Today’s Spotlight shines on Jaz Dorsey, a Southern gentleman whose presence and charm I first noticed on the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas (LMDA) listserv. Jaz always promotes and encourages his local writers, no matter which medium they favor. Jaz is the Director of Education for The Southern Appalachian International Film Festival and coordinates a new play reading series for the Metro Nashville Parks Theatre Department. He is also the founder of The African American Playwrights Exchange.
Hometown: Atlanta, Ga.
Current town: Nashville, Tennessee
How do you explain dramaturgy?
I am still reeling from Allison Horsley’s (a fellow dramaturg) brilliant observation that the dramaturg is a thing in process, that we are spilling out of the literary closet into the diplomatic fray of keeping theatre alive by lifting it to its highest potential. These days, when folks ask me what a dramaturg is, I refer to the producer in SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, shrug my shoulders and say “It’s a mystery.” I also suggest that they Google Gotthold Ephraim Lessing.
How does dramaturgy appear in your daily life? How does dramaturgy inform or relate to what you do?
I was abducted by dramaturgy and suffer from Stockholm Syndrome in that I have come to completely identify with my captor. These days that translates into spending my time producing a new play reading series for my colleague Carolyn German, the artistic director for the Metro Nashville Parks Theatre Department. This series kicked off in September, 2011. On Monday, February 11 we presented the 11th reading in the series.
How did you come to dramaturgy?
As a child, when asked that infernal eternal question ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?,’ I made it very clear that I was going to be an actor. My aristocratic Southern family thought this was a form of mental illness, so I spent the better part of my adolescence in mental institutions.
I graduated high school from a North Carolina nuthouse and went to Chapel Hill on Vocational Rehab. But I was scarred as far as theatre went, saw only one play during my years there and took no classes in the theatre department. I studied for the diplomatic field with a focus on German and French – but almost all of my classes were dramatic literature. Then I got a scholarship to Germany and made a great friend who was a dramaturg in the Federal German theatre. I also had a friend who was the rehearsal pianist for the Munich Ballet, so I spent a lot of time hanging out with dancers.
When got back to the US, I finished off my undergraduate career with two theatre courses – Acting (which I HATED) and Theatre History, which was taught by the man who become my mentor, Richard Thomas Pike. Rick was head of the set design department at Chapel Hill. Before the class was over, I was his assistant. He told me to research the heraldry for RICHARD III. I found a book entitled SHAKESPEARE’S HERALDRY, took him what he needed. Thinking that I had ferreted this from hours of research, he was very impressed – then I showed him the book. The next thing I knew we were staying at The Gramercy Park Hotel, buying materials for the costumes for a production of RICHARD III for the Asolo Theatre in Sarasota. Rick then resigned from Chapel Hill to head up the set design program at VCU. They had just started a graduate degree program in dramaturgy but had no students. The next thing I knew, I was a graduate student in dramaturgy.
Tell me about a few of your favorite stories, plays, movies, songs, etc. and why they are favorites.
Right now I have a short list of brilliant scripts by writers who I have met since founding The African American Playwrights Exchange. I have spent the last six years reading these scripts and now I’m trying to figure out what to do with them. I have also completely relearned American history by reading these playwrights.
Who/what inspires you?
Actors and history – especially when they come together.
Brecht & Weill, Moliere and Lessing, Chopin, Joplin and Offenbach.
What is your dream project?
To produce a play called HANNAH ELIAS – or to see that it gets produced.
If you could choose a team of five collaborators, living or dead, who would you choose?
I’m happy with the ones I’ve got. There are more than five.
What are you working on right now?
A reading of THE CARELESSNESS OF LOVE by Michael Dinwiddie, president of The Black Theatre Network. The play is about the amazing life of Angelina Grimké, one of the first African American women to have a play hit the American stage. The reading will be presented at The Players Club in New York City on Thursday, March 14.
What’s up next for you?
It looks like it’s going to be a very busy year working with playwrights and filmmakers.
Thank you so much, Jaz!