Steppenwolf Theatre HIR Preview: Lauren Katz Explains– What Does A Dramaturg Do?

Editor’s Note: Lauren Katz, one of the many theater insiders who pens theater reviews for Picture this Post, agreed to share her account of what her gig as Assistant Dramaturg for the Steppenwolf’s production of Taylor Mac’s HIR entailed. I hope you too find it fascinating and a reminder of how much hard work goes into the productions we enjoy on Chicago stages.

Could you tell Picture this Post readers what your role as Assistant Dramaturg for Steppenwolf’s upcoming production of HIR entailed?

As the Assistant Dramaturg on HIR, I had the opportunity to be in the rehearsal room and offer research support for the production. This could include anything from providing some context for PTSD in military veterans, to finding footage of sporting events from 2010 to play on the TV at the top of Act II, or even a how-to video on folding a fitted sheet. I just had to be flexible and ready to tackle whatever came up. This was my first real taste of dramaturgy, and Taylor Mac’s play certainly made the job both exciting and challenging!

Steppenwolf TAYLOR MAC
Pictured (L to R): Em Grosland (Max), ensemble member Amy Morton (Paige), Ty Olwin (Isaac) and ensemble member Francis Guinan (Arnold). Michael Brosilow

Through the course of doing this work, has it changed your view of the script? Or the underlying issues – PTSD, gender roles, etc.?

Definitely! Taylor Mac’s story on the surface can seem a bit straight forward: a soldier comes home from the war and has to re-integrate himself back into his community and family. Beneath that however, Mac has included some incredible details that make the journey even more exciting (and challenging!) for the actors.

The PTSD is a great example – Isaac (Ty Olwin) has just returned from three years in the Mortuary Affairs unit in the military. The PTSD rates in the military happen to be among the highest in that area. While the PTSD may only be a small part of his character, that detail informs so many of his actions throughout the play that ultimately lead to his character’s conclusion. Providing some dramaturgical context (I hope!) only helped Ty find his way into that role. Doing the research into these areas helped bring the many levels of Taylor Mac’s story to the surface – at least for me!

Steppenwolf TAYLOR MAC
Pictured (L to R): Ensemble members Amy Morton (Paige) and Francis Guinan (Arnold) Michael Brosilow

Of the various research areas you pursued, which ones do you think are going to be of most use to the actors, director or others on the production team?

While my job included doing the background research for the overarching themes of the play, the day-to-day rehearsal tasks involved helping keep the small details accurate. It was those day-to-day research needs that probably helped out the production team most. There was one day for example where one of the actors was having trouble folding a fitted-sheet, and so I found him a how-to video from Martha Stewart.

One of the hardest elements to find that ended up making its way into the show was video footage of a baseball game from 2010 in Spanish. This was a real challenge! After utilizing the amazing Steppenwolf Literary Intern we were able to find footage from a 2010 game in Spanish and in California (where the play takes place) – we were thrilled! I think the way I was most useful was just being present and ready to take on whatever was needed in the moment.

For those of us who are Taylor Mac fans, what do you think will be the biggest surprises about this script?

I don’t know if this will be a surprise to fans specifically, but the biggest surprise I have found is the humor. Despite the serious subject-matter, it’s impossible not to laugh!

The subject-matter is a little bleak – with a brother struggling with PTSD and the ghost of an abusive marriage haunting the family, the story certainly is a little dark. However, Taylor Mac has added a comedic flare that is almost necessary. Because we are allowed to laugh, I think we are better-able to absorb the darker elements and learn from them.

Steppenwolf TAYLOR MAC
Pictured (L to R) Ensemble member Amy Morton (Paige) and Em Grosland (Max). Michael Brosilow

Other comments about HIR?

Just be ready for a wild ride! The play continues to grow every time I see it, and audiences seem to love it!

As someone with directing credits and aspirations who has penned theater reviews in both Washington DC and Chicago, what are the primary differences you are finding in the theater scene there and here—above and beyond Chicago having far more theaters?

Both Washington DC and Chicago feel welcoming, and have their own loyal theater communities. I am still learning about the Chicago theatre scene, but I can say that Chicago seems to have something for everyone. Yes, it’s huge – it’s impossible to catch everything that hits the stage in this town. However, what is exciting about that is that there seems to be a show or theater that has a story for anyone, and that goes for the art-scene in general around Chicago. I am still learning about new companies and I imagine that will be the case for a long time! So many pop up or change that it’s difficult to keep track, but that’s part of the fun.

 

When

July 9-August 20, 2017

Photos

Michael Brosilow, courtesy of Steppenwolf Theatre

Where

Steppenwolf Theatre Company
1650 N Halsted St
Chicago, IL 60614

Tickets

$20-$89

312.335.1650 or steppenwolf.org

Editor’s Note: For one interpretation this production, read “Steppenwolf Presents Taylor Mac’s HIR Review- Patriarchy Parody” by Amy Munice."

 For a full preview of Steppenwolf's 2017-2018 season, read "Steppenwolf Theatre Company Presents 2017-2018 SEASON Preview."

And for an alternate interpretation of this play, read "Steppenwolf Theatre Company presents HIR Review-a return to their tradition of absurd realism"

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