Introducing: SITI Work/Space

Jan 28, 2016

SITI Company has launched SITI Work/Space!

What does that mean?

23 years into our life as a theater ensemble SITI Company has begun working in a new way. I have been trying to think of how to describe this new way of working, and perhaps the best way to describe it is to say that we are being who we have always been. We are coming together and activating our interests. We are making the work that we want to.

What is so remarkable about that? Isn’t that what SITI Company has always done? 

In some senses, yes. But in ways that all of us in SITI Company know very well, no.

For the past 23 years, SITI Company has made work under what might be called a unitary model of production. We concentrated on one piece at a time. These pieces were usually big productions conceived of and directed by Anne Bogart, which we worked hard to get commissions and grants for. This was great! It resulted in some really amazing theater, but it had four results that we were increasingly dissatisfied with:

  1. It tied us all to Anne’s interests and schedule.
  2. It tended to result in large works that are prohibitively expensive to tour.
  3. It was built on commissions and residencies, which meant we built our shows far from home, and could only take some of our Company members at a time.
  4. It limited the extent of experimentation and innovation within the company.

So we started to think about how we could conceive of our rehearsal space in a different way. To shift it away from a conception of “the place where we’re making our next show” towards “the place where we’re making a bunch of varied works.” Anne started describing it as a painter’s studio where there are multiple canvases being worked on in various stages of completion, along with sketches and little side projects that might never see the light of day. A fecund environment in which various members of the Company could explore their interests and find traction for their – perhaps crazy – ideas.

I think anyone who works in the performing arts can relate to how appealing this idea is – a period of time (in this case, six weeks in 2016) in which to simply come together in our studio to do nothing but create work. But one thing that we’ve always been committed to in the SITI Company is that we always make sure that we’re paying ourselves a living, union wage when we work. So we had to, as an organization, take on the challenge of transforming this utopian idea of a creative space for making our work into a funded, viable enterprise. This is not easy. We came up with the name “SITI Work