Repeating history: Student’s love of history ensures accuracy of theatre productions

When watching a production, a vital source—the dramaturg—is often overlooked. It’s the person who researches the history of the roles and setting, adapts the scripts and consults with everyone involved, so the production is on point. Senior Sachen Pillay is an integral member of Georgia College’s production team.

The double history and liberal studies major and theatre minor did such a thorough job as a dramaturg for his research on his first production, “Ballet Russes,” that he placed first in the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival in South Carolina last February. Pillay also entered his research in Georgia College’s Research Symposium last April, which got published. 

“Ballet Russes” is about an enigmatic theatre ballet company that revolutionized the way theatre and ballet were done during the Russian Revolution.

As part of his independent study with Theatre Chair Dr. Karen Berman, Pillay studied the history of the characters and time period for the production. He formulated a 15-page thesis of “Ballet Russes” that argued the research to form its foundation.

Dramaturgs, like Pillay, are used in new play development, when the writers are trying to determine what they’re going to say, the evolution of characters and how they’ll be characterized. They also interpret what the text is trying to relay on an academic or literary level and convey this to the production team.

“We contextualize the history of the play for the artists involved in the project,” Pillay said. “Dramaturgs are there to essentially ask the right questions and get people to think.”

Dramaturgs can also be a confidante for the artists, because often times working in theatre is an emotional process. At times, from the producers to the cast; they become emotionally vested in the production and get lost in their sentiments. So, they need guidance from the dramaturg to regain their focus on the reality of the production.  

“So, we’re the literary manager, historian and therapist. We can be a lot of things at once,” Pillay said. “It just depends on what the situation calls for.”

But it all starts with research. One moment he’s delving into the history and writing, and the other half of his time is spent in the rehearsal space.

“I can actually roll up my sleeves and get to work in the Black Box Theatre,” Pillay said. “I’m watching the actors do their work and conversing with the director about different possibilities. I get to see the art being made.”

After Pillay wrote the thesis for “Ballet Russes,” he made actors’ packets, which entailed researching the biographies of all the actors in the play who are based off of real people. He also located and used archival film from the Russian Revolution period to create a realistic backdrop for the audience. 

“Productions like this one open a dialogue,” he said. “Everyone has a role to play. I think artists especially do, because they express the feelings, wills and emotions of the community in which they live in. And to do my small part in supporting the program that supports those artists is important to me.”

Pillay also shared his love of history in working with Dr. Bob Wilson, professor of history and university historian, in Special Collections transcribing primary sources and placing them into an archivable format for him to use in future chapters of his book on the history of Georgia College. Pillay scanned documents, detailing historical periods and events at the university.

“I learned interesting facts about Georgia College, like the evolution from an all-women’s school to a liberal arts university,” he said. “I made that interesting, historical connection as to how the university was affected by the shift in social demographics that were happening throughout the U.S. at that time. To see this in the college I attend is pretty fascinating.”

Between his time as a dramaturg and transcribing for Wilson, Pillay refined his interdisciplinary skills while at Georgia College.

“I feel that my time at a liberal arts institution really prepared me for something like this,” he said. “You’re bringing in so many different skills—academically and emotionally—into one process. It’s been very interesting.”

Provided by: The Department of Theatre & Dance at Georgia College & State University

Please visit here to read the original article. 

Founded in 1978, the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) focuses on providing high-quality and collaborative undergraduate research, scholarly, and creative activity. Among the many activities and networking opportunities that CUR provides, the organization also offers support for the professional growth of faculty and administrators through expert-designed institutes, conferences, and a wide-range of volunteer positions. The CUR community, made up of nearly 700 institutions and 13,000 individuals, continues to provide a platform for discussion and other resources related to mentoring, connecting, and creating relationships centered around undergraduate research. CUR’s advocacy efforts are also a large portion of its work as they strive to strengthen support for undergraduate research. Its continued growth in connections with representatives, private foundations, government agencies, and campuses world-wide provides value to its members and gives voice to undergraduate research. CUR is committed to inclusivity and diversity in all of its activities and our community.

CUR focuses on giving a voice to undergraduate research with learning through doing. It provides connections to a multitude of campuses and government agencies, all while promoting networking and professional growth to its community.