Photo by Paul Marotta

Café Variations (Large Version)

April 2012
Majestic Theatre (Arts Emerson), Boston

quotes about

Emerson student actors on their Café Variations experience:

The fact Café Variations is a new piece even further enhances the necessity of collaboration between all involved, where every individual plays the role of teacher AND student and learns, by working in tandem, to take new and effective artistic risks.” —Andrew Frank

I appreciate how lucky I have been to be able to work with and watch the SITI Company to inspire my own specific work and truly delve into some of the more foreign training methods with no fear.” —Abby Goldfarb

Anne Bogart and the SITI Company have created a safe atmosphere for us that has allowed us complete freedom to explore our craft in new ways. It has been a fascinating process, requiring rigorous discipline but allowing for a stimulating collaboration.” —Matt Koplik

I have enjoyed being able to learn an entirely different acting technique outside of the one we study in our classes here at Emerson. Getting a new perspective on the process of creating a play and gaining a new set of vocabulary and tools is something I will use long after the show is ended.”— Mariah MacFarlane

It’s a new experience working on a 100% collaborative piece—no detail is too small, no suggestion overlooked—it’s an amazing thing to be a part of.” Melody Madarasz

I am learning more about myself and how my body works in tandem with other individu- als than I ever have before in any kind of acting training. We’re learning how to be and how to work with human beings in here.”Maximilian Sangerman

This rehearsal process has been able to teach me about the importance of stillness, which is something I find hard to maintain as an actor.”Jake Stempel

The creation of Café Variations is a story of inspiration, influence and development, and, in the same way as the play, unfolds in a process of theme and variations. I had been thinking about a project for SITI Company that would interweave scenes from many of Charles Mee’s plays that happen in cafés. One of Mee’s recurring themes is the philosopher Heidegger’s notion that we become who we are through our relationships to other people and to the environment. I imagined that a café environment would be a perfect world for this investigation. It was clear to me that music and dance would play a key role in the project. And then came a call from Rob Orchard, the executive director of ArtsEmerson and a dear friend. He asked if I had any ideas about a musical work that could be a collaboration with Emerson’s undergraduate theatre program, ArtsEmerson and SITI Company. Yes! And then he mentioned that it might be possible to work with music from the George and Ira Gershwin catalogue. Oh yes! The project has been evolving ever since to become what you will now experience upon the stage of the beautiful Cutler Majestic Theatre. —Anne Bogart

note about process

As an old friend of the SITI Company, Arts Emerson Executive Director Robert Orchard, had been trying to find the right context to bring the company up to Boston to work on something. He was also engaged in a conversation with members of the Gershwin family about bringing the music of George and Ira Gershwin into the 21st century in engaging and exciting ways.

At the same time, Anne was thinking about the richness of cafe culture and how a wealth of scenes in the works of Chuck Mee already were or could be set in a cafe. She was also thinking about creating a work that could exist in many different scales of production. In other words, a show that could be a big, huge, fabulous production with crowds of people onstage or a small, intimate production, and everything in between.

When Rob called Anne, these two constellations of thought collided and became entangled. After some discussion it was decided that Anne and the Company would put together a “book” of scenes from the works of Chuck Mee, which would be combined with music from the George and Ira Gershwin songbook and by incorporating students from the Emerson College Musical Theatre program. The large/fabulous version of Cafe Variations would be created and presented at the Culter Majestic theatre in Boston as part of Arts Emerson’s 2011/12 season.

As with so many of SITI Company’s productions, the earliest part of the work began in Saratoga as composition work with participants in the 2011 SITI summer intensive at Skidmore College. In December, Cafe Variations was the theme of the two-week SITI Company Creative Lab in the company’s studio in New York. The bulk of this work was focused on trying to find the beginnings of what the choreographic language of the play would be—how cafe behavior could be awakened into aesthetic consciousness. A dear old friend and longtime SITI collaborator, Rachel Grimes was brought into the project as arranger/composer. During the Creative Lab, Rachel focused on which of the Gershwin pieces would be used.

It was decided that the Cafe Variations material would also be the theme for a special extension to the SITI Company winter training studio; advanced students spent the two weeks following the normal five-week session working on the material with the company. This culminated in a showing at New York Live Arts with Company members sharing the stage with students.

All through the fall and winter of 2011-12 there had been auditions in Boston, where Anne and members of the Company met and worked with the students in the Emerson Collage Musical Theatre program. Thirty of these performers were selected, and in March, the Company convened in Boston and began working on the piece in earnest.


Henry A:
Tom Nelis

Henry B:
Devin Holloway*

Henry C:
Mitchell Canfield*

Tilly A:
Deborah Wallace

Tilly B:

Abby Goldfarb*

Tilly C:

Hallie Brevetti*

Peter A:
Stephen Duff Webber

Peter B:
Braden Joyce-Schleimer*

Peter C:
Maximilian Sangerman*

Edith A:
Ellen Lauren

Edith B:
Hannah Tehrani*

Edith C:
Mariah MacFarlane*

Harold A:
Barney O’Hanlon

Harold B:
Jake Stempel*

Harold C:
Michael Niederer*

Ya-Ya A:
Akiko Aizawa

Ya-Ya B:
Lily LaGravanese*

Ya-Ya C:
Anna Harissis*

Raymond A:
Gian-Murray Gianino

Raymond B:
Brock Bivens*

Raymond C:
Matthew Koplik*

Nanette A:
Sarah Mitchel*

Nanette B:
Lauren Chapman*

Nanette C:
Gigi Watson*

Andrew A:
Leon Ingulsrud

Andrew B:
Andrew Frank*

Andrew C:
Jayson James*

Lucia A:
Melody Madarasz*

Lucia B:
Chelsea Williams*

Lucia C:
Kaitlyn Frank*

*Emerson student actor

Music & Lyrics by:

George Gershwin & Ira Gershwin

Book by:
Charles L. Mee Jr.

Directed by:
Anne Bogart

Rachel Grimes

Music Direction by:
Jon Goldberg

Barney O’Hanlon

Scenic Design:
Neil Patel

Costume Design:
Caitlin Ward

Lighting Design:
Brian H Scott

Sound Design:
Stowe Nelson

Resident Costume Designer:
Rafael Jaen

Stage Manager:
Marissa Robinson


Cafe Variations is supported in part by a grant from the Fresh Sound Foundation and was made possible with funding by the New England Foundation for the Arts National Theater Pilot.  Additional lead funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.