Aarhus Universitets segl

Reconfiguring dramaturgy for a global culture: Changing practices in 21st century European theatre

Research Project, 2020-2023, funded by Aarhus Universitets Forskningsfond (E-2019-7-8) 


Arts institutions, and artistic practices, today lose their traditional grounding within middle-class ‘educated’ enlightenment culture, and they need to reorientate within contemporary contexts of globalisation and digitalisation, while also facing the current challenges to established democratic societal values. This research project interrogates this wider reconfiguration of the field of dramaturgy both at artistic and institutional level through an interdisciplinary and international approach, building on a comparative analysis of European case studies. A key feature of the proposed research is its specific focus on ‘second cities’, i.e. focus on cultural specifics of cities (like Aarhus) that differ from the global cosmopolitan centres such as London, Paris, Berlin and Copenhagen.

Research Programme

The project defines dramaturgy as an artistic practice that operates on two central levels: as production dramaturgy, it contributes to the creation of new theatre work; as institutional dramaturgy, it creates spaces and conditions that make such creation possible in the first place, thereby defining the shape, form, contents and aesthetics of work produced. On both levels, dramaturgy acts as an essentially relational practice: it connects artists and audiences, institutions and people, the local and the global, and thereby forms an important foundation for building a strong, democratic ‘public sphere’ (Habermas). Yet, the dominant institutional and aesthetic frameworks of European theatre, and theatre dramaturgy, have emerged alongside the formation of the European national cultures during the 18th and 19th century. Today’s contemporary culture is situated, however, within a thoroughly globalised and digitally mediatised society defined by global markets and movements (including migration), by the rapid speed and formats of social and online media, by a relativisation of knowledge and ‘fake news’, and by the growing urgency of ecological threats, societal ruptures, and the emergence of populist threats to the democratic consensus. The research will analyse the resulting fundamental transformations of dramaturgic practice within this paradigm of 21st century culture. Its aims and objectives are:

  • to map contemporary practices and pedagogies of dramaturgy that respond to these substantive societal challenges and cultural transformations,
  • to generate insight into the urgent topics and problems of contemporary dramaturgic practice at artistic and institutional level, which will inform the department’s future research plans and objectives, and
  • to establish both a strong transdisciplinary dialogue with other AU departments, and to lay sustainable foundations for a transnational network of contemporary dramaturgy within the international professional and academic field.

The core questions of our research project are:

  1. What are the central transformations of dramaturgic practice in European theatre posed by the contemporary post-national and global-digital cultural challenges?
  2. Which dramaturgic innovations respond to the global cultural experience of (local) audiences, as well as to the societal shifts and democratic challenges of the present?
  3. Which are the continuities, and which are significant paradigm shifts in relation to the established formal, aesthetic and institutional conventions of dramaturgic practice, including the canonised repertoire of dramatic plays and the work of the theatre ensemble?
  4. What are the specific dynamics of these reconfigured dramaturgies beyond the field of theatre, and in particular within the socio-cultural fabric of ‘second cities’ (such as Aarhus) in their differences from the globalised cosmopolitan centres such as London, Berlin, Paris and Copenhagen?

 We work on three complementing strands:

  1. Reconfiguring institutional dramaturgies: a comparative analysis of national and international case studies, concentrating of the institutional dramaturgic frame of theatre houses, programming, notions of the ‘ensemble’, and festivals, incl. research visits for interviews, archive work, and onsite analysis.
  2. Reconfiguring dramaturgies of production: a comparative analysis of national and international case studies, interrogating new artistic modes and forms, and new approach to ‘classics’ and the repertoire, also incl. research visits for interviews, archive work, and onsite analysis.
  3. Reconfiguring dramaturgic research and pedagogy: Building on the evaluation of 1 and 2 above, this WP focuses on shaping and disseminating research methodologies and innovative dramaturgic pedagogy, charting future research topics and objectives, and building the interdisciplinary and international strength of the AU dramaturgy department.

Research team and projects

  • Prof Peter M Boenisch, professor of dramaturgy, “Expanded Dramaturgy: Curating Common Spheres in Contemporary European Theatre”
  • Dr Anika Marschall, postdoc researcher, “Artist Organisations: 21 st Century Cultural Infrastructures at Europe's Geopolitical Fringes”
  • Lise Sofie Houe, doctoral student, “Sustainable dramaturgies: practises for creating relations in European institutional theatres”
  • Rikke Frigast Jakobsen, student assistant, ”Den synlige kunstproces: Om transparente og bæredygtige teaterprocesser”