JAMILA REDDY: I love telling this story, because it reaffirms my belief that no matter what happens, I’ll always end up exactly where I need to be. I tried out for the cheerleading team in eighth grade (to this day I have yet to do a split) and when I didn’t make it—to no one’s surprise but my own—my mom encouraged me to audition for the school play. I was mortified—I was supposed to be one of the cool cheerleading girls and she wanted me to hang out with the drama nerds?!—but got cast as the doctor in Wit by Margaret Edson and absolutely fell in love it. I’ve been a proud drama nerd since.
JL: How do you define dramaturgy? Or explain to people the work that you do?
JR: I like to think of myself as a dramaturg as a script defender. My job is to support the text by offering the actors and creative team resources that will help them live fully in the world of the play. I like the idea of a script defender because my job is to do whatever it takes to make sure that the story is getting told in a way that is truthful and clear to the audience.
JL: How long have you lived and worked as a dramaturg in DC? What brought you here? Why have you stayed?
JR: I came to DC to be the inaugural Artistic Apprentice at the Studio Theatre. I assistant directed the five season subscription shows and worked with Adrien-Alice Hansel and Lauren Halvorsen in the literary department, trying to soak up all of their dramaturgical brilliance.
JL: If your work as a dramaturg doesn’t pay the bills, what else do you do? How do you balance this work with your dramaturgy?
JR: I wish it did! I wear many hats; I work as an Assistant Resident Director in the Department of Housing and Dining at the American University, as a waitress in a lovely coffee shop/restaurant in Adams Morgan called Tryst, and as a coach for five brilliant young ladies on the Woodrow Wilson high school [spoken word poetry] Slam team.
JL: What skills and traits do you feel a successful dramaturg should have to support the development of a new play or a production?
JR: An eye for storytelling and genuine curiosity about the human condition.
JL: What is the greatest part of being a dramaturg? What has been your most difficult challenge?
JR: The greatest part of being a dramaturg is being in the room to witness how much the actors and director grow into and along with with the play. The most challenging thing is seeing or hearing my notes get diluted via misunderstanding or mistranslation from director to actors.
JL: Who are your favorite playwrights? What is it about their work that inspires or draws you to them?
JR: My favorite playwright right now is Young Jean Lee; I think her work is absolutely revolutionary. I’m inspired by how confrontational it is, not just for the sake of confrontation, but for the goal of shaking audiences out of their complacency with being mere observers. I love plays that make the audience a part of the dialogue, and her plays do that. I saw THE SHIPMENT a few years ago, and there was one moment in the middle of the play when the house lights came up and three of the actors stood on the lip of the stage and watched us watch them, in silence, for an entire minute. It took my breath away. I yearn to recreate that moment for my audiences when I direct; the feeling that you, as audience, are just as much a subject of conversation as the work being done on stage.
JL: DC audiences are ...
JR: Frustratingly white.
JL: DC actors, designers and directors are ..
JR: Delightfully young and local!
JL: DC playwrights are …
JR: Really hardworking.
JL: DC critics are ...
JR: See “DC audiences.”
JL: How do you feel the DC theatre community has addressed the issues of race and gender parity? How has this particular issue impacted you and your ability to get your work produced on the main stages?
JR: I can’t say that the community has done much to address it, but I can say that certain indivuals (like you!) and theaters (Woolly Mammoth) are taking great strides towards creating theatre (and a theatre community) that reflects the diversity and richness of the DC community.
JL: What advice do you have for an up and coming DC based dramaturg who has just moved to D.C.?
JR: There are so many opportunities to work with emerging artists, and what better place to network than DC? Meet playwrights, read their plays, talk about them, rinse, repeat.
JL: What's next for you? Where can we keep up with your work?
JR: Nothing on the dramaturgy front, but I’m currently working with a fabulous group of five young ladies, and will have the honor leading them in battle against other high school teams at the Louder Than a Bomb poetry slam competition in April. You can keep up with me at JamilaReddy.wordpress.com and on twitter: @JamilaReddy.