When describing the requirements for a theatrical production, the term “dramaturg” may sound unusual even to those involved. Dramaturgs often provide essential aid and background to the cast and creative teams as the play is developed, however. This can include historical research, background to the play’s author and typically requires a keen understanding of all facets of the story.
Alex Vermillion, alumni of the University of Utah, is no stranger to Shakespeare or to the world of dramaturgy. Most recently, Vermillion’s work has focused on “The Two Noble Kinsmen” for OSF’s Play On! The project, which has enlisted the work of playwrights and dramaturgs to create modern language “translations” of Shakespeare’s plays. The Department of Theatre at the U will be performing the resulting translation of “The Two Noble Kinsmen” in a week, and Vermillion will be continuing her role as production dramaturg.
Vermillion, who prefers the gender pronoun “ze,” described the role of dramaturg as similar to that of a book editor, maintaining certain components while changing others for readability and flow.
“The project wanted us to keep in mind rhythm, meter, rhyme, verse, so it was our job to compare the two [scripts] and go ‘oh, we lost this here,’ or ‘what is the meaning here,’ to steer Tim [Slover, playwright] and help him along the way as he was writing.”
Dramaturgy is all about research, but the translation of “The Two Noble Kinsmen” required an extra level of detail and focus.
“I’m used to digging into a text, that’s your job as a dramaturg,” Vermillion said. “But this was like, digging into it, going to the fourth dimension, and like, keep digging, and you want to get all the historical accuracy, you want to stay true to Tim’s version for it and then you have Randy’s [Reyes, director for the U’s production] version of it, which is a whole other aspect, so it was layer upon layer of understanding the playwrights and what they wanted the story to be, which I thought was a really beautiful piece.”
After spending eighteen months aiding in the translation process, Vermillion is currently working with Reyes and the cast to bring “The Two Noble Kinsmen” to life in a full production here at the U. “…the story is just so timeless, and beautiful, and we connect to it so easily, and it’s also very raw because the emotions are so heightened. This story is just such a beautiful thing, so just go into it expecting a more modern rendition of it. Because Randy has created a completely new world that isn’t even ours, it’s futuristic in a way, or not of this world, combining different parts of our world,” ze said.
While some may sneer at the idea of changing Shakespeare’s words, Vermillion hopes that this project can be part of a larger conversation.
“A key point of this whole thing was to give students insight into something that academic scholars can go on for seventy pages of a dissertation to understand. If I get one student who comes up and says ‘thank you for this, I understand Shakespeare better now,’ or ‘I have a new love for Shakespeare because of this,’ it will have been worth it.”
“The Two Noble Kinsmen” opens on April 7 and runs through April 16 in the Babcock Theatre. Tickets are available at the Kingsbury Hall box office or online at www.theatre.utah.edu. Students can get one free and one discounted ticket with their UCards through the ArtsPass.