By Adam White, dramaturg
I want to step aside from the history of A Man for All Seasons this week to more closely examine a very important part of the dramaturg’s tool kit: the lobby display.
The dramaturg’s lobby display — at least from what I’ve heard from my most recent collaborators — has a pretty bad rap. Specifically, I’ve heard that the dramaturg’s lobby display far too often strays into being, well, a little too high-school-book-report. Too many poster boards, too much rubber cement, and way too many crafts.
Not to say that the dramaturg can’t make a lobby display using the materials found at the local Hobby Lobby, but maybe this general sense of dissatisfaction with the dramaturg’s lobby display needs to be more closely examined. After all, what good is a lobby display if it just conjures up feelings of ‘meh’ in the audience? Or worse, what if the lobby display is just so tacky that audience members literally grimace as they walk by? (We’ve all done it. Don’t deny it.)
In putting together the lobby display for A Man for All Seasons, I’ve thought about the question of what makes a good lobby display a lot, and the problems one might run into in creating a good lobby display. Not wanting to go the ‘book report route,’ the biggest hurdle that I’ve ran across as dramaturg is being ambitious without direction, or wanting to do cool things just to be cool.
I recently ran into this one in designing the lobby display for A Man for All Seasons. BYU’s dramaturgs have been wanting to do a digital lobby display for quite some time, and with this production we had a director who was willing to try it out. My initial concept, then, was to hook up an iPad to a monitor so that the lobby display would be this system where people could pick clips of interviews with the cast to watch using an iPad interface that they could then watch on the monitor. Elementary, simple (in theory), and somewhat novel for a lobby display, right?
Well, not so fast. Creating this lobby display and being really jazzed about it was going along swimmingly until I met with a faculty member who was willing to help me find the technology I needed to execute the initial lobby display plan. I pitched the idea to him and he wasn’t as jazzed as I was. In fact, he just had one question for me: “Why?”
And I honestly didn’t have an answer for that, other than that I wanted my lobby display to not look like a book report. I also really didn’t think that was a problem until he asked the question.
I’ve since created reasons for why I want a digital lobby display for A Man for All Seasons. It fits well with the play’s thematic elements and concepts, and I’ve articulated the story I want the lobby display to tell to myself and my collaborators. If it all comes together right, it will enhance the production, and that is what my lobby display should have been doing all along.
Just as thinking too small for the lobby display or having an afterthought lobby display can harm a production’s value, so can being innovative without purpose. In my opinion, my job as a dramaturg is to enhance a production, to only tell stories or share thoughts that prop up the story the production team and the actors have weaved together.
Hopefully, us dramaturgs can move elevate our craft locally so that lobby display don’t inspire ‘meh’ in our audience members. The best direction to move in is asking that question, ‘What does our story need?’ and let that shape the lobby display.
And it if we end up with a poster board when it’s all said and done, well, maybe that’s okay.