TEST Nottingham: a reflection by Richard Hornsey

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These aren’t the words you were supposed to read. My original reflection on the TEST workshop was a play script that sought to give dramatic form to the unfolding conversation in my head over the course of that weekend. Right at the start of the workshop, a fellow participant offered the analogy of dramaturg-as-midwife, which sent us into a productively inconclusive discussion about the role of desire (or its absence) in the dramaturgical process, and about who or what we might cast as the parents (The artist? The imagined audience? The weight of performance history and theory?). Yet sitting on the studio floor, I suddenly (mis)remembered an essay about Socrates that deployed the same metaphor: the Socratic method as a kind of performative midwifery. Socrates, who is known only from Plato’s dialogues written after his death, pursued philosophy through semi-improvised scenes, as he and his interlocutor responded to each other’s thoughts in a live and contingent situation. Through this drama, something like a form of knowledge emerged – always ironic, always provisional – from the connective space between the two participants.

And so, based on that connection, I wrote this play script: a strained two-hander between an older, wizened Dramaturg and a nubile young Amaturg walking in circles around the Studio-Agora. Both characters were shifting composites of the TEST participants and their creative actions, and the whole thing ended with an exchange (inspired by a comment made by Paul Hughes) about dramaturgy as a form of passive aggression, which I thought was quite smart when I wrote it.

But you can’t read that play script, because I’ve deleted it. A dramaturg shouldn’t try to be a dramatist; of that I’m now sure. Perhaps I learned on the workshop that a dramaturg is a metadramatist, although that still probably implies an unhelpful sense of practical management. ‘Dramaturg’ clearly works better as a verb than as a noun, but its pronoun should be plural and inclusive (the speculative ‘we dramaturg’, over the arrogant ‘I dramaturg’). But I think that what I really discovered at TEST is that the best dramaturg is a spiritualist or a medium, calling forth the blithe spirit of dramaturgy itself: some unholy ghost, with its own agency, that pervades the studio like vapour from a pound-shop spray bottle. Margaret Rutherford over Plato, every time.

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