In his book, The Drama of Doctrine, Kevin Vanhoozer provides us with an outstanding definition of a theologian by making an analogy to a dramaturge. He writes:
“Dramaturgy” is the working of a drama, just as “metallurgy” is the working of metal. What does it mean to “work” drama, or to make drama work? The dramaturge has, until recently been relatively unknown in the American theater. In Europe, however, the dramaturge is the person responsible for helping the director to make sense of the script both for the players and for the audience. This dual responsibility corresponds to a remarkable degree to theology’s twofold task: an exegetical scientia and a practical sapentia.
In the first place, the dramaturge is responsible for researching the script and for preparing the text for performance. This involves selecting a particular edition or translation of the play, researching the play to keep it historically accurate, thinking about the playwright’s intent, studying the play’s production history and collaborating with the director on a compelling and coherent interpretation. The dramaturge is concerned both with the play’s details and with its large themes. For example, a good dramaturge would object to a scene of a medical drama set in 1810 in which a doctor bends over his patient and places a stethoscope on his chest, because the stethoscope was not invented until 1819. At the same time, the dramaturge is thinking about how best to articulate the play’s main themes. This first aspect of dramaturgy focuses on the study of a given play ?¢?Ç¨?Äú it’s author, content, style and background ?¢?Ç¨?Äú and emphasizes the importance of staying faithful to the text. This is the exegetical, scientia aspect of the dramaturge’s task, and issues in a “protocol”.
The dramaturge’s protocol or preproduction study of the play is of special interest. It consists of notes to the director and actors ?¢?Ç¨?Äú often fifty to one hundred pages ?¢?Ç¨?Äú and typically includes information concerning 1) the historical, cultural, and social background of the play; 2) the biography of the playwright; and 3) the history of earlier productions of the play and an assessment of the major translations. The dramaturge will also often produce 4) a comprehensive analysis of the play and 5) a comprehensive bibliography of helpful resources on the play and its previous productions. The purpose of the dramaturge’s work on the text is to help those involved in the production, particularly the director, come to a better understanding of the play so that the performance will stay true to the playwright’s intent.
If the first aspect of dramaturgy is script-oriented, the second looks toward the performance. The dramaturge advises the director how best to communicate the text and articulate the play’s ideas in terms that would be compelling and intelligible to contemporary audiences. This aspect of dramaturgy corresponds to theology as sapentia. It is noteworthy that the single most importance requirement for the dramaturge is understanding, the ability to follow the play where it leads: “To inform the director, the cast and the audience about the play’s past history and its current importance, dramaturges assemble ‘protocols’ (or casebooks consisting of written and found materials toward a theatrical production), prepare program notes, leas post-performance discussions, write study guides for schools and groups, lecture in the community as well as the academy, and publish scholarly essays and books.” One is hard pressed to think of a better job description for the theologian than that.
I find this analogical definition of a theologian to be extremely helpful. It is a wonderful picture of the part that the theologian is to play in the life of the church.
At the risk of ruining the beauty of this passage, permit me to highlight a couple relevant points in Vahoozer’s description of a dramaturge. First, in the above description, the director is analogous to the pastor, albeit this is a secondary director to that of the primary director, the Holy Spirit. The actors are analogous to the congregation, although again this is a secondary role to that of the primary actors, Father, Son and Spirit. The audience is analogous to the watching world outside the church. The performance is a description of the speech and actions of the congregation as it seeks to faithfully live out the script. The script is analogous to the bible, providing both speech and stage directions for the actors.
Second, these are descriptions of roles rather than individual people. As such the best directors also have dramaturgical abilities just as we ought to have pastor/theologians leading congregations.
Third, and finally, Vanhoozer goes on to write,
A good dramaturge helps articulate the sense of the whole, helps display dramatic unity: play seeking understanding, one could say. “The main job of the dramaturge is to keep asking why. Why are we doing this play? . . . Why does our theatre exist? . . . Why are we, inside the theatre, excited about the plays we are doing and why are we not spreading our excitement to the community?” The dramaturge answers such why questions by articulating the meaning of the play and the public significance of its production. The dramaturge’s task continues during rehersal, ensuring that the director and the actors remain in line with the overall vision of the production, its meaning and truth.
I strive to be and pray that there might be more theologians in the world who fit this excellent description.