Women & Shakespeare Spotlight: Victoria Teague

Women & Shakespeare Spotlight: Victoria Teague

This spotlight focuses on Victoria Teague, GRSF Resident Dramaturg. A dramaturg is often one of those jobs which makes people ask, “What is that?” when they hear the word the first time. Many theater companies hire dramaturgs (who often work as text coaches as well), but you’ll most often find them at theaters doing “classical” works – and especially Shakespeare. For information about what a Text Coach does in our company, you can check out this video from our archives!

Victoria Teague is the Resident Dramaturg for GRSF

However, the work of a dramaturg is a little different. Victoria spends the great majority of her time in libraries surrounded by books – dictionaries, lexicons, and several different versions of the script being produced. After extensive research, she then spends a great deal of time with the director and actors making sure everyone has a firm grasp on the language of the play. Victoria said, “There are always a multitude of ways to present the text so I do my best to prepare, but then often an actor will read a tricky line out loud and all of a sudden it’s crystal clear exactly what it always meant.” The process is a constantly evolving understanding of what the play means to a specific company, for a specific audience, and in a certain context. Each performance of a script will reveal something new about the characters and the story. 

Victoria did not initially set out to be a dramaturg. Of her journey to this career, Victoria said:

I caught the theater bug in high school and haven’t looked back. My earliest dream was to be a big star on “the Broad-way” but along the way I realized what I wanted even more was to create art for and with a community I loved… for me, I found I could reach that goal with more fulfillment working behind the table first as a director then as a dramaturg and text coach. I love imaging the big picture, coming up with overarching themes and crafting a stage picture from the perspective of an audience member. [I] hope to continue to do those jobs to bring approachable theater to more audiences in the future.

Victoria moderates a discussion following a staged reading of a play by former GRSF company member Brian White.

We asked Victoria about mentors she’s had who have helped her on her “theater journey”. She cited her college theater history professor as a major influence.

“[DeAnna Toten Beard] taught an excellent contemporary plays class in which she advised us to go blindly into the theater as often as we can because theater is meant to be seen and experienced,” Victoria said. As someone who loves reading and is enthusiastic about homework and research, “just going” to the theater can be difficult. However, Victoria said, her professor was right: “There’s nothing like the moment before a production starts when the lights go down, everyone breathes in together, unsure of what to expect, and the performance begins. It’s what makes theater different from other art forms and I try to remember that as often as I can.”

Victoria’s research helps the actors to fully understand every word they are saying, and why… which in turn makes the “archaic” language of Shakespeare accessible to our modern ears. Image: The cast of Macbeth, GRSF 2019. Photo by Sydney Swanson.

Those moments of the unexpected, as well as the collaborative nature of theater, are some of Victoria’s favorite things about working in the arts. Yet it’s the passion of theatermakers that Victoria really loves.

“Because it is a tough and uncertain lifestyle, it’s not often you find people in the theater ‘just because it’s a job’,” she said. “People who work in the theater do it because they will not be satisfied doing anything else, and that energy is electric and contagious in the best possible way. It more often than not makes for a positive, we-can-do-this-together attitude that is amazing to walk into day after day.”

She continued, “However, I think many people consider theater a hobby and not a career and I wish that was different… because of that [mindset, artists] are not always compensated for their work in the way they deserve to be.” 

And, like many careers in the theater, dramaturgy involves a LOT of work! Victoria said her process starts with research – lots of it. She meticulously pores over scripts, “translating” the language so that she knows “the definition of each word, understand complicated phrases, can relay the meaning of now archaic references that were pop culture moments in Shakespeare’s day”. Victoria said what’s so fun about her job is that there are always other ways to interpret the text; what’s exciting is that you can be as academic as you want with Shakespeare’s text, but “at the end of the day his words are meant to be spoken aloud”.

The groundwork laid by Victoria and other dramaturgs and text coaches not only helps actors grasp the language, but understand the subtleties of each character. Image: Blake Henri, De’Onna Prince, and William Sturdivant in Cymbeline, GRSF 2019. Photo by Sydney Swanson.

GRSF is certainly a great place to both do the research and enjoy the excitement of hearing the text spoken aloud. Victoria arrived at GRSF a few years ago, when she was still dating her now-husband Bryan Hunt, the director of the Apprentice Program. Some of her favorite memories are of “long conversations about theater at The Legion, spending time outside, away from NYC, in the remarkable green summer landscape of Winona and having the opportunity to work alongside my husband on the apprentice productions the last few years”.

Finally, we asked Victoria what she wishes people knew about the job she does. She had a fantastic answer:

When you watch a Shakespeare production you experience the play as a combination of many parts – the language, the acting, the costumes, the sound, the lights, etc etc etc. The text is, of course, just one piece of that experience. But, in order for the audience to understand the play, we (the actors, director and I) have broken down that text and paraphrased it into our [own] words. We know what every single word means and what it’s attached to and then beyond that we have analyzed the way each line is spoken to maximize how the audience can best understand it. It’s an essential part of the process that’s tedious and important and nerdy and fun and I think it’s a cool thing to share with our audiences!

In addition to all the work she does on the plays themselves, Victoria lays the groundwork for all of our pre-show conversations and the Thursday night company conversations. Her work is integral to many of the educational components of the festival as well as the performances themselves. To learn more about Victoria’s work – and enjoy the result of what she does, check out the productions this summer.