Talking With Anne Bogart :: ’Director of the Directors’
There’s a new Bogart in town primed to steal all the light from Bogie by reinventing theater and the way we look at, live with, and if she could do it Anne Bogart would change how we all work in theater. Then she might just move on to reinvent the rest of the arts.
Bogart, this one at least, is a passionate believer in community and the power of the arts as a community, to create beauty and tell compelling stories. When I sat down with Anne Bogart on her 61st birthday this fall in the wonderful slanting sun at a table near where she is the "director of the directors" at Columbia University, she was so self-effacing, that when I queried her about recent or up-and-coming shows she demurred. " Oh we did something in Maryland, but I didn’t invite anyone."
It wasn’t until I poked a bit that she confirmed that the company where she is the co-artistic director, SITI, was presenting a new "Trojan Women" at BAM that runs through this Saturday. And YES it was her fifth time as an artist at BAM. Now we all know that there are directors, actors, choreographers who would give foot, hand or soul for a date on any of BAM’s stages and yet here is Bogart underplaying the wondrous arc of her company and her personal career.
Always wanted to direct theater
Bogart is a prolific and award-winning American theater and opera director who says, " I always knew I wanted to do, and it was to direct theater. I directed all the time in high school, but my family was a Navy family and as luck would have it since I wasn’t a boy, I got to make a choice."
Bogart’s father was an Admiral, as was her grandfather Raymond Spruance, who spearheaded the pivotal Battle of Midway in World War Two.
The battles that Anne Bogart helms are all on stage or the classroom, but they are masterful. According to drama critic Mel Gussow, " Bogart is a director of the present moment and, one might add, the prescient moment. Relentlessly she searches for imaginative ways to renew the theatrical experience, to make it more relevant for herself and those who are receiving it." This is no easy battle to wage again and again on stages world wide, but her audiences are fiercely loyal.
Bogart herself is that sort of audience member. While in the NYU grad program in Performance Studies, studying with Richard Schechner she went to see his inspired version of "Mother Courage" "over 20 times." Bogart says that she believes she probably couldn’t get into the current NYU program and laughs heartily, "And to think I run a program now and one that I attempt to make mirror the good things I saw and learned as a student, and yet to make it modern and more collaborative."
As one of the artistic directors of the SITI Company, Bogart has to practice collaborative artistry. The company was founded in 1992 with Japanese director Tadashi Suzuki. The SITI Company’s exacting training methods have been detailed in the ’Viewpoints.’ This is a movement and gesture skill set and style. It was begun in the 70s by choreographer Mary Overie as a method of improvisation and has been tweaked and perfected by Bogart and Suzuki.
Bogart thinks that theater is an art form where the subject really is, "Can we get along together." She sees her new version of the "Trojan Women" as asking that question on many levels. " How can a group, a large group of actors get along on a stage and continue in a non hierarchical way? Theater puts social systems under a microscope. In ’Trojan Women’ we are asking how do you find salvation? And as a Brechtian, I do not want the audience to be swallowed up in agony. There have to be diversions for the audience to stay present."
"Love at first sight"
Bogart runs residencies around the world and gives workshops and master classes at institutions as diverse as La Mama Umbria, The Abbey in Dublin and many American universities, theaters and conservatories on a panoply of continents. She has won two best director Obies, A Bessie as Choreographer/Creator for her work with "South Pacific." Bogart has a Career achievement award from the American Theater Wing and has garnered grants from Pew Charitable Trust, and Guggenheim.
Bogart is a lauded director, a teacher, and an author of three books: "A Director Prepares," "The Viewpoints Book" (with Tina Landau) and "And Then, You Act." There is also, "Conversations with Anne," a collection of interviews she has conducted with various notable artists.
As well, Bogart has a life with her wife, British writer Rena Chelouche Rogel. "We met on a blind date and really it was love at first sight." They now have a big rambling house in upstate New York that was built in 1850 with a capacious barn that houses the company as often as they can get there. "I am a better person knowing that house is there for me, for us."
"I am very hopeful about the future of theater," Bogart muses as our birthday lunch winds to a close," when I ask young directors or students whose work they like, they name companies, they name cultures. I am hopeful because I think the cult of star director may be waning. I see this as a sign that theater students are interested in collaborative cultures. And that is very hopeful."
For more on Anne Bogart and the SITI Company, visit the SITI Company website.
Watch this video interview with Anne Bogart: