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Program to Cultivate “Dramaturg,” New Theatre Professionals
—Towards art management of the future—

Shintaro Fujii
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

Currently, I am in charge of operation for the Theatre and Film Arts Course at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. The program for “dramaturg” forms the core of the “Program to Cultivate ‘Dramaturg,’ New Theatre Professionals—Towards art management of the future,” which was selected for the Project to Promote Culture & Art through Universities supported by the Agency for Cultural Affairs Government of Japan in the fiscal 2013. Even as I write this article, not even a week has passed since I received the wonderful news about the program’s selection. I am very grateful for the opportunity to write this article at such auspicious timing.

Started from this fiscal year by the Agency for Cultural Affairs, the goal of the Project to Promote Culture & Art Through Universities is as follows: “In regards to art management professionals who possess a high level of expertise for supporting diverse cultural and artistic activities, in order to promote cultivation of such professionals including the improvement of practical abilities, the project shall support the development and implementation of a practical curriculum which includes the planning and holding of events such as lectures and exhibitions at institutions such as universities offering education in the arts. Furthermore, the project shall create broad awareness and spread the developed curriculum throughout other universities.” Waseda University has formed a program to cultivate professionals based on dramaturg. In Japan, the term dramaturg is not fully understood even in theatre circles, and is even more unfamiliar to the general public.

A dramaturg can be described as an art manager or mediator who specializes in theatre, connecting today’s theatre expression and society while alternating between work in theatre research and actual performance. Dramaturgs first appeared as a profession in the theatre system of German-speaking countries. As the relationship between theatre research and performance drew closer, the profession took root in English-speaking and French-speaking countries. Dramaturgs work with directors to achieve a deep understanding for the meaning (dramaturgy) of the text being performed as well as its background and context, thus facilitating an encounter between the audience and the work being performed. On the other hand, dramaturgs also work with theatre/festival directors to formulate policy and content for theatre/festival performances and educational activities, based on deep examination of the position and expected roles of theatre in society. We view dramaturgs as theatre professionals who possess a broad liberal education and expert knowledge. In the future, some of the dramaturgs will also serve as theatre directors, producers, playwrights, translators, critics or researchers, sometimes moving back and forth between different roles. Accordingly, the activities of dramaturgs take place at the high-level intersection of theatre theory/performance and art management theory/performance. In order to cultivate a dramaturg, a curriculum is being developed which encompasses such high-level concepts.

Personally, a “contradiction” which I had felt ever since I started teaching at Waseda University more than 10 years ago exists in background of this program’s proposal. I was affiliated with the Studies in Theatre and Film Arts Course at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. This course designs the flow of the Theatre Major (later the Theatre Media Major) at the School of Letters, Arts and Sciences I. I had the opportunity to be deeply involved in research projects (21st Century COE, Global COE, Collaborative Research Center for Theatre and Film Arts, etc.) which have been the focus of Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum in recent years while receiving multiple large grants from the MEXT. One example is the COE project which spanned 2 terms (10 years). This project assembled theater/media researchers who had been scattered throughout Waseda University and also acted as a node for bringing together researchers from throughout Japan and the world. The project made major contributions to the growth of theatre and media research. Personally, more than anything else, I am deeply grateful for the opportunity that it gave me to grow as a researcher.

However, this project is not the only reason that our university is known as the “Waseda of Theatre.” This name also refers to the tradition of student theatre that was constructed through the energetic activities of numerous theatre groups. Waseda University has produced countless professionals in the world of theatre. However, education conducted until now at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences has been biased towards history and theory. It cannot be said the sufficient educational opportunities were provided to student who seek to become actual practitioners. Furthermore, I believe that the gap between theory and practice is an essential distance. From my perspective, the issue was not to eliminate the distance between theory and practice (in Japan, theory is prone to drawing closer to actual practice). Rather, I believed that the relationship of both facets could become even richer through deeper understanding of the gap between them.

Through screening of application materials, a small group of participants (about 20) will be selected for the program. The program seeks to provide opportunities for concentrated study of modern theatre. There is an overwhelming lack of time for teaching everything from a zero base, which forced us to establish a certain level of theoretical knowledge and practical experience in theatre as a condition for participating in the program. However, we sought to open the program broadly to individuals who are active or wish to be active as authors, translators, theatre professionals, producers, researchers and other professions in theatre or closely-related fields. Furthermore, we selected approximately the same number of participants from outside Waseda University as within our university (current students and graduates). This was done to create an intense atmosphere of mutual stimulation where all participants could grow through cooperation and encouragement.

The program is composed of a core program in which everyone participates and optional programs in which interested participants can further their knowledge according to their own interests. The core program consists of a 2-week intensive course which is held in September and a 2-week creative performance practice which is held in February (these special courses are completed in a short period in order to facilitate participation by working adults and individuals living outside of Tokyo). As a single 2-week course, the intensive course held in September features 3 classes per day (each class lasts 2 hours) and 30 classes (60 hours) over a 10-day period. To the greatest possible extent, the course is scheduled to comprehensively examine the keys for understanding modern theatre and its conditions. Topics raised in the course include the history and aesthetics of performed works and texts, the principles and issues of cultural policy, and practical methodology of dramaturgy. The text for February’s 2-week creative performance practice is Winter Journey, an uncharacteristic drama by the Nobel Prize winning Austrian author Elfriede Jelinek. Through collaboration with professional directors, translators and actors, the participants gain actual experience in the creative process, learning the meaning of transferring theoretical knowledge into practice.

Between September and February, a number of optional programs will be offered for participation according to individual interest. These programs include a text research project, a dramaturg/dramaturgy research project, a cultural policy research project, practical theatre performance and a seminar workshop. The 3 research projects are scheduled to contain surveys and research on the following themes respectively: dramaturgic characteristics of modern drama, the concepts and practice of historical and modern dramaturgy, and the principles and reality of cultural policy (theatre systems, systems for supporting artists, and systems for specialized education) in Japan and foreign countries. Moreover, interested participants can participate in internships under the supervision/guidance of responsible staff at affiliated theatres and festivals including Festival/Tokyo, Kirari Fujimi and TPAM in Yokohama, etc.

Instructors are scheduled to include theatre professionals who are active at the frontline in both Japan and throughout the world. In addition to polemicists such as theatre researchers and critics, we plan to request cooperation from professionals who are active at the frontline of Japan’s most prominent theatres and festivals, as well as researchers of theatre and cultural policy. Under the instruction of such experts, participants will study theatre through actual practice (surveys and research are also outstanding forms of actual practice). The program will fully utilize the global network which Waseda University has formed through research activities in recent years. We plan to hold workshops and seminars by inviting professionals who are active as a dramaturg in foreign countries or who are involved in the cultivation of dramaturg. This year, we plan to invite two distinguished individuals from German-speaking countries, which hold an important position when considering dramaturg—Stefanie Carp, who is the dramaturg for the director Christoph Marthaler and who has supervised the modern theatre category of the festival Wiener Festwochen, and Hans-Thies Lehmann, who is the author of Postdramatisches Theater and who has served as an instructor at the Dramaturgy Department of Frankfurt University.

We are able to offer this almost overly-extravagant program for free thanks to the bold decision of the Agency for Cultural Affairs, which provides a grant to cover the total cost. Moreover, such a plan could not have been realized without cooperation from the Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences (particularly the Studies in Theatre and Film Arts Course at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences), faculty and staff from other areas of our school, and parties from outside Waseda University. I would like to offer my sincere gratitude to everyone involved and I look forward to the application of motivated participants. I strongly recommend participation to individuals who recognize theatre’s position in society, the restraints which have been imposed on it, and the role which it can fulfill, and who are ready to devote themselves to the possibility of theatre as art.

Program details and the application form will be posted from around July 15th on the website of the Studies in Theatre and Film Arts Course at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences (www.engekieizo.com). I hope that you will view the website.

Shintaro Fujii
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

Theatre studies, cultural policy study and studies of culture and representation. Conducts research on the aesthetics and systems of performing arts with a focus on French-speaking countries (France, Belgium, Canada) and Japan. Some of his co-edited and co-written works include Art and the Environment—Theatre Systems, International Exchange & Cultural Policy (Ronso sha, 2012), Keywords in Theatre Studies (Perikansha Publishing Inc., 2007), and Théâtre/Public, no.198, “Scènes françaises, scènes japonaises / allers-retours” (2009). His theses include “Catastrophe and Theatre: The Impact of the Great Earthquake in Japan on its Artistic and Cultural Environment” (2012), etc.