Upstage and CharPo contributor Sarah Deshaies spoke with Dramaturge Jennifer Cressey about Concordia Theatre Department presentation of The Explorer. Below is an abridged version edited by Estelle Rosen, CharPo Editor-in-chief.
Dramaturgy is a kind of wizardly job.
In May 1845 Sir John Franklin embarked on an expedition to the Arctic. But less than a year later, Franklin and his ship with 129 seamen on board disappeared. Their path crosses with a group of mythical creatures called the Hyperboreans. The result is a play called The Explorer at Concordia Theatre. With me on the line is the Dramaturge for The Explorer Jennifer Cressey.
We’ve spoken with Dramaturges before on this program. Can you give us a taste of what you did with The Explorer to help it come into being?
Dramaturgy is a kind of wizardly job. What I’ve been able to do since my participation began is a lot of research. The process started before I came on board.
The Director was working with designers and collaborators so they had a head start in terms of developing what they wanted to look at. Then I jumped on board and went deeper in the research following some paths they might not have had time for.
Once in production a little bit of everything; supporting the writing, collaborating with Director, testing text for historical accuracy; do we want total accuracy or give in to the imagination of the world we’re creating in this play?
Tons of things come up infused with all kinds of contributions from across the board, adding an interesting texture.
I understand this is a student collective as opposed to a play that’s been performed before. What’s the difference in having several people having their hand in the story?
Director Cathy Pagotto has done this process before.
She’s got a lot of interesting techniques for mining the material for possible moments. She started developing the script in the summertime kind of as a storyboard. She has a series of images in her mind conveying the feeling and meaning she’s looking for. She brings that to collaborators; then back to the drawing board; tweaks it. So everyone can contribute but pace still goes along at a fairly clear aesthetic line. In this way, the feeling, tone and emotion grow in a consistent way throughout the process. Tons of things come up infused with all kinds of contributions from across the board, adding an interesting texture.
Process is smooth enough that even with lots of people contributing the end result is unified.
Testament to the process she’s been developing is that she can open it up, then take in the contributions. Part of my job as a dramaturge is to stand back and guide the development and hopefully ask some good questions at the right time.
...if you lived in paradise for thousands of years, you wouldn’t necessarily have strong emotions because you have nothing to react to...
We have a ship full of men in the mid-1800s who come across mythical creatures; the Hypoboreans. Tell us a little bit more how the story starts with the Hypoboreans; they don’t fight, they don’t get ill; they don’t age.
This came about as an idea for another possibility of how the Franklin story ended. We know it ended badly but instead of being pulled into the elements, they’re being pulled by the Hyperboreans. Part of the idea is if you lived in paradise for thousands of years, you wouldn’t necessarily have strong emotions because you have nothing to react to – so when they see the sailors – that’s really cool and develop an affection for the sailors.
F C Smith Auditorium is a huge space. How is space used?
It is a huge space but we’re only seating 50 people per show. Breaking it down quite a bit into a ship-like shape; seating will be far away from the stage. There is a long narrow corridor with cebergs on either side. The stage itself is beyond the ship becoming the Arctic.
The piece is essentially movement based focusing on creating atmosphere...The way it’s set up should lend itself very well.