A dramaturge or dramaturg is a theatrical adviser who assists with the production of plays. The role of a dramaturge is often quite complex and varied, with different theatres using their dramaturges in different wants. Someone who wants to become a dramaturge generally has a wide variety of interests ranging from history to marketing, and he or she should generally be prepared for an often demanding and grueling job.
This profession is quite ancient, and the word “dramaturge” actually betrays these ancient roots, as it is derived from the Ancient Greek dramatourgia, or “play worker.” Many historians of the theatre credit 18th century German theatre with the invention of the modern dramaturge, and most major theatres around the world have at least one dramaturge on staff.
One of the major roles of the dramaturge is to ensure the quality of a theatre's productions. To this end, the dramaturge often participates in hiring decisions when actors, directors, and technical staff are under consideration. A dramaturge also performs a great deal of historical research, ensuring, for example, that characters in a 13th century drama are dressed properly, or that the music in a 19th century French farce is appropriate.
In many cases, a dramaturge also has an artistic eye, and he or she may help with set decoration and costuming, offering advice and opinions, although he or she will not be directly involved. Dramaturges often work closely with artistic directors to bring their visions to life, and they often have intimate relationships with stage managers and other technical staff who have the ability to accomplish a range of tasks, from finding a live elephant to calming a recalcitrant soprano.
Many dramaturges also work with playwrights, adapting their work for various venues, and some also work as translators. When a theatre needs to make substantial cuts or changes to a play, the dramaturge is often responsible for accomplishing this, ensuring that the spirit of the play is kept intact while the content is pruned. It is common for a dramaturge to be very knowledgeable about the history of plays and the theatre, and some like to focus on a particular area of interest, such as Elizabethan plays or classic American musicals.
In any professional theatre, you should be able to find a dramaturge, who typically works out of an office which is stuffed to the gills with reference materials. He or she may also interact with the public, generating interest in and support for the theatre and working with public relations staff on campaigns for individual plays and theatre seasons. Smaller theatres who cannot afford a full-time dramaturge may hire one for a specific production, or rely on the goodwill of a knowledgeable volunteer to ensure that their productions are as good as they can be.