The Tentpoles of Our Future

Anne Bogart's picture

I travelled from New York to London on March 11, 2020 carrying a small suitcase and expecting to stay for one week with my wife Rena.  Now it is mid-August and I am still in the UK with no idea about when it will be safe to return home. This is not what I planned and not what I had in mind. But this is the situation now. These are the circumstances.  Since then, how many lives have been lost?  How many jobs?  How many plans and projects have been put on endless delay?  How many evictions, hurricanes, fires and how much civil unrest? Where will it end? When shall we re-emerge again, blinking in the daylight?  We are experiencing a time of seismic rupture and nothing short of a paradigm shift. One thing is guaranteed: things will be different “afterwards.” And things must be different. Meanwhile, the tide has gone out to reveal the dark underbelly of the capitalist enterprise spread out upon the proverbial ocean floor. What we can now perceive so clearly is the detritus, the environmental waste and the racial and economic inequality that had been submerged in the ocean of our busy-ness, willful neglect and heedless consumption.


Don't Miss It

Will Bond's picture

All philosophical problems are linguistic confusion - Ludwig Wittgenstein

 

Some years ago, my long time friend and SITI Company member Leon described  an idea for a book he wanted to make. It was a dictionary of theatrical terminology. It occurred to him that in this culture at least, because of the variety of methodologies and practices, there wasn’t an agreed upon understanding of common terminology used in the work of the actor.

 

For example the use of the word objective, which comes to us via the Method of acting as derived from Stanislavski in Russia, is  very common in education and rehearsal terminology. On the one hand, an objective has to do with the character’s intention, what she is working to achieve, what she wants from another character in the scene, and how to get it. Already we are in a tangle of assumptions. The first assumption is that of character, what that is, and whether such a thing really exists at all for the actor. Second is whether a character, which isn’t real, actually wants something. And third, that an objective has anything to do with a psychological story. If you believe in a character then you believe in a psychological story. And if you don’t believe in a character, then you are free not to believe in a psychological story.  And so these words, and our various ways of understanding them, might make the prospect of working on a play with a cast of  total strangers in a regional theater really confusing.

Shining Light Into Dark Places

Anne Bogart's picture

I am working towards completion of a new book of essays entitled “The Art of Resonance.”  As part of the process over the past several months, I have been writing about the centrality of resonance in our work as artists in my SITI blog posts. Composing these posts helps me to clarify my thinking about the central theme of the book. This blog is a further meditation upon resonance and its role in the artistic process.

Resonance is the opposite of alienation. The experience of resonance requires a profound connection to the world, to the environment and to others. Alienation is the inability or impossibility to enter into a relation with the other, to form a meaningful relationship of mutual understanding and interaction, either with our material surroundings or with fellow human beings. Alienation from one another and from the environment leads to stagnant systems governed by domination and appropriation, a hegemony obsessed with accumulating resources and keeping out any unfamiliar or unwanted influences. 

 

The Illusion of Control

Anne Bogart's picture

 

But man, proud man,

Drest in a little brief authority,

Most ignorant of what he’s most assured,

His glassy essence, like an angry ape,

Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven

As make the angels weep.

(William Shakespeare)

Normally the more uncertain I am, the more I crave control. I want to feel in control, and I want to exert control because I feel safer when I believe that I can control things. But in the current confined-to-home state, I may not be alone experiencing the overwhelming sensation that I control next to nothing. In the face of this great unpredictability, I have the opportunity to consider issues of control in new ways.

A Beautiful Container

Will Bond's picture

These days you might be experiencing much the same as so many of us, and finding yourself cleaning drawers, pulling shoeboxes out from under the bed,  pouring over old photographs, or, like me right now, reading over old journals and notes from teaching and writing.  Forgive me for using this space as a place to organize thoughts, or to try things out. Here is something I found after returning from Japan in 2015 after performing in the anniversary festival in Toga Mura with the SCOT Company.

It begins: I had a revelation. 

Intentional Civics Revisited

Anne Bogart's picture

For his thesis production, a third-year Columbia director chose to stage T. S. Eliot’s 1935 verse drama Murder in the Cathedral in St. John’s Cathedral on the upper west side of Manhattan. For the production, he was granted access to several of the small chapels that surround the nave and apse. I have never cared for Eliot’s heady and rather convoluted play and this production struggled to capture the attention and imagination of the audience. The vastness, verticality and baroque nature of the space did not help the actors who tried valiantly and without much success to embody the characters and tell the story. But one scene came unexpectedly into focus when one of the actors had to speak to another through the metal bars that fenced off a chapel. Suddenly the acting came alive, his voice came into focus, the presence of the actor expanded, and the scene lit up. I believe that the success of the scene had to do with the effort required for one actor to connect with the other. The obstacle of the metal bars in between them heightened their rapport and successfully dilated the moment.   

Language, Love and Code Switching

Anne Bogart's picture

I find that one of the best, but most difficult, ways for me to learn is to drop my own defensiveness, at least temporarily, and to try to understand the way in which his experience seems and feels to the other person. (Carl Rogers)

I am disturbed by the increased reports of people on the streets being attacked for speaking a different language. “You shouldn’t speak other languages” is a phrase shouted out regularly.  Last month a mother and daughter, walking home from dinner, were attacked on the streets of Boston because they were speaking Spanish. The attackers punched, kicked and bit the two women, shouting “This is America. Speak English!”  I am likewise disturbed by the US president calling the Coronavirus “The Chinese Virus.”  These are words and language that can engender virulent reactivity and destructive action.

 

The Art of Forgetting

Anne Bogart's picture

At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel. 

(Maya Angelou)

 

Until a recent conversation with my colleague and friend Leon Ingulsrud, I believed that the most significant effects of a theater experience are the memories created in the minds and bodies of the audience in the heat of a performance. If the theater were a verb, I believed, it would be “to re-member,” to put the pieces back together again.  Memory is a protein that is formed in the brain in the moments of intense emotional experience and our synaptic pathways can create repeated access to said memories.  But Leon, who is thinking a lot about memory loss due to a family member’s struggle with Alzheimer’s, asked me how theater might be beneficial to those without the capacity to remember. What about people who have trouble forming memories? 

 

Why Training is Necessary

Anne Bogart's picture

Singer-songwriter Ben Folds recently wrote a memoir entitled A Dream About Lightning Bugs.  As a child during the summer months, he captured lightning bugs, also known as fireflies, to put into glass jars in order to show and astonish his friends. The metaphor of capturing lightning bugs in jars is not lost on him as a metaphor for what artists do. 

 

Creating art is about processing, distilling and making visible to others what is luminous to you. We encounter a moment in nature, in life, in our studies, on our journeys, in our relationships, we absorb the experience and then, perhaps, we would like to share it. We want to put it into a jar and point to it and allow its inner light to be visible to others. And yet, as we move away from childhood, to do so is not so easy.

The Power of Sustained Attention or The Difference Between Looking and Seeing

Anne Bogart's picture

 

There are always flowers for those who want to see them.

(Henri Matisse)

 

As a theater director, my job is to watch over, to pay attention, to bring empathy and quick thinking to each rehearsal; to be ready to laugh or to be amazed or even disappointed. In rehearsal, I try not to react, rather I aim to be ready to respond.  I must be patient and wait like a fly fisherman, sensitive to the slightest tug, but also, at every millisecond, able to change course. I must cultivate the capacity to slow down and speed up at the same time. I face the stage with hyper presence and look without desire.  I wait. I wait for looking to become seeing.  

 

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