Allie's Questionnaire

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Allie Lalonde, SITI Company’s wizard of communications and development, is also simultaneously writing her final thesis paper in completion of the MFA requirements for Columbia University’s Theater Management and Producing Program in the School of the Arts.  Her thesis addresses issues about audiences in our current environment of technology and social media. Allie sent me a series of questions that I found very worthwhile and provocative. For the February blog I would like to share her questions and my answers with you:

Getting Lost

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Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.  (André Gide)

In 1947 Nina Vance, who at the time had only $2.17 in her handbag but was determined to start a new theatrical venture, emptied the contents of her handbag onto a table and proposed that with that available money she would found a new theater company.  Postcard stamps at the time cost one penny apiece.  She and her friends addressed 217 postcards inviting people to gather at a particular time and place to discuss starting a new theater.  And thus was born the Alley Theater in Houston, Texas, one of the nation’s leading regional repertory theaters.

The Business of Busyness

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Several years ago the performance artist and composer Laurie Anderson spoke with my directing students at Columbia University and advised them never to relate their dreams to other people. “No one ever wants to hear the details of your dreams,” she said. Later I shared Laurie’s insight with Leon Ingulsrud, my colleague and Co-Artistic Director of SITI Company, who then proposed a few other things that people never want to hear about: “People never want to hear about how busy you are or how tired you are,” he said.

The creative balance between two possible states of being

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A number of years ago I co-taught a class for graduate directors and actors at Columbia University with Kristin Linklater.  One afternoon I mentioned to Kristin that in order to catch a Metro North train I would need to leave class a few minutes before the scheduled 5 p.m. finish.  We agreed that she would lead the final hour and that I would participate until I had to leave.

Uninterrupted Connection

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Several years ago I conducted a ten-day Viewpoints workshop at PlayMakers Repertory Company in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with members of the PlayMakers Company and graduate students from the University of North Carolina.  At the time I was furiously studying neuroscience in preparation for a SITI production about the brain entitled Who Do You Think You Are.  My friend Bonnie Raphael, the vocal coach at Playmakers, mentioned that the neurophysiologist R.

Conscious Delay

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SITI Company is currently engaged in a three-year project with the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois.  Supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, our shared endeavor is entitled Making Communities Visible. The Krannert is an imposing and formidable performing arts center sometimes called “the Lincoln Center of the Midwest.”  But among some constituents of the Champaign-Urbana community, the Krannert is considered elitist and inaccessible.

Art as handshake

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My new book, What’s the Story: Essays about Art, Theater and Storytelling, has been published by Routledge Press and is now available in paperback, hardcover and eBook and I am delighted to share it with you.  Many of the original ideas in What’s the Story were developed in the context of my monthly SITI blogs.  After I completed the book last September, I was a bit at a loss about how to continue with the blogs. This loss triggered the proposal for Prompts for Anne and may also explain why the blogs during these past months have been so sporadic. But now that the new book is officially published, I feel refreshed and ready to begin again to develop new ideas towards the next book.

Make It New

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Most SITI Company members have heard me tell the “naked nun” joke far too many times. It goes something like this: soon after emerging from a hot bath, a nun, still naked, hears a knock on her cell door.  “Who’s there?” she asks.  A man’s booming voice answers, “It’s the blind man.” Assuming that he cannot see her, the nun does not bother putting on her clothes and opens the door to find a man carrying a large package on his shoulder.  He looks her up and down and says, “Nice tits, now where do you want the blinds?” 

If any company member is present when I am telling the “naked nun” joke, I know that I must find a way to tell it with an irresistible freshness.  If I do not, I know that my colleagues will not be amused. For me the task is clear: make it new!  To reinvent the story while telling it requires heightened awareness and wakefulness. I pay sharp attention to attack, accents and timing.

Similarly, I find that part of the challenge, of working with the same group of people for over two decades, is that it is very difficult to rest on one’s laurels and suggest old stand-by ideas or solutions to new problems. In rehearsal I cannot propose ideas that we have used before without getting grief about applying concepts from a previous production. “You have pulled that card already,” someone is bound to say.

Reflections on the Prompts

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The new Prompts for Anne approach to the blog has provoked some eloquent writing and thinking from various readers.  A few of the prompts impelled me to respond and others are self-contained observations and rich thoughts, which I will include below.  Please continue to send me prompts via email to prompts (at) siti.org.

From Neil Utterback:

As a theatre maker and a theatre educator I find myself often wrestling with an ethical issue. A significant foundation of our training at Juniata is in Viewpoints and Suzuki. I’ve been lucky enough to train with SITI on a couple of marvelous occasions yet I have never trained with SCOT (well, not yet). I guess it’s a kind of Theseus’ Ship problem: How many generations out does a thing no longer exist as the original? For example, if I have never trained with Suzuki can I call what I teach the Suzuki Method? Or if I am making my own additions and alterations to how I teach Viewpoints can I still say that I am teaching Viewpoints? Or is it something else? Or is it just about transparency? I feel like, as the training becomes more and more incorporated into academia and other companies, we have to engage in a conversation about its evolution, the genomics of theatre pedagogy, if you will. Thoughts?

What's the Question

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Questions are the key tool of every theater artist.  Each worthwhile project is animated by curiosity, by questions, by a nagging itch that requires attention. Part of what makes a play endure through time is the significance of the question that lies at its core.

Emily Dickenson wrote, “Wonder is not precisely knowing, and not precisely knowing not.”  To live in between knowing and “knowing not” is a fecund place and a creative one as well.

I have found that many great questions can be answered with a single word:  Exactly.  These questions are themselves an embodiment of the action of trying to answer them. For example: Question:  How can I balance my personal life and my professional life?   Answer:  Exactly.  Or, question:  How can I work collaboratively and yet still maintain my personal vision?  Answer:  Exactly.  The paradox contains precisely the problem that needs attention.  The answer is an ongoing action.

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