Spotlight: David Copelin, Dramaturg


Today we feature David Copelin, a renaissance man with international flair. David is a dramaturg, playwright, academic, story consultant, translator, and a citizen of both Canada and the United States. While working on his own plays, David also runs workshops to consult with other playwrights and screenwriters.

David Copelin

David Copelin
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Current town: Ashland, OR

How do you explain dramaturgy?

A lot depends on who’s asking. The search for a one-size-fits-all definition has, I think, been discredited by now, and the universal groan that goes up from a kvetch of dramaturgs when it’s asked is quite telling. We are friends of the text, I guess, if it’s understood that “text” is used in the widest sense, not limited to the script or even a particular production. We are also friends of the playwright, living or dead, and we do what we can to make sure that the author’s text is honored — not slavishly, and not pretending to know for sure what his or her intentions are/were (even when the author has made them clear), but with savvy and discretion and imagination. Our functions have been performed in the past by actors, directors, playwrights, producers and others; we have a new title but what we do has been around for a long long time.

How does dramaturgy appear in your daily life? How does dramaturgy inform or relate to what you do?

I’m primarily a playwright these days, and a translator, but my dramaturgical sensibility shows up in my healthy skepticism, my curiosity, and my ability to use both sides of my brain. I find dramaturgy to be an essential part of script creation, though I don’t start from theory or even from a premise. I’d rather tell a theatrical story in as many concurrent and surprising yet satisfying ways as possible. To put it another way: the playwright in me creates draft after draft. The dramaturg in me comments in between drafts. This is, of course, a gross over-simplification.

How did you come to dramaturgy?

I was invented by Helen Barr, Maurice Gibbons, Robert Brustein, Eric Bentley, and Jan Kott, then educated in theatre practicalities by Gordon Davidson and Zelda Fichandler.

Tell me about a few of your favorite stories, plays, movies, songs, etc. and why they are favorites.

Plays: Mad Boy Chronicle, King Lear, Three Sisters, A Man’s A Man, Distracted, Yichud (Seclusion), Dr. Kheal, The Wild Duck, Man and Superman, Endgame, Candide, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, The Tablecloth of Turin, A Little Night Music, and many, many more. Why? Because they have moved me, surprised me, showed me something that I didn’t know — or did know, and wouldn’t admit. My own plays, Bella Donna, The Rabbi of Ragged Ass Road, The Angel Capone, A Clean Breast, and others in process, deal with the nature of illusion, deception, and some sort of doggedness. I’m pretty fond of them, too.

Movies: Pirates of the Caribbean, Amelie, The Great Dictator, Alexander Nevsky, Brigadoon, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Bugs Bunny cartoons, Animal Crackers, Manhattan, Chinatown, Rules of the Game, Miss Lonelyhearts, The Seven Samurai, and the list goes on. Oh, I forgot Love Finds Andy Hardy, and all those silly, wonderful MGM musicals with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney.

Songs: The Times They Are A-Changin’, Lonely Town, A Comedy Tonight, One Meat Ball, An Octopus’s Garden, Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man of Mine, All at Once You Love Her, Old Man River, Begin the Beguine, The Physician, and lots of others that tell the truth in unexpected and affecting ways.

Who/what inspires you?

Meryl Streep’s acting, Michael Feingold’s criticism, William Shakespeare’s writing, Jon Stewart, Maria Irene Fornes, Stephen Lewis, F. Murray Abraham.

What is your dream project?

Any play of mine that gets produced in an Equity theatre.

If you could choose a team of five collaborators, living or dead, who would you choose?

Voltaire (orig. image found here)

Voltaire (orig. image found here)

I love this question. Shakespeare, Mae West, Voltaire, the Baal Shem Tov, and Will Smith.

What are you working on right now?

A one-act called Mind Over Matter and a longer play called Winner Take Nothing.

What’s up next for you?

Keeping on.

What advice would you like to impart to aspiring dramaturgs?

Listen more than you talk, seek out the wisdom of those less well-educated than you are, and try every job in the theatre that you can.

Thank you, David!

  • March 7, 2013