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A dramaturge or dramaturg is a literary adviser or editor in a theatre, opera, or film company who researches, selects, adapts, edits, and interprets scripts, libretti, texts, and printed programmes (or helps others with these tasks), consults authors, and does public relations work. [1] [2] [3] Its modern-day function was originated by the innovations of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, an 18th-century German playwright, philosopher, and theatre theorist. [4]



One of the dramaturge's contributions is to categorize and discuss the various types of plays or operas, their interconnectedness and their styles. The responsibilities of a dramaturge vary from one theatre or opera company to the next. They might include the hiring of actors, the development of a season of plays or operas with a sense of coherence among them, assistance with and editing of new plays or operas by resident or guest playwrights or composers/librettists, the creation of programmes or accompanying educational services, helping the director with rehearsals, and serving as elucidator of history or spokesperson for deceased or otherwise absent playwrights or composers. At larger theatres or opera houses, the dramaturge works on the historical and cultural research into the play or opera and its setting.

In theatre companies, a dramaturge will create a workbook for the director and actors (usually these are different) and work extensively with the director prior to the first rehearsal. [5]


Gotthold Ephraim Lessing Gotthold Lessing.jpg
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing was hired by the Hamburg National Theatre in 1767, to serve as the theatre's critic of plays and acting, a position which would later be named dramaturge. This position grew over time to what it is today, encompassing the wide variety of tasks seen by modern dramaturgies. [6] [7]

Discrepancies with definition

The modern definition of dramaturge is often debated as to what specific tasks this job does, with some defining it as the bridge between the director and the actors, others defining it as one who determines the meaning of plays and shows for the actors, and others claiming that even they don't quite have a complete definition for their job. This discrepancy between dramaturgies is likely due to the lack of an official historical definition, and the wide variety of tasks that dramaturgies could be asked to work on, depending on the theatre, director, the show being produced, and the actors. Since Gotthold Ephraim Lessing didn't create an official definition for his own position at the Hamburg National Theatre, modern dramaturgies have to infer their tasks based on what Lessing did during his career, and adapt to the current needs of modern theatre. [8] [9]

Recent growth of dramaturgies

Since the year 2000, the number of dramaturg(e)s working around the world has increased, albeit it still remains a fairly rare job to have. In 2000, 400 dramaturg(e)s were recorded to be active in the United States, with that number growing. There are various possibilities for what is causing this growth, but some dramaturg(e)s attribute the growth to the fact that dramaturgy combines two popular studies for young students: the liberal arts and theatre. Some dramaturg(e)s are worried, however, that this growth may slow down, due to a decrease in the number of modern plays being written. [8]

See also

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Friederike Caroline Neuber, née Friederike Caroline Weissenborn, also known as Friedericke Karoline Neuber, Frederika Neuber, Karoline Neuber, Carolina Neuber, Frau Neuber, and Die Neuberin, was a German actress and theatre director. She is considered one of the most famous actresses and actor-managers in the history of the German theatre, "influential in the development of modern German theatre." Neuber also worked to improve the social and artistic status of German actors and actresses, emphasizing naturalistic technique. During a time when theatrical managers in Germany were predominantly men, Caroline Neuber stands out in history as a remarkably ambitious woman who, during her 25-year career, was able to alter theatrical history, elevating the status of German theatre alongside of Germany's most important male theatrical leaders at the time, such as "her actor-manager husband Johann, the popular stage fool Johann Müller, the major actor of the next generation Johann Schönemann, the multi-talented newcomer Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, and principally, their de facto Dramaturg, Johann Gottsched."

Friederike Sophie Seyler

Friederike Sophie Seyler was a German actress, playwright and librettist. Alongside Friederike Caroline Neuber, she was widely considered Germany's greatest actress of the 18th century; Gotthold Ephraim Lessing described her in his Hamburg Dramaturgy as "incontestably one of the best actresses that German theatre has ever seen."

Miss Sara Sampson is a play by the Enlightenment philosopher, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. Written in 1755 while the author was living in Potsdam, it is seen by many scholars to be one of the first bourgeois tragedies. In the same year it was represented at Frankfurt-on-the-Oder and was very well received. It was afterwards translated and acted in France, where it also met with success. The play was Lessing's first real success as a playwright and it was in part due to the success of this play that he was asked to be the dramaturg at the German National Theatre in Hamburg.

