TAYLOR LEE HITAFFER: I suppose my story is pretty standard... I come from an artistic family, so I learned from an early age the importance of creativity and self-expression. I sang, I danced, and I painted. But it was theatre that I enjoyed the most and would consistently go back to. When I was little, I used to go through my collection of Halloween costumes and write comedy sketches with my friends. When drama clubs became available through school I joined those, and then I went on to study theatre in college. Over the years my relationship with theatre has been majorly redefined. But in a lot of ways I still feel like I’m a big kid goofing off! Like, someday I’ll grow up and get a real job! I just have a really hard time visualizing myself doing anything else.
JL: How do you define dramaturgy? Or explain to people the work that you do?
TLH: Dramaturgy is fundamentally expansive. It is a process that must involve an analytical mind, a generous heart and a questioning spirit. A strong sense of humor is good to have, too! But when you get down to the nuts-and-bolts of how a dramaturg fits inside of the rehearsal room, you will find them sitting next to the director and the playwright, reflecting on the work being created and asking probing questions. A dramaturg's job is to safeguard the play and the vision of the playwright.
JL: How long have you lived and worked as a dramaturgy in DC? What brought you here? Why have you stayed?
TLH: I've been working in DC since 2008, although my family has lived in and around DC for generations. I'm very proud of this city and how openly it supports enrichment through arts and culture. I'm thankful that, when I'm in need of inspiration, there are plenty of free museums to get lost in. This is home for me. And when I die, I'll probably have my ashes scattered on the steps of the Library of Congress.
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?
TLH: I'm the program assistant for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, where for the past four seasons I've coordinated the KCACTF National Festival and the Summer Playwriting Intensives, including the MFA Playwrights' Workshop and the New Play Dramaturgy Intensive. I am fortunate that what I do for a living merges so perfectly with what I do as a dramaturg. I have met so many gifted, intelligent, wonderful people. People whose opinions I value and respect. Knowing and talking with them has helped me grow as an artist. Their confidence in me gave me courage to have confidence in myself.
JL: What skills and traits do you feel a successful dramaturg should have to support the development of a new play or a production?
TLH: A love for creation, an enthusiasm for collaboration, and the ability to let go of ego and do your work from a place of total sincerity.
JL: What is the greatest part of being a dramaturg? What has been your most difficult challenge?
TLH: I have always loved stories, and for me, being a dramaturg allows me to live inside of stories. I get to go down the rabbit hole, sail to new worlds, and excavate lost artifacts. It's a joy to do what I do. I suppose the biggest challenge is finding someone who will let me do it!
JL: Who are your favorite playwrights? What is it about their work that inspires or draws you to them?
TLH: Tony Kushner's ANGELS IN AMERICA will always have a special place in my heart, namely because it was the first show I ever dramaturged, and because it set the bar for the mythical, highly-theatrical shows I often find myself gravitating towards. I love playwrights like Eric Overmyer and Jez Butterworth and Mary Zimmerman... playwrights who challenge us to re-examine the world around us, and dare us to restore the magic inside of ourselves.
JL: DC audiences are...
TLH: Hungry. Ready. Up to the task.
JL: DC actors, designers and directors are..
TLH: Devoted. Profound. Fearless.
JL: DC playwrights are …
TLH: Passionate. Courageous. Utterly invaluable.
JL: DC critics are...
TLH: Instrumental. An important part of the conversation.
JL: What advice do you have for an up and coming DC based dramaturg who has just moved to D.C.?
TLH: "Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid."
JL: What's next for you? Where can we keep up with your work?
TLH: I will be serving as an Advising Reader for The Inkwell's plays-in-progress open call, which I am so very excited about! And in May I will be dramaturging one of four plays as part of The Inkwell's First Contact Series. You can check out my website at www.taylorleedramaturgy.org, or follow me on Twitter @TaylorLeeTurgy.