It’s a crazy idea, right? Exegesis and hermeneutics in theatre? Well, yes! The same principles apply and are almost as rich in the study of theatre and production of plays as they are in the study of the Bible and the story of our lives! Our fall production, All My Sons, by Arthur Miller, has been rich in something known as dramaturgy. What better way to share with you the principles of dramaturgy than to introduce you to Ana Sharp, our own exegetical and hermeneutical dramaturg.
Here are Ana’s responses to my interview questions:
How do the terms exegesis and hermeneutics apply to theatre?
In theatre, as in the Christian walk, we are faced with the task of making choices based on a text we may not fully understand. Dramaturgy, like theology, is a field built around a premise of high respect for a text and its author. Dramaturgs and other theatre artists strive for an accurate exegesis (interpretation of the text), and with every play we need to choose the right hermeneutic (strategic approach).
All My Sons requires a historical-literal hermeneutic much like we would use for the gospels. The more we know about the historical events, culture, and world surrounding the events of the story, the better we understand what the author wanted to communicate and, by extension, the better we can communicate the author’s intent to the audience.
How does good dramaturgy help cast, crew, and director of a production?
The historical setting, moral themes, and story structure combine to form what we call “the world of the play.” Every design choice, every directing choice, and every acting choice is informed by the world of the play. All My Sons takes place in a world where honesty matters, and every choice has far-reaching consequences, beginning with one’s closest relationships and extending to people one has never met. It also takes place at a specific time (August of 1946) in a specific place (Ohio, USA), and in a neighborhood of a certain income level.
Dramaturgy is digging into every detail the playwright gives us in order to firmly establish the world of the play in the minds of the artists creating it onstage. Good dramaturgy contributes toward solid acting choices, informed directing decisions, and a unified storytelling effort on the part of the design team.
Why is excellent dramaturgy particularly important to this year’s fall production, All My Sons?
Arthur Miller, playwright
First and foremost, this play deals with a war that really happened, and pain that millions felt. Arthur Miller wrote with compassion and sensitivity to the humans wounded physically or emotionally by World War II. They were his first audience. We have the honor of telling this story in the 21st century, and the least we can do to honor the sacrifices of that generation is to put the world they lived in on stage as accurately and respectfully as possible.
The P-40 Warhawk, a WWII plane at the nexus of the conflict of “All My Sons”
All My Sons is a story that was very pointedly written for its time. Its message is timeless and forever relevant, but its setting requires some translation. The show was set in the “present day” when it first opened in 1947. Its first audiences would have needed no introduction to the social and political climate of the time—they were living it! 71 years later, however, the events and sentiments surrounding the story of the play are more obscure to us. Themes of integrity and honesty will always resonate, but what are Post Toasties? Who are the Gumps? Dramaturgy for this show is heavily focused on helping the cast and crew understand the world of 1946, so they can deliver every nuance of the story to the audience.
Could you share with us All My Sons dramaturgical connection to Greek tragedies?
Absolutely! Without revealing too many spoilers, All My Sons conforms to the structure of antique tragedies such as Oedipus Rex or Antigone. A tragic hero with a fatal flaw makes a single huge mistake and eventually has to face the consequences of that choice and do their best to right it and bring their world back into balance. All My Sons even conforms to Aristotle’s “three unities” of time, place, and action. The events of the play take place within a 24-hour period (unity of time) in one location (unity of place), and everything that happens on stage feeds into the eventual crisis and climax of the play (unity of action).
What’s your favorite dramaturgical tidbit from researching All My Sons?
Aside from absolutely geeking out over the classical tragedy parallels mentioned above, I’ve immensely enjoyed reading the old comic strip “The Gumps” which is mentioned in the show. The style of humor is fun to compare to modern meme culture. The more things change, the more they stay the same!
Join us for an exegetical, hermeneutical, incredibly moving experience! Tickets are on sale now!