Hamburg National Theatre

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Gänsemarkt is a public square in Hamburg, Germany, located in the Neustadt quarter. The triangular urban square is accessible by streets of Jungfernstieg from the east, Dammtorstraße and Valentinskamp in the north west and ABC-Straße in the south.

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Seyler Theatre Company

The Seyler Theatre Company, also known as the Seyler Company, was a theatrical company founded in 1769 by Abel Seyler, a Hamburg businessman originally from Switzerland who became "the leading patron of German theatre" in his lifetime. It was largely a continuation of the Hamburgische Entreprise, whose dramaturge was Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and whose main owner was Seyler. The Seyler theatrical company became one of the most famous theatrical companies of Europe in the 18th century, attracting some of Germany's leading actors, playwrights and composers. It originally comprised around 60 members, including an orchestra, a ballet, house dramatists and set designers. Between 1777 and 1778 Seyler employed some 230 actors, singers and musicians. The company was originally contracted by the Hanoverian court with performing at Hanover and other cities of the kingdom. The company would eventually perform all across Germany, and performed for three years at the Weimar Schlosstheater, invited by Duchess Anna Amalia of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. When Anna Amalia succeeded in engaging the Seyler Company, this was "an extremely fortunate coup. The Seyler Company was the best theatre company in Germany at that time." The company had an important role in the development of German opera in the late 18th century.

The Hamburg Dramaturgy is a highly influential work on drama by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, written between 1767 and 1769 when he worked as a dramaturg for Abel Seyler's Hamburg National Theatre. It was not originally conceived as a unified and systematical book, but rather as series of essays on the theater, which Lessing wrote as commentary on the plays of the short-lived Hamburg National Theater. This collection of 101 short essays represents one of the first sustained critical engagements with the potential of theater as a vehicle for the advancement of humanistic discourse. In many ways, the Hamburg Dramaturgy defined the new field of dramaturgy, and also introduced the term.

Klaus Zehelein

Klaus Zehelein is a German dramaturge. He was president of the Munich Bayerische Theaterakademie August Everding. Zehelein is also president of the association of German theatres, Deutscher Bühnenverein. For fifteen years, from 1991 until 2006, Zehelein was artistic director of the Staatsoper Stuttgart. Critic Gerhard Rohde, summing up Zehelein's theatre work at the Stuttgart opera, says "Zehelein does not view opera as a culinary phenomenon. For him opera is an extremely complex matter, where all arts – as well as social, philosophical, historic, utopic and other aspects – unite. This complexity of opera merits being perceived, being seen, being experienced; thus all works that end up performed on stage, are rigorously analyzed beforehand. He who says this results in thinned-out, merely sophisticated opera performances, missed out substantially in the Zehelein-Era in Stuttgart."

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  1. Company, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing. "The American Heritage Dictionary entry: dramaturge". Ahdictionary.com. Retrieved 23 August 2018.
  2. "Dramaturge definition and meaning - Collins English Dictionary". Collinsdictionary.com. Retrieved 23 August 2018.
  3. "dramaturge - Definition of dramaturge in US English by Oxford Dictionaries". Oxford Dictionaries - English. Retrieved 23 August 2018.
  4. Schecter, Joel (1995). Cardullo, Bert (ed.). What is Dramaturgy?. American University Press. p. 27. ISBN   978-0-8204-2177-3. While at the Hamburg National Theatre, Lessing wrote Hamburg Dramaturgy, a collection of essays on theatre which popularized dramaturgy as both a word and a practice. Today Lessing's successors — resident theatre critics throughout Germany and Austria — are called dramaturgy. do not mistake it for drama queen(e)s.
  5. Proehl, Geoffrey S (2008). Toward a Dramaturgical Sensibility:landscape and journey. Associated University Press. p. 19. ISBN   978-0-8386-4112-5. dramaturgy is the name given to that set of elements necessary to the working of a play at any moment in its passage from imagination to embodiment ...
  6. "Gotthold Ephraim Lessing". Encyclopedia of World Biography. Online ed. 1998. October 2018 via GALE Biography in Context.
  7. Dewald, Jonathan, ed. (October 2018). "Gotthold Ephraim Lessing". Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. 2004 via GALE Biography in Context.
  8. 1 2 Honan, William H. "ARTS IN AMERICA; Dramaturges Take a While to Define Themselves" . Retrieved 2018-10-25.
  9. "The Dramaturg Is In". AMERICAN THEATRE. 2015-09-29. Retrieved 2018-10-25.