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Reflections of a New Dramaturg at LMDA by Daniela Atiencia

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After attending her first LMDA conference in 2019: “Crossing Borders, Pt.2”, Daniela Atiencia reflects on the role of the dramaturg in fostering positive social change.

 

My first engagements with the concept of Dramaturgy was during my bachelor’s degree over 10 years ago. My context teacher encouraged us all to become members of Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas (LMDA). I admittedly signed up more to reflect that I was being a good student ­ little did I understand I was becoming part of a legacy. Over a decade has gone by and my theatrical journey has faced honeymoon phases, heart-wrenching breakups and peaceful reconciliations. Through it all, my deep admiration for the dramaturgical cosmos never left me. Those of us who practice it in our fields and our lives understand that once you grasp what dramaturgy is, your whole world view transforms – it is almost impossible to observe anything without wanting to dissect it dramaturgically. What an experience to be in a room for three days with others who do the same! I felt like I was in Dramaturgy Disneyland.

The LMDA conference takes places annually, usually in the USA but occasionally has crossed borders into Canada. This year the conference took place in Chicago, a city I had been told famous for its architecture and reputable for its theatre – neither proved to be a disappointment. Everywhere you turn, a new style of building greets you as you walk by, drastically different form its neighbour. It was difficult to peel myself away from the downtown streets and enter the Columbia College building to begin my “conference-ing”.

We were encouraged to think about how borders impact the way theatre petitions, produces, and promotes art and evaluate the role of the dramaturg in reinforcing or disrupting these borders.

This annual gathering of dramaturgs always has a theme attached to it. The organizer this time round titled it “Crossing Borders, Pt.2” (part 1 took place in Toronto the previous year). The idea was to foster conversations around what can we, as dramaturgs, actively do to foster positive social change amidst divided times. We were encouraged to think about how borders impact the way theatre petitions, produces, and promotes art and evaluate the role of the dramaturg in reinforcing or disrupting these borders. Throughout the next three days I attended an array of sessions, panels, workshops and group discussions all centred around this theme.

I was challenged to question my own invisible borders. What am I unconsciously bringing forth as an artist that does not actively take into account marginalized voices or damaging societal structures. Who am I leaving out and why? What measures can I take to dismantle these walls? In a way, I was being encouraged to do internal dramaturgical work on the self.

As I reflect, I notice how the word ‘action’ keeps coming up. I like this word because it has movement – a concept not often associated with dramaturgy. Our role is very much behind the scenes, in services of those who do more of the ‘action-ing’. But I understood on a deeper level that our work does and should serve as a propeller – one that seeks to dismantle borders that create unsafe spaces, one that builds bridges between communities we should be engaging with. The role of the dramaturg, I learned, is far more complex than I ever imagined. I am looking forward to putting all these actions forward, to give them motion and create a better world through the art that is dramaturgy.

Three things I would like to highlight from the conference:

  1. Don Kugler not only introduced me to dramaturgy during my undergraduate program but saw the dramaturg in me and fostered my development. Seeing him at the conference and realizing I was there because of his influence, brought a profound sense of emotion, pride, gratitude to be part of a generation that he champions.
  2. If you haven’t become familiar with TimeLine theatre company’s work in Chicago, DO! I was massively inspired by their fervent commitment to prioritizing the work of the dramaturg not only on the production level but throughout their company as a whole. When you step into their theatre you can instantly feel the dramaturgical presence. Their attention to detail in their lobby displays are on par with an interactive museum where you can read, learn, and even play with pertinent information regarding the world you are about to witness. Dramaturgy exists at the core of everything they do from the marketing to audience engagement to play fruition. They are doing ground-breaking work and paving the way for dramaturgy to be at the forefront of theatrical practice.
  3. I am not alone. I am not alone. I am not alone. What a relief! Thank you LMDA members for the work you do and the paths you set – my dramaturgical batteries are fully recharged.

 

Daniela Atiencia is a Latinx-Canadian theatre artist born and raised in Colombia. She graduated with Honours and received a BFA in Theatre Performance from SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts. She returned to Colombia to work as a community radio host, producing audio content for marginalized areas of the Colombian conflict. Desiring further growth, she moved to the UK where she graduated with Distinction and acquired her MFA in Theatre Directing from The University of Essex’s East 15 Acting School. During her time there, she co-founded her own theatre company, Fingers Crossed, and produced her first professional devised piece, Central (Story) Line which received rave reviews at the Camden Fringe Festival (2018). Daniela is a bilingual director, dramaturg, deviser who vigorously seeks international collaborations with interdisciplinary artists. Her work has been seen in Colombia, Lithuania, Canada, England and Denmark. She is currently based in Vancouver freelancing with several theatre companies including Rumble, Touchstone Theatre, Neworld Theatre and Electric Company.