Shotgun Wedding: On Dramaturgy

Audrey Dwyer, dramaturge

Before I started down this road, I didn’t know what “dramaturgy” was. What the heck was a “dramaturge” and why did I even need one? The truth is that without dramaturgy, I would have never been able to finish this play.

What’s dramaturgy? From WikiPedia:

“Dramaturgy is the art of dramatic composition and the representation of the main elements of drama on the stage.”

I’m still a real theatre n00b so allow me to explain that one to you in english. A dramaturge asks you questions and the answers help you see where you need to go next in telling the story. They make sure that you’re hitting all the right points and without telling you what they are and how you should hit them. For me, a dramaturge is a guide whom I rely on to show me the way.

My dramaturge for the latest and most complete iteration of this play is a wonderful woman named Audrey Dwyer. I was introduced to her by Nadine, who thought it may be a good idea to bring in someone… “new”.

But why? Shotgun Wedding has had the benefit of many different dramaturges. Marie-Beath started me off in the CBT Playwriting Unit and then passed me on toe Catherine. And then Nina led the Fu-Gen Kitchen with David, Andrew and Donald chiming in. I see all those folks as dramaturges because they all asked me questions that helped me find my way. So why couldn’t I just continue with one of those talented folks as my dramaturge? I suppose I could — but Nadine was right. All of the talented theatre artists that I’d worked with up to that point were either Filipino or at least Asian. Shotgun Wedding needed another outlook.

What made Audrey Dwyer different? Well, for one thing… Audrey’s background is Jamaican. She’s Jamaican-Canadian. Only one of the things that made her the PERFECT dramaturge for the next step of writing this play. I really needed someone from “outside” our community to look objectively at this story to tell me if I was being too easy on myself and my own community. Was I being too lenient? Too quick to dismiss asking the real questions for fear of making us look bad? I also needed someone to tell me if the themes in my play were universal enough and not just a big inside joke that only Filipinos and other Asians would get. Working with Audrey was the first time working with someone who didn’t have to be nice to me, or easy on me. She could be painstakingly honest with me because the reality was that she wasn’t my friend first.

… but Audrey and I certainly became good friends. We had the opportunity to “hang out” a few times before actually getting our hands dirty with the play. Her idea. She wanted to get to know me a little bit to find out the place I was writing from.

I told her about myself, about my family, about my life… stories of high school, stories about my friends. I told her about the place I grew up and then out of – Mississauga, a place where Filipino kids ate Patties in Coco Bread at Nicey’s on Confederation while playing Street Fighter II on 3rd period spare. I told her about my best friend and brother from another mother, whose Caribbean upbringing so closely resembled mine in the way of family expectations, 2nd generation experience and loyalty to our mothers and how that friend exceeded expectations like I always knew he would from the very first time meeting him in Grade 9 religion. I told her about how he and my two other friends (making my crew a Jamaican, a Guyanese and a Bajan) converged at my house on special occasions to eat pancit, lumpia but never dinuguan. I told her about dating Filipino girls and then being heartbroken when they didn’t like Filipino guys like me anymore because we weren’t vogue and how my Filipino pride clashed with my diverse Mississauga roots.

Audrey just listened to me talk for two meetings and on the third, she asked me questions and gave me food for though that let me finish this play. Honestly, the notes I took down that day were EXACTLY what I needed to finish this up and feel good about it. Audrey has such a dramaturgical heart and I’m so glad we got to spend even a few sessions together.

Did I get what I needed from Audrey? Was the fact that she wasn’t Filipino or Asian at all make a difference? I’d like to think so. In a good way, yes. I had many takeaways but the most important thing I learned was that a good story is a good story is a good story is a good story. Drama, emotion, feelings… the best ones are the ones that transcend barriers. Colour, race, nationality… even gender or age. Working with Audrey helped me realize that Filipino theatre can’t exist in a bubble. Filipinos are a big part of the city, the province and the country. So why the heck do we get caught up talking only to ourselves most of the time?

The funny part about this whole thing is that if you know Audrey, you know that she’s SO Filipino. She’s from Winnipeg, which means that she enjoys pancit, lumpia and has been in a Debut.

Working with Audrey for this final dramaturgical stage was an act of serendipity. The fact that a Jamaican-Canadian can tell me so much about writing about the Filipino community is so much of what Shotgun Wedding is about in the first place.

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