Saturday, May 22, 2010
Dramaturg vs. dramaturge
Last week I had the opportunity to address a large group of avid theatergoers. Granted they were all of a certain age, but still I was surprised when they informed me I had rushed through a reference to dramaturgy without defining what it was.
Those of us who spend a lot of time inside theater production tend to take much for granted, true, but it still surprises me that nearly 50 years after the introduction of dramaturgs into American theater, the job description is all but invisible.
Within the island universe of professional dramaturgs, nothing can be taken for granted, including the spelling of the title. Oh, yes. You’ve been going around living your life blissfully unaware that there are annual brouhahas in certain circles about whether there should be an “e” on the end of dramaturg. (The Urban Dictionary even hyphenates the word — drama-turg. Ow.)
We can trace the term back to Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, the justly celebrated Age of Enlightenment playwright and theorist, who developed a spectrum of dramaturgical duties still in effect today. That’s Gotthold at left — talk about an egghead, eh?? Well, German colleagues tell me “dramaturg” roughly translates to “drama worker,” but the term definitely has broader connotations; to this day the French word for playwright is dramaturge (aha) and the Italian is drammaturgo.
Not that you asked, but the correct American word for a dramaturg is … dramaturg. How come? Because in relatively recent American usage, meaning mid-20th century till now, foreign terms have been brought into the language whole and entire. This is very much not the case with British usage, where the habit of imperialism extends even to everyday words. It is the Brits who have historically expressed contempt for the profession of dramaturgy (even while grudgingly admitting that they have the job all right, they just concede it to the purview of the literary manager -- a perfectly good English expression, thank you so much). And it is also the Brits who took it upon themselves to add a superfluous “e” to the end of “dramaturg,” thereby not only recuperating the term as British (or at least as less Teutonic), altering its very pronunciation whilst at it.
Something about theater folk makes them cling to the antiquarian — insisting on spelling theater theatre, for example, and preserving the word “actress” — and I understand that. But I draw the line at anglicizing imported terms. It’s just plain icky. To use a great American neologism.