Interview by Laura Ng
This month's featured member is long-time Lemonade Fund supporter, ATLAS alum and playwright/educator Terry Boero talks about the dramaturg’s joy in nurturing creative impulses in others.
|Photo: Lisa Keating
Tell us about your work. Between teaching acting, directing, playwriting, and dramaturgy, how do you create space to help others’ new work development while having your own creative impulses?
I asked my students at San Francisco State University’s School of Theatre & Dance to share their “A-ha!” moment—the moment they knew they had to be involved in theatre. The joy in the room was thrilling; that joy is my driving force. I teach a new play development class in which playwrights work with a director and actors to actualize their play from its formative idea—a script—into a 3D creation. We meet once a week, and the playwright sees how her/his play actually breathes on the stage. It’s akin to letting other people hold your baby: you worry if they’ll drop it, give it the flu, and surprise—the baby continues to thrive! Perhaps the infant even grows and responds in new ways.
The job of a dramaturg is to nurture a play without getting in its way. To paraphrase Paula Vogel, 90% of the people know there’s a problem with a script, but only 1%—the playwright—knows how to fix it. I firmly believe that the play must always return to its creator to impose ideas; fixes deaden the impulse[SS1] . When developing a new play we rely on listening, questioning, taking chances and pushing the boundaries. We ask ourselves about rigor and illuminating the play from within. Out of that work, the playwright and the play grow.
My “A-ha!” moment was when I wrote a stage adaptation of the game Clue, and the Marx Brothers insanity of the play made me happy. I thought, “Wow I created this! I gave someone joy.” Teaching keeps me connected to my creative heartbeat. Balancing the time between the two is still a work in progress.
You seem deeply connected to youth and the idea of burgeoning.
Aspects of my life that give me inspiration are my grandchildren and nature. Children ask questions, they want to comprehend the universe. They aren’t afraid to express their joy, be silly, cry when they need to; they remind me of all the things we adults are encouraged to “grow out of”. The playwright must stay in contact with her/his impulse, not rationalize it. That doesn’t mean we throw fits in the middle of the supermarket, but it does require artists to stay in touch with their kernel of joy. And nature, well, nature is creation. The Sierras are my favorite place to hike, and as I climb a trail through the ancient pine and along the walls of granite, frequently a new idea appears. The eternal is embedded in the mountains.
Are there misconceptions about your field that collaborators or emerging professionals don’t hear enough about?
Some view the dramaturg as the research assistant for productions, the continuity advisor, the person who writes the program, puts together the lobby display and sends out the teacher notes for student matinees. All of these are important aspects, and I’ve done them all. They welcome the audience into the world of the play and give the director, designers, and actors access to the givens of the story they are telling. But I also think dramaturgs have a responsibility to the art of theatre. We work with the core element: the play itself. In this world of changing technology, population, cultural and financial realities, theatre must change. Not only change but brazenly identify, address and meet the new ways we live our lives and seek theatrical forms that address our 21st century. I’m interested in combining theatrical aspects such as my drama/vaudeville shows A Small Life and Death on the Tracks, which use Road Runner cartoons and social media, to build community around a universal concern: teen suicide.
What do you like about the Bay Area theatre scene, and being a TBA member?
This community is generous with their time and support and inspires me every day. Just as I learned with my connection to the Lemonade Fund–we hold each other up. TBA’s fantastic ATLAS program provided me with the tools, the practical information and opportunity to work and share with fellow playwrights.
Anything coming up soon that you are excited about?
This fall, I’m the dramaturg and producer for Fringe Goes Long at SFSU, running November 7–13. I’m working on a comedy that weaves Julius Caesar with the Peyton Place atmosphere of a homeowner’s community, and my theatre collective Kintsugi is producing an evening of 10-minute plays February 13 and 14 at PianoFight.