What he does: If you have been to a play at the Alley Theatre or the University of Houston recently and wondered how certain productions achieve a feeling of authenticity or somehow seem to flow better, Shimko is one person to thank. Shimko is a dramaturg; In assisting directors with facts and suggestions on how to improve a play, dramaturgs can become underappreciated jacks of all trades in a sense because they are behind-the-scenes. Still, Shimko insists "it's better for the dramaturg to be curious than a know-it-all."
Why he likes it: It all began with his interest in history and theater growing up. In college, Shimko wanted to be a theater historian.
"I like to say it's my job I was training for all my life, although I didn't realize it," Shimko says. "I didn't even hear the word 'dramaturg' until my first year of grad school at the University of Minnesota."
He enjoyed learning and applying his newfound knowledge by creating his own one-act play, Specks , in 1999. From there, he was able to use his experience as a published playwright to teach students how to improve their own plays and to perfect his craft in working with other professional playwrights. Shimko believes it's his "collective job to create or recreate whole worlds on stage, so everyone involved has to think 'dramaturgically' to some degree."
What inspires him: "One of the fun things about being a dramaturg is that you never know what your next project will require [you] to bone up on," Shimko says. Two years ago, Shimko considered himself a mini-expert in stamp-collecting because of its importance in a show at the Alley.
Shimko spends countless days preparing his research for specific productions. "I'll also sift though all sorts of source material that might be helpful to the cast and creative staff," he says. "That can range from historical documents, like selections from Mozart's letters that are relevant to Amadeus, to short informative essays I write myself."
Shimko says he is "attracted to the modernist notion of the artist who is somehow dissatisfied with some aspect of theater, or whatever art form, and who then seeks to carve out something new with some deliberateness." In other words, when he sees something not quite right, he jumps in to help fix the problem and transform concepts and ideas.
What's next?: Currently, Shimko is assistant professor in theater history and dramaturgy at UH. He has also recently been named as senior dramaturg at the Houston Shakespeare Festival and dramaturg for the festival's summer production of Othello. Shimko previously has had a hand in plays such as Amadeus, Maruritius and Boeing-Boeing at the Alley.
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