by Lisa Pearl Rosenbaum
The Season’s Final Show!
What’s a dramaturge?
When submissions for The Moment You Knew began arriving in my email, I have to admit I had only a sketchy idea of what a dramaturge was. JWT’s literary manager and our artistic director had already reviewed about fifty entries and they sent me some of their picks for this production. That’s when I got the picture. The dramaturge’s job is to adapt, develop or edit theatrical writing. I began to read.
Pretty soon, it became clear that The Moment You Knew would be a show of many voices. They emerged from the plays, memoirs, blogs and other writings that kept coming my way. There were pieces by seasoned television writers and authors, as well as first time submissions. JWT had also commissioned pieces from its Artists in Residence – writers who have been exploring their Jewish experience on an on-going basis.
I’m no stranger to editing. I’ve belonged to a writers group for years. From this I’ve learned that while most of us are too close to our own writing to see it clearly, working on other people’s manuscripts develops your eye for what works, and what doesn’t. That said, this show posed some surprising challenges for me. I began to appreciate how different editing and writing theatrical material is from editing or writing a book.
In my novels I can plant readers in my characters’ heads. But theatre, by definition, distances characters from their audience. Even the people in the first row aren’t privy to what is happening in an actor’s head unless the character talks about it, or does something to dramatize it.
When I first heard the evocative title of this show, The Moment You Knew, I knew exactly which moment I wanted to write about. But as I began to work on it, I couldn’t find a way to dramatize the almost completely internal “moment” I’d had. In fact, it was so difficult I wasn’t sure I could write it at all.
I wasn’t alone. During these past weeks, a lot of manuscripts have been ping-ponging back and forth as we’ve isolated the essence of what each “moment” was about and found the best way to dramatize them. It’s nothing short of exhilarating when you realize that a word, a line, even a paragraph can be cut or moved and the whole piece falls into place!
After that, watching the finished pieces placed into the hands of actors and a very able director completed the production’s transformation from thought to theatre. Every piece came to life in unanticipated ways. The choice to accentuate a word or phrase, to pause here, instead of there, to adopt an accent or a tone, completely changed how they read on the page. Like children, they all began to assume their own independent identities. I was thrilled to watch my own monologue delivered in a way I had not imagined. I heard new layers of humor, wisdom and passion in the pieces I’d worked on.
The last element in bringing the collaborative process of The Moment You Knew to life is you, the audience. We’re sold out for all four performances!
It’s been a joy and an honor to dig into all this rich work. Now, I’m looking forward to our enjoying all these Moments together!
We’re hard at work narrowing down which women to spotlight for the fall production about Jewish American women from the 1700’s to the 1970’s. A lot of big decisions also have to be made about how to dramatize them. There are so many women who have made enormous contributions to this country in so many ways – homesteaders and wild women of the West, fighters for the rights to vote, to unionize, to get a college education; creators of countless vital institutions… And two hundred years later, they can still make us laugh!