Welcome to My Party!

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One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.

(Henry Miller)

During the late 1990s SITI Company regularly led two and three-week summer workshops in Los Angeles during which time we had the great pleasure of getting to know many members of the local theater community. Generally, SITI stayed at the Highland Gardens Hotel in Hollywood not far from the Magic Castle Hotel. Highland Gardens is a rather seedy consortium of buildings arranged around a liver shaped swimming pool, boasting that Janis Joplin died there of a heroin overdose in 1970 in room 105.

Ways of Seeing

Anne Bogart's picture

Perhaps we could say that the power of theatre is that it gives us the opportunity of a sustained gaze where we can move slowly from looking to seeing. In such moments of ocular transmutation, we catch a glimpse of something other, something deeper; a second reality that tells us more about ourselves and the world we inhabit. This is the gift of theatre, allowing us to see through things to their core, where things are brought to light that might otherwise remain hidden.

(Brian Kulick) 

The word theater is derived from the ancient Greek theatron (θέατρον). “Thea” means eyes and “tron” is a place.  The theater is, literally, a place of seeing.  The Greeks seem to have had many words for seeing, each rich with different conceptions of the act. 

Ghosts

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The thing about the past is that it’s not the past.

(old Irish saying)

Perhaps the theater is a form of eulogy and our job is to raid the graveyard regularly. The ways in which we remember dead people, those who did not finish what they had to say, and the way that we give them voice is what matters. I like to think that if the theater were a verb, it would be “to remember.” We re-member the parts. We put the fragments back together again. We excavate history in order to allow the past and those who had not finished communicating speak through us in the present moment. We are flesh and sensation and we look to be filled with the spirits of ghosts. Can we vibrate with their energy and consciousness?

Conversation or Violence

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We have a choice. We have two options as human beings. We have a choice between conversation and war. That’s it. Conversation and violence. (Sam Harris)

You push me and then I push you back. If I do not intentionally restrain myself, I will naturally push you harder than you pushed me. If then you push me back, without intentionally restraining yourself, your push will be even harder than mine. Without deliberate modulation, the escalation will continue. To speak scientifically, if the “top down” control system in the pre-frontal cortex of my brain fails to modulate my actions, especially if there is an anger-provoking stimulus like a push, violence ensues.  These reactions are chemical, and they are natural.

What is True What is False

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Yes, I have tricks in my pocket; I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.

(Tennessee Williams) 

In the current climate of fear and lie mongering, Harold Pinter’s 2005 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech is worth listening to again or re-reading. Pinter sits in a wheelchair in London, too ill to make the trip to Stockholm, and speaks eloquently about the difference between truth and lies, reality and unreality in art versus in political life. He begins by taking issue with something that he himself wrote in 1958: “There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false.  A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.”

Making Decisions Together

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My close friends who are jazz aficionados usually are surprised and puzzled by my aversion to a great deal of contemporary jazz. They assume that I would love all jazz because of my affinity for music and because I am so intensely interested in group creation and improvisation. They point to my fascination with the origins of American cultural history, noting that jazz is acknowledged as the first true North American art form. But the fact is that I cringe while listening to what I consider noodle-y jazz. I find myself annoyed at what feels to be chaotic and unstructured noise.

I do enjoy jazz from earlier periods, including New Orleans jazz from the first part of the last century, dance music from the 1930s including swing, Kansas City and Gypsy Jazz. I like bebop from the 1940s. But I duck out around the “cool jazz” of the late 1940s and especially into the 50s. I am lost when it comes to modal jazz, fusion jazz and smooth jazz.  

Hold Your Seat

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On a recent evening in Santa Monica I saw Bo Burnham’s new film “Eighth Grade.” I walked out of the cinema in a daze and remained haunted by it for quite some time afterwards. In the film, a young girl struggles to get along with her peers. She and her friends are glued to their phones and seemingly addicted to social media. She is desperate to be accepted and, although isolated in her personal life and at school, she sends out messages of optimism and motivation to the world via her vlogs and Instagram. 

Every once in a while, I encounter a work of art that feels so true to our current cultural moment that I become somewhat catatonic after the experience. “Eighth Grade” had such an impact upon me because it captured the culture of flighty digital dependency that I recognize as the base line, the underbelly, of our current daily lives.

Influence

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I currently serve on the Executive Board of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC), the union for directors and choreographers. Recently at Board meetings and, in fact, amidst many directors in the field, conversations abound around the phenomenon of theater directors who copy the staging created by other theater directors. The subject is discussed with great heat and passion in the search for due process and even litigation. What actions can be taken in retribution for a director stealing the work of another director? 

Although I am certainly not advocating that directors make direct copies of other directors’ work, I am interested in the phenomenon of influence. We do not create in a void.

Getting Stuck and (hopefully) Getting Unstuck

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Experiencing an impasse in one’s work or personal life can feel both painful and complicated. But I also know that an impasse is a sign, a signal that attention must be paid, and something must change. Lately I have been getting stuck repeatedly, in the artistic process, in daily life, with family, with friends and with colleagues. In writing here I hope to share the strategies that I am struggling with in my attempts become unstuck. I cannot state triumphantly that I am succeeding, but I am trying. The process is awkward and time-consuming, but I know that it is necessary. In writing here I am striving personally, even in the midst of being stuck, to unpack the dilemma of being stuck. I hope that writing these reflections will help. I shall start with a fairly recent professional impasse.

A Meditation upon Dionysus's Smile

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The poorest way to face life is to face it with a sneer.  (Theodore Roosevelt)

I already miss Anthony Bourdain, a man who traveled the world through his senses and shared his experiences and enthusiasms with countless viewers.  His access to the world came first through food, which led him to stories, which in turn, through his senses, his palate and his openness, led to an empathy for specific cultures and the individuals within those cultures.  His palpable humanity seemed to arise from learning people’s stories through their food. Bourdain often insisted that he was the dumbest person in the room, that in his journeys he constantly discovered that he had been wrong about the assumptions with which he had arrived. He stayed open to influence and cultural difference.  And then, apparently, he committed suicide.

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