Hanna Slattne, dramaturg
Hanna is a dramaturg at Tinderbox Theatre Company in Northern Ireland. She makes sure the various elements of a show communicate the director and designers' vision effectively.
I am Swedish, so I grew up in a country where the role of the dramaturg was established, even though not many people had heard about it when I arrived in the UK.
What previous jobs have you done in theatre?
I originally wanted to be a musician. I started out going to music college in Sweden. I had a dream of playing in a symphony orchestra, being part of a big team, and making amazing things happen.
Thinking about it now, that's what I have ended up doing, only in theatre.
"When you work in the arts, you have to keep questioning yourself, refreshing your thinking, and keeping your mind open."
I started off in theatre as an actress. Like many budding theatre practitioners, I learned about the various aspects of theatre making by doing stage management, producing and painting sets.
For a while, before I moved into dramaturgy, I also worked as a management consultant, where I used a lot of similar skills to the ones I do when I work as a dramaturg. Analysing the message that's going out, developing and monitoring processes, and making sure people can follow the story!
After that, I fell into the role of dramaturg, and turned out to be good at it, so I changed my career focus.
I've been working as a dramaturg for well over a decade. I've been at Tinderbox Theatre in Belfast for several years.
What qualifications do you have?
I have a BA degree and an MA, both in theatre and cultural studies.
What do you do at work?
When we are in production, I will usually be in the rehearsal room. I work closely with a show's writer, director and design team to keep an eye on the whole production as it emerges.
Are we achieving what we set out to do as a team? Will it work for the audience?
In between shows, I do the following:
- run the 'writers' initiative' events we offer at Tinderbox
- arrange live readings of plays, which people send in from all over Northern Ireland and beyond
- organise open and specialised workshops
When I work with writers, I also:
- network on behalf of playwrights across the UK and Ireland
- run our five-month Young Writers Programme
- look after our 'writer in attachment'
- devise and run our 'writers' lab'
- support our commissioned writers through their different drafts
- get scripts ready for rehearsals
Alongside that, I see plays by emerging companies and writers, and keep up with theatre and new writing in the UK, Ireland and the world.
Then there's admin duties, reports and fundraising, dealing with contracts and budgets – general office stuff.
Finally, I'm involved with a professional organisation for dramaturgs, the Dramaturgs' Network, which I helped to found.
What’s the best thing about your job?
Saying yes! Being able to pay artists to do their best. Being able to be part of shaping the process of putting a show together, allowing everyone involved the time to get their teeth into the challenge. Helping people work together to create an unforgettable experience for the audience.
"It's great working in a small independent theatre company – you can really see the impact of what you do."
Another great thing is seeing the writers and plays you have worked with collecting awards! It's a nice acknowledgment of the relationships and the processes you have in place as a company.
It's really great working in a small independent company – you can really see the impact of what you do and how it all fits together.
And the worst thing about the job?
Saying no. There's so much potential talent out there, and so few opportunities. Sometimes it's my job to tell writers they're not quite there yet. They may not be ready for a professional production. I always try to do so with care, and to be constructive and fair. Sometimes we get it wrong, but mostly I think talent shines through and we get it right.
How do I get into theatre?
For dramaturgy, these would be my three tips:
- Get as much experience on the floor as possible
There is no substitute for this. You only learn about how theatre actually works – how a script will come alive on the floor – in the rehearsal room. Theory will not do it.
- Always keep your mind open
When you work in the arts, you have to keep questioning yourself, refreshing your thinking, and keeping your mind open.
Every artist, every writer, is different. They work, think and engage with the rest of the artistic team in different ways. Every script and process will need different approaches. It's the dramaturg's role to understand what everyone needs, artistically, intellectually, and practically. You should never, ever approach a piece with any particular method or tick-box formula. That's hard sometimes.
- Develop your people skills
I always feel that if people fall out in the process, I haven't done my job well. Very often, you have to be the diplomat in the background. If you have a need to be recognised for your work at all times, it may be that being a dramaturg isn't for you.
Hanna is part of our theatre experts panel. Ask Hanna a question about working in theatre.