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The Pirate Ninja Laser Turtle School of Dramaturgy

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged anything - turns out that assisting on 25% of a Ring Cycle and Associate Creative Directing a 24 hour immersive show takes up time - but I’ve been using a concept recently I like.


The Pirate Ninja Laser Turtle School of Dramaturgy.


In brief: a dramaturgical school that adds ‘cool’ things together without any thought as to whether the emergent thing is good. With a hat-tip to XKCD.


In game-theatre, it’s often manifested in shows with lots of cool mechanics, plenty of interesting nuggets of lore, but ultimately no clear answer to “what is this show about? What does it feel like?”


In opera, it often looks like an interesting historical plot, impressive music, novel orchestration, and proper spectacle, but they come together in a similarly disjointed manner.


The most obvious example is in Hollywood films, where the various stakeholders involved, from writers to producers to directors to actors, might all have different notions of what the film requires, and rather than coming to a coherent vision, instead stick everything in the same pot.


I also sometimes call this the student cooking school of dramaturgy. Yes, baked beans are good. Cumin is good. Egg fried rice is good. Toast is good. Tomato soup is good. Oranges are good. Chocolate biscuits are good. These things are not going to be good together.


It takes a level of knowledge and experience to know how to combine these things well. Within the student cooking analogy, we might learn that baked beans with a bit of cumin on toast is good, maybe using a reduced version of the tomato soup as an extra sauce, and perhaps we can combine the oranges and chocolate biscuits to make some sort of dessert.


Within the pirate ninja laser turtle analogy, we might need to understand what we like in each genre; if pirates are freedom, ninjas intense family dynamics and secretive power, lasers SUPER COOL FUTURE TECH, and turtles… just rather nice creatures more at home on sea than land, we might decide that we can make a story about an ex-ninja trying to break free of their family for a free life on the high seas, creating the inventions they’ve always dreamed of. They’re a turtle, of course, with a crew of fellow-animals.


Or we could just cut some of it. It’s perfectly possible to make a good pirate show (as Our Flag Means Death proves).


It is, to my mind, usually better to start with the smallest thing of “what is this show about? What are our touchstones and why (‘It is cool’ is not an adequate answer)?” rather than keeping on adding elements and then working out how to make it work.


A dramatic structure can hold many wonderful elements. An eclectic set of elements cannot easily hold a thematic and/or emotionally-satisfying dramatic structure.



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