Five questions with: Director Anne Bogart

The Examined Life Conference: The Vital and Energetic Interplay of the Somatic, the Affective and the Cognitive in an Audience’s Experience of Theater

University of Iowa, Room 1110 Medical Education Research Facility (MERF) — Friday, Oct. 25 at 1 p.m.

Creative Matters Lecture Series: Anne Bogart

Hancher Auditorium, Strauss Hall — Friday, Oct. 25 at 7 p.m.

SITI Company Presents: The Bacchae

Hancher Auditorium — Saturday, Oct. 26 at 7:30 p.m.

Theater director Anne Bogart has three events in Iowa City, Oct. 25-26. — Craig Schwartz

Anne Bogart has influenced decades of actors and directors as one of the most formidable minds in American theater. She trained at Bard College and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Bogart currently serves as one of three co-artistic directors of SITI Company, which she founded in 1992 with Japanese director Tadashi Suzuki. SITI Company is currently touring its recent production of Euripides’ The Bacchae, in a new translation by Aaron Poochigian. The show (a portion of which is performed in Japanese) brings Bogart to Iowa City for a production at Hancher Auditorium on Saturday, Oct. 26 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10-45.

The Viewpoints training technique, which grew over several decades out of Mary Overlie’s Six Viewpoints theory, was formalized by Bogart and Tina Landau (Steppenwolf Theatre Company) in The Viewpoints Book, providing an invaluable resource for students and educators who had long admired their work. Viewpoints provides a tangible, physical grounding practice as well as an overarching philosophical practice for theater artists and ensembles.

At Columbia University, where she has worked as a professor since 1993 and where she currently heads the graduate directing program, Bogart has trained some of the most exciting names in recent theater, including Diane Paulus, whose 2013 Pippin revival earned her a Tony Award, and Rachel Chavkin, who won a Tony this year for directing Hadestown.

In addition to the performance of The Bacchae, Bogart will speak on Friday, Oct. 25 at 1 p.m. as part of this weekend’s Examined Life Conference, the 13th annual University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine exploration of the link between medicine and the arts. On Friday night at 7 p.m., she will deliver the second lecture in the UI Creative Matters lecture series for the 2019-20 school year. Both events are free and open to the public.

Bogart answered questions for our “Five questions with …” series via email.

Scenes from ‘The Bacchae,’ performed by SITI Company, directed by Anne Bogart, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music Harvey Theater on Oct. 3, 2018. — Stephanie Berger/courtesy of BAM

In the decades since you codified your Viewpoints approach, what about it has felt most enduring and timeless? What aspects of it have evolved?

The event of actors listening and responding to one another and creating work for an audience in the moment — starting with a blank page and making significant compositional moments together based upon listening and responding — is the most enduring and timeless aspect of the Viewpoints.

Producing new work is a core value of SITI. Do you collaborate closely with playwrights through the development process? Is there a flexibility built into your directorial process to navigate that collaboration?

The key is the word that you use, “flexibility.” We do indeed work with many living playwrights and it is always a collaboration and in collaboration with them, but with each one and with each project it is a different story entirely, based upon the specifics of the project and the challenges that the particular play provides.

What is similar and different, then, when you approach directing a play like The Bacchae, which has only ever been produced posthumously? How do you access what you need for the translation of the work to the stage?

When we embody a classic play like The Bacchae, I am interested in including the history of the play and all of its previous productions into our consideration about how to stage it it today. For example: If playing Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire, do you pretend that Marlon Brando never performed the role? What do you do with the ghost and memory of Marlon Brando? It certainly exists in the audience’s imagination, and so how do you incorporate that memory into your body?

Scenes from ‘The Bacchae’ performed by SITI Company, directed by Anne Bogart, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music Harvey Theater on Oct. 3, 2018. — Stephanie Berger/courtesy of BAM

In a blog post from earlier this week, you wrote that “the art experience requires the audience’s participation in solving a slightly elusive mystery.” You raise the question of how an artist can draw that commitment from an audience — what about other factors? In what ways can people ready themselves to be more collaborative audiences? What role, if any, do you feel arts criticism plays?

Art critics should be art enthusiasts, literally in love with the art form and overflowing with curiosity and interest. Their job is to infect potential audiences with their own interest by contextualizing and communicating their enthusiasms and insights.

As for the kind of commitment an audience brings: Shut down all social media and the outside world for the time allotted for the production and enter into the very particular world, logic and language of the play that you are experiencing. The director Bill Ball said in his book A Sense of Direction that he thought of audiences as heroic because they had agreed to not think about themselves for the two hours.

What is the most exciting, surprising and/or revelatory moment you had as a director over the course of your most recent production? What, currently, in theater, inspires you to grow, either as a director or as an educator?

We recently created a new production with the STREB company entitled Falling & Loving. Everyone thought that the process was going to be a battle and a struggle — a battle between SITI actors and STREB dancers, a struggle between Elizabeth Streb and me and between our two administrations. It turned out to be a love story, and the production reflected that love.

My MFA directing students at Columbia are a constant inspiration to me. Where they are heading, what they are thinking, how they handle making art in the current environment teaches me how to change and develop.

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