Aaron Johnson’16 was interviewed recently by Meryl Gottlieb for a story for the Athens Post about new developments in the Ohio University School of Theater’s dramaturgy program. With the arrival of a new faculty member, Dr. Matthew Cornish, the whole dramaturgy program is going through an exciting revamp!
Aaron Johnson worked as a dramaturg this fall on Charles Mee’s play bobrauschenbergamerica at OU, directed by Dan Dennis. The play is an experimental collage piece about the artist Robert Rauschenberg and the community that surrounded him and encouraged him.
In the MFA playwriting program, most playwrights dramaturg one production in the school of theater. Being a dramaturg on a production usually requires writing a program note and source book, attending rehearsals and being an advocate for the play.
Here is an excerpt from the article:
“Cornish said he mostly uses playwrights in the practicum because they should be asking the same kinds of questions about their own work that dramaturgs do of any work. “As a playwright, it really helps me develop and focus on consistency,” said Aaron Johnson, the dramaturg for Fall Semester’s bobrauschenbergamerica and a second-year graduate playwright,. “Every good playwright should ask ‘What’s important in this world, and what’s the meaning behind it?’ Why am I writing it?’”
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Here is Aaron’s Program Note for bobrauschenbergamerica:
bobrauschenbergamerica is not a play about Robert Rauschenberg’s art come to life: his art is already life. For his “Combine” paintings from the 1950s and early ‘60s, Rauschenberg utilized found objects, mostly garbage picked off the streets of New York. Everyday items including cardboard boxes, oil drums, tires, bathtubs, street signs, and car doors permeate the paintings, leaping off the canvas and jutting out onto the floor. Rauschenberg repurposed the meaning of these objects, allowing spectators to experience them in a new way; his Combine paintings inhabit, as Rauschenberg said, “the gap between life and art.
Charles Mee’s play also works to occupy this gap, integrating found texts—just like Rauschenberg’s found objects. Mee samples works of literature, personal interviews, and stories from other writers to create the world of his play, taking passages from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, and quoting an interview with Phillip Morrison, an astrophysicist who inspired the character Allen. By mixing these found texts with Rauschenberg’s work, Mee creates a “collage” play: an expansive and diverse combination of images and ideas, some belonging to Rauschenberg, some belonging to Mee, some belonging to others, and some that just feel random, as if pulled from the trash.
So where does the gap between life and art lie? In the unexpected. In the everyday objects we take for granted. In noticing that things may be more significant than we first realize.