I’m currently going through a phase where I’m reading everything Anne Bogart has ever written.
If you don’t know who Anne Bogart is…you should Google her right now and read about the incredible things she does. She truly embodies the definition of a theatrical pioneer. Most famously credited for establishing the Viewpoints acting method as a common practice in American theatre, she is also a director and stage artist who has created some of the most prolific productions of the past fifty years. She is the Artistic Director of the SITI Company, which she founded, and she runs the graduate directing program at Columbia University. When I was moving a few weeks ago, I found my copy of her book A Director Prepares, which was required freshman reading for me. I meant to skim some of my favorite sections…but I couldn’t put it down. Concepts and ideas that I thought I understood two years ago now only ring truer after more experience and personal growth. I read the book in one sitting, and when I was done, I went off in search of more.
Fortunately, she has a new book out this year. Conversations with Anne features 24 interviews that she conducted with her friends, colleagues, and collaborators. They range from playwright Paula Vogel to choreographer Bill T. Jones to director Julie Taymor to administrator Oscar Eustis, with dozens of others in between. They discuss audience development, writing, technique, community, history…the list truly does go on and on.
As one would expect, having expert craftsmen converse with one another yields truly fascinating and inspiring results. I am always most struck by her dedication to creating theatre that reflects and speaks to her community on a deeply personal and intrinsic level. She also advocates bringing an international perspective to creating American work. She’s made good on her commitment for many years, and I believe that her advice will speak to anyone working creatively, no matter what medium.
Certainly all of the interviews are worth reading, but one that I have already reread several times is her conversation with Zelda Fichandler, who founded Arena Stage in Washington DC. Zelda is another American theatre pioneer and they’ve both been working for a long time, so they had a lot to discuss. My favorite part, though, was when the conversation turned to the power of words:
Anne Bogart: If you can find the words to describe your thing they’re like keys. They unlock doors, but they have to fit.
Zelda Fichandler: And they have to appeal to something—an image, the imagination of whoever you’re talking to—so they feel they’re putting their faith and their money into something that matters to them or that brings them prestige or that connects them to a spiritual, functional endeavor. Words are very, very important in building an institution—because, as you know, you have to invigorate the troupes with language. You have to find words to inspire, to inspirit. To keep alive the creative impulse.
AB: I think in this culture we give up too easily on language.
ZF: I think that’s true. Not enough people believe in the cracks in the universe that you have to wiggle into to get anything new established. There are cracks—places that are not filled in that need to be filled in, so the edifice doesn’t crumble. And if you believe in the arts passionately, they fit into those cracks, because without those connective tissues of understanding all we are are people who go to war every so often.
I believe in having heroes in your chosen field, and Anne Bogart is certainly one of mine. Her new collection of interviews is certainly revealing and, just like her other books, never fail to inspire me to think deeper and work harder.
Conversations with Anne is published by the Theatre Communications Group, Inc. (C) The SITI Company, 2012.