Blog post by Kristopher Karcher, Dramaturg
Though I've just graduated university, I still consider myself a student. I think all dramaturgs continue to be students throughout their career because they are constantly learning new things through research and engagement within their community. Working on Shitheads by Douglas Williams at Azuka Theatre has been a prime example that there is always something new to learn and a new world or culture to explore. Before Kevin asked me to work on this play, I knew absolutely nothing about bikes. I mean, I could ride a bike, and I've pumped air into tires, but there is so much more to the biking world that I wouldn't have known without doing the research I did and meeting bikers in our own city. I also learned a lot about being a theater artist. As a young dramaturg, I am always working to develop my craft, and Shitheads has given me incredible insight to producing new plays and working professionally in Philadelphia.
After the first read of the script in December, everyone had questions. What's a bottom bracket? Are we going to have to actually change pedals on a bike? How do we do that? What's a crank puller? Through a combination of questions from the actors, director, and a list of my own queries, I spent the month before rehearsals starting to learn everything I could about bikes, bike mechanics, and the world our characters are living in. This research was compiled into a website that the actors could use as a reference for all things Shitheads. This site, which can be found here: http://kristophermkarcher.wixsite.com/shitheadsdramaturgy/, has continues to change and evolve as the script has gone through its numerous drafts, and our crew has asked more questions.
Other than learning about bikes, I believe every rehearsal room, and the people working in the room, teaches you something new about working in theater. No rehearsal room is the same as the show you worked on last. The room of Shitheads has been one of my favorites. Never have I worked with people so unafraid to push boundaries, try new jokes, and continue to develop their characters right up until opening. All the actors, Akeem, Charlotte, Harry, and David are constantly asking questions about their characters. Sometimes these questions have answers, and sometimes they don't, and that's where new pages come in (I truly believe new plays benefit from smart actors just as much as they do from a dramaturg). Doug (our playwright), Michele Volansky (dramaturg extraordinaire), and Kevin Glaccum (the visionary behind Azuka's current season), have also been wonderful in incubating such a brilliant comedy. I know I have gotten better at my job just by observing them.
Working on Shitheads has been an absolute blast and incredible learning experience. I hope to work on another Azuka production soon. Philadelphia is lucky to have such a wonderful environment for new plays to grow in, and Azuka has been one of the cornerstones in new play development in this city for years, and I definitely feel that I can learn more from their process. I'm also super glad I know how to fix a bike's flat tire, cause you know, that's super helpful.