First, I must say that I am overwhelmed, humbled and, of course, delighted by this occasion. For almost a year I have been carrying the weight of knowing about the kind and generous LMDA intention to present the Lessing Award to me at our 2006 conference. It was not easy to get used to such an honor and learn to accept it properly, with gratitude and little protesting!
Before anything else I feel compelled to use this opportunity and acknowledge the first two recipients of the Lessing Award, who pre-ceded me in being given this honor: Anne Cattaneo and Arthur Ballet. They deserve our collective admiration and appreciation. Paying homage again to these exemplary colleagues is implicitly a way to recall their exceptional contributions to the foundation of LMD Aand, moreover, to the practice of dramaturgy in the American theater as we know it today.
Next, I have to admit that I was quite frustrated trying to articulate some cogent thoughts to share with you in my acceptance speech tonight. My work tends toward invisibility. I am used to that, and see no ground for any change. In fact, as many of you must have noticed there is a nice paradox in working in dramaturgy. Usually our activity doesn’t get much credit; but, on the other hand, we don’t get blamed either.
So what was I supposed to say? Somebody gave me the advice to show up, smile and be gracious, if I can. But my saving grace came unexpectedly in an e-mail received in the very last hours before the ending of our 2006 conference. It is a message from Lessing himself! And I’ll read it to you now – a relief from the burden of delivering my own presumably substantive speech on such an astounding and exciting occasion.
By accident or rather by miracle (you choose the best word!) I hit several dramaturgical websites during one of my recent cyberspace explorations. To my surprise I discovered that my legacy is celebrated and emulated by hundreds of remote intellectual descendants of mine on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
I even learned that there is an award perpetuating my name while honoring colleagues of mine overseas. Is that why some like to call America a brave new world? Well, no one is a prophet in one’s own land, although my plays are fairly often staged in Germany (yet much less anywhere else). I’d be curious to know what fellow dramaturges in Germany think of such an award...
As much as I continue to hope that my plays will attract more interest than my critical essays collected under the title Hamburgische Dramaturgie, still for me it is a flattering idea to memorialize the job I once took at the National Theatre of Hamburg. At the time I was approaching 40 and, penniless, I was unable to generate sufficient income from the plays I’d tried my hand on. Taking the job was sim-ply one of my attempts to make a somehow decent living.
Much too often in what I could call my ‘dramaturgical career’ I had to overcome dire financial circumstances. Eventually becoming the librarian at the court of Prince Leopold of Brunswig solved my worries and struggle for the rest of my life. But should that position qualify as that of a dramaturge?
Over the centuries the pattern of my job-seeking (a dramatist hardly making any money with his scripts, but welcome as a critic/commentator) appears to have been re-enacted in a wide range of variations by many fellow playwrights, drama critics, dramaturges. These bright minds lured by the stage keep attempting as ingeniously as they can to make a living while at the same time indulging their absolute attachment to an overriding literary/theatrical passion. The more inventive they prove in being managers, planners, fundraisers, organizers of events, producers of all-sort of projects, promoters of new writing by others, and so on, the better they assert that dramaturgy (not necessarily writing plays) is a valid profession to which they dedicate their career.
Many things were different when I studied at the Protestant university of Wittenberg; and they might have been even more different long before me, when Shakespeare’s imagined Danish prince attended courses at the same school. Yet one may see a tacit (perhaps a bit odd) consonance, a link connecting Hamlet and me: both of us took upon ourselves the task of being ‘a scourge and minister’ – in my case of literature, drama, and the theater. Was that the moment when dramaturgy came into being?
Still I could not have foreseen that the young, learned student of my first play Der Junge Gelehrte (1747) would be transformed into an intimidating, cynical, jaded, tough-to-please seventyish senior fixture of the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.
Nonetheless I’m sure the occasion must give you a thrill. This dramaturgy award pleases me only mildly since I have ceased quite a while ago any struggle to gain recognition. Remember Cassio’s despair when Othello demotes him? To my ears his gripping clamor about having lost his reputation rings true especially because it seems to fit well many of you who refer to my work and name as their supreme model, without noticing how far remote I am from your post-enlightenment world.
In your time and specific circumstances, it appears that reputation is not just vital to everyone. It is an inescapable ‘branding’ without which one risks to be nobody. Who would settle for that? So, I see why this award must please you a lot, indeed. Be a good sport and accept it gleefully.
Just beware, now that you’ve achieved your fifteen minutes of fame, not to assume that your goals have been attained. To paraphrase a brilliant and quite enigmatic Irishman I came across in my strolls on the alleys of what for you remains still ‘the undiscovered country, ’go on with the work. What else is life for?
Liviu Ciulei speech introducing Michael (as read by Paul Draper) at the awards ceremony, 2006 LMDA Annual Conference.
I’ve been full of joy and very emotional when learning that Michael’s life-time passion and his many years of commitment to and work for the theater are been recognized and rewarded with a prize of exception and distinction — the Lessing Award.
When I was appointed artistic director of the Guthrie Theater in1980, I chose right away to bring Michael Lupu aboard, albeit he was then unknown to the American theater. But I was well acquainted with his work first as a theater and film critic in Romania. Later, from 1960 to 1971 (when he immigrated to the United States), we worked together at the “Bulandra” Theater of Bucharest, known not only as a first-rate theater in Romania but ranking at the top of Europe’s theater movement in those years.
In my plans for the Guthrie, I wanted from the beginning to establish a solid and strong dramaturgical department. This intention was grounded in the knowledge of the historical fact that every single important theater company in the last century or so needed, relied on and benefited enormously from the knowledge, intellectual competence, and dramaturgical contribution of a competent literary staff. Just think of such extraordinary symbioses that prove my point: Stanislavski with Nemirovich-Danchenko, Giorgio Strehler with Luigi Lunari, Peter Stein with Botto Strauss and Dieter Sturm, Laurence Olivier with Kenneth Tynan. That’s why I considered it an important priority to bring together within the Guthrie literary/dramaturgy department Arthur Ballet, Mark Bly, Tom Creamer, and the playwright Richard Nelson, along with Michael Lupu. They joined forces with Barbara Field, at the time the theater’s literary manager.
Michael’s contribution to the Guthrie has been outstanding not only in our intensive talks about selecting and deciding the repertory of plays, but also in his keen, specific inquiries and ideas regarding textual interpretations, as well as arduous rehearsals work. His function as a critical barometer was even more significant after the run-throughs as we approached the opening of a new show. His help in fine tuning key final touches of a show has been indispensable. He has a remarkable ability to notice things that most others over look, and shows an uncompromising insistence in articulating key critical points. These qualities are rooted in the solid ground of knowing classic and contemporary dramatic literature, and at the same time they reflect his rich, first-hand experience of today’s world-wide theatrical practices. Often, I much appreciated his rigorous yet tactful persistence in pointing out inconsistencies in a given “reading” of a scene, noticing cracks between the dramaturgical spirit of the play and the directorial approach/treatment of the material in production. Every time I work with Michael, I think of him as a sort of embodiment of my own directorial conscience. He doesn’t miss a chance to bring up challenges, thoughtful reminders, and questions or comments meant to prevent me from deviating from or jumping away and too far beyond the true substance of the text.
Particularly valuable has been the steady support Michael gives to actors. He knows how to help them search deeper for the defining traits of a given character and toward grafting these features onto their inner, most personal artistic sensibility and performative skills.
Another aspect of Michael’s work – quite important to my mind – has been his initiative, and firm determination to make each program and/or study guide for a production more than a disposable play-bill printing reductive explanations or short-cuts for a quick, shallow understanding a show. Rather, he considers these publications to be substantial tools for the education of theatergoers. In their pages they can find and enjoy reading selections of first-rate critical views, memorable quotes, excerpts and comments about the author, the play, their cultural context and significance, all valuable long after the encounter with the play in performance. I cannot help but thinking of Michael when such published booklets turn out to be worth saving — an asset for one’s personal library.
In the years since I left Minneapolis, the destiny of the Guthrie Theater has continued to be very close to my heart — always of major theatrical significance and impact. So, of course, I am truly delighted that the artistic leaders who succeeded me at the head of this second-to-none institution, the much-missed Garland Wright and now Joe Dowling, have in turn fully recognized and appreciated Michael Lupu and his priceless function in the theater. I am quite sure — I know it! — that somewhere within the walls and under the hallowed roof of this citadel of the American theater, you’ll find some indelible traces of Michael’s spirit, his very heart!