happily, despite the fact that throughout the play she is seen as a pious, chaste, independent woman studying to be a nun.  There is also no evidence that she falls in love with the Duke in the text prior to his proposal.  So why does she want to marry him??  I have always seen this moment as an abandonment of morals, and a statement that in order to be happy, one must get married (everyone gets married at the end, would it be too sad to leave Isabela out?  Because marriage is assumed o make everyone happy?).  In the OSF production however, the play ends not with Isabela walking to the Duke, but Isabela walking to the Duke’s podium.  Throughout the last scene in the OSF production, the Duke stands at a podium to hear the complaints of the citizens (a role that is played by the audience with actors planted among them).  This podium has a microphone on it, a symbol of the Duke’s power.  In the last moment of the show, Isabela crosses to the podium, surveys the audience, realizes her power, puts a hand on the mic, takes a breath in, and the lights go out.  This final moment empowers Isabela rather than disempowers her.  It becomes clear that she is accepting the Duke’s proposal perhaps out of love, but more so because she sees that she can now have a voice, be a part of the political process in which she has found so much corruption.  As I understand it now, this is dramaturgy.  This ending deals with sexism inherent in the script and re-contextualizes it for modern audiences.  It turns Isabela from passive in the final moment to active (which is also more in keeping with her character throughout the show). The show also used a Latin American female band as its ensemble, but that’s an entirely different discussion, though also related to dramaturgy and keeping the show current/ culturally relevant.  For more info on the show (I highly recommend it!!) go to this link.

Interestingly, on the online page describing the artistic team for the show, the dramaturge is not mentioned.  The page that shows the artistic team for the entire festival, however, has three dramaturges listed: Lue Morgan Douthit, Gina Pisasale, and Ilana Stein.  I can’t imagine that there was no dramaturge on the show, especially when I saw so much dramaturgical impact in performance.  So why isn’t the dramaturge listed on the online Measure for Measure page?  An interesting question…

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