How does Miller use expressionist dramaturgy and what are some examples?Is expressionist dramaturgy nothing more than using drama to present an expressionist theme or idea?

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creativethinking | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

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Arthur Miller, though he came after the height of expressionist literature, definitely does speak to its themes and techniques through dramaturgy. Let's get each of these terms down and then see how they work together.

First, dramaturgy (as defined by Wikipedia) is "the art of dramatic composition and the representation of the main elements of drama on the stage." Dramaturgy extends beyond the words of the play and involves all aspects of bringing the story to life on the stage. This can be particularly apparent in the physical details made apparent in the stage directions. How does the playwright/dramaturg envision the story unfolding? How do the characters look, move, and express? These types of things, which only come into effect in a live performance, are what dramaturgy encompasses.

Literature classified as belonging to expressionism, according to the eNotes guide on the subject, "attempts to represent the psychological depth and texture of the human experience through a series of fragmented and disjointed symbolic images." I think that suits  Miller's Death of a Salesman flawlessly. The eNotes guide also mentions that the main characters in expressionist works "often discover that the life they have been living is a sham, and through a sign or circumstance, or dint of sheer will, attempt to change their lot." These characters are often martyred in the pursuit of their own self-realization. This sounds quite a bit like John Proctor from Miller's The Crucible. Seems that Miller does indeed fit the expressionist description.

So if expressionism is mainly concerned with allowing audiences to relate to the emotional and psychological experiences of the characters, how can this be physically conveyed on the stage? The answer to that will show us how dramaturgy can be expressionistic. I'll point you to the opening stage directions from Death of a Salesman. Miller sets the stage meticulously, creating an oppressive aura of city walls closing in around the Loman house. There's an "angry glow of orange" (very evocative of expressionist artwork). The house itself, described as having no physical walls, allows for that fragmented, psychologically shifting type of plot. As Willy appears, the actor playing him is directed to convey, through face, posture, and a sigh, that he is a man of "little cruelties," "massive dreams," and "turbulent longings." Creating a performance situation where that can happen--where an audience can feel as if they are inhabiting the characters' emotions and minds--accomplishes successful expressionist dramaturgy.

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