Cafe Variations (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

Cafe Variations (Small Version)

September 2012
Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center

The six actor version of Cafe Variations is a series of vivid and visceral explorations of life, love and identity in this unabashedly romantic celebration of café culture.


Director’s Note

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 the chance to work with the music of George and Ira Gershwin.  Wonderful!  The first iteration was a full-blown musical with a large live band, a cast of thirty and songs and music from the Gershwin catalogue.  The project has been evolving ever since into its current manifestation: a six-actor dance/theater piece featuring SITI Company.


Development of Café Variations began in June 2011 at Skidmore College as part of our Intensive Summer Training Program.  With the initial phase of research and development completed, SITI Company launched a two-week Creative Lab period in December 2011 in New York City, to further progress the ideas initially manifested.  The Company used this period to dive deep into the world of George and Ira Gershwin, café culture, sociologist Erving Goffman, and John Paul Sartre.  

Then, in the spring of 2012 the SITI Company artists were ready to revisit the café world and headed to Emerson College in Boston where they embarked on a 7 week residency.  It was here, at the Magestic theater at ArtsEmerson, that the fully realized production had its premiere performances in April 2012.  This initial version of Café Variations (Large Version) included SITI Company actors together with BFA students from the Emerson Theater and Musical Theater Departments.  In total 30 theater artists were onstage singing, dancing, and creating a truly moving piece of dance/theater/music next to a 10 piece orchestra.  The Boston Globe wrote, “It’s nothing if not ambitious.  Bogart and actors from her New York-based SITI Company trained 22 Emerson College performing arts students, who share the stage with the pros. They’ve done their teaching job well, as the young actors are polished and slick.” 

Because the initial work was for all intensive purposes too large to reasonably tour SITI Company went on to create a tourable version of Café Variations. The second iteration of Café Variations (Small Version) pared back the original production to produce a compact, low budget, yet high-quality, six person touring version which retains the artistic integrity of the larger production. This step was pivotal to making the elasticity, tour-ability and viral nature of the work a reality and the process was essentially like creating a new play. There were many changes to the script, new characters that were created, live music needed to be removed and replaced with recorded music and set pieces were redesigned to be lightweight, compact and easily transportable.  

The University of Maryland Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center offered to provide a residency period from September 10-21, 2012 for SITI Company to rehearse this new iteration and give this new iteration its premiere.


“For Lily Pons (Gershwin Melody #79)” performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic & Michael Tilson Thomas on Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue, Preludes for Piano, Short Story, Violin Piece, Second Rhapsody, For Lily Pons, Sleepless Night, Promenade, used by arrangement with Sony Classical/Legacy. 

Selections from “Rhapsody in Blue” performed by Leonard Bernstein and the Columbia Symphony Orchestra on Bernstein Century—Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue/An American in Paris; Grofe, used by arrangement with Sony.

“Promenade (Walking the Dog) performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Michael Tilson Thomas on Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue, An American In Paris & Broadway Overtures (Expanded Edition), used by arrangement with Sony BMG.

“Rhapsody in Blue” performed by George Gershwin, Nathaniel Shilkret & Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra on: Gershwin: An American in Paris, used by arrangement with Avid Records.

“Three Preludes for Piano” performed by Michael Tilson Thomas on: Classic Gershwin, used by arrangement with Sony BMG

Ya-Ya and Lucia:
Akiko Aizawa

Andrew, Harold and Edmund:
Leon Ingulsrud

Edith and Nanette:
Ellen Lauren

Barney O’Hanlon

Deborah Wallace

Raymond, Herbert and Peter:
Stephen Duff Webber


Adapted from the Café Plays written by Charles L. Mee, Jr.

Directed by Anne Bogart

Created and performed by SITI Company

Sound Design:
Stowe Nelson

Barney O’Hanlon
Scenic Design by Neil Patel

Lighting Design:
Brian H Scott

Costume Design:
Caitlin Ward

Originally developed and produced by ArtsEmerson: The World On Stage, Emerson Stage, and SITI Company at Emerson College, Boston, MA.

Café Variations was made possible with funding by the New England Foundation for the Arts’ National Theater Pilot, with lead funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.  Additional support provided by the National Endowment for the Arts.