Pearl Cleage

What’s a dramaturg?

About 100 visitors will happily answer that question for you this weekend as Atlanta welcomes the annual conference of the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas, with participants coming from every U.S. region and Canada.

According to Wikipedia (forgive me for going there), dramaturgy is a “comprehensive exploration of the context in which the play resides.”

That’s a good enough definition, yet nearly every dramaturg would likely expand upon it.

Dramaturgy is research and development, reporting and writing, defending the playwright’s vision, collaborating, digging for facts and being an extra set of eyes for the director before and during the rehearsal process and throughout a run. And it’s fun.

The fun this weekend is centered around the Woodruff Arts Center, but those here for the four-day event also will travel around the city to see important sites — the Southern Museum and Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, the Goat Farm Arts Center, the location of the 1906 riots and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site — and talk with the community’s artistic leaders.

The Alliance Theatre and Kennesaw State University partnered with LMDA to bring the conference here.

Atlanta writer Pearl Cleage, a playwright-in-residence at the Alliance, gives the keynote on Thursday night, talking about the confluence of place and art, the role of artists as citizens and leaders in their communities, and the cultural and racial collisions that mark the ecology of Atlanta, her adopted hometown.

Cleage, whose works have been produced at the Alliance and around the country, premieres her latest play, What I Learned in Paris, in September at the Alliance.

As with any gathering of this sort, the LMDA conference is a time for networking, brainstorming, celebrating and a cocktail party or two.

The organization, which has 634 members and was founded in 1985, holds the belief that theater is a vital art form with the power to nourish, educate and transform individuals and their communities and that dramaturgy is central to the process of theater-making.

Still, the profession is tricky enough to encapsulate that the LMDA website has a section that asks members for their definitions.

This one, from Stonybrook University’s Becky Goldberg, is as good as any. “The answer I give my relatives at family gatherings is that the dramaturg is the person who acts as the advocate for a play and also provides all of the contextual and historical research. Basically, they’re the walking library of a production.”


Kathy Janich, Encore Atlanta’s managing editor, has been seeing, covering or working in the performing arts for most of her life. She is a freelance dramaturg and an LMDA member. Please email:






About Kathy Janich

Kathy Janich is a longtime arts journalist who has been seeing, working in or writing about the performing arts for most of her life. She's a member of the Theatre Communications Group, the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas, Americans for the Arts and the National Arts Marketing Project. Full disclosure: She’s also an artistic associate at Synchronicity Theatre.

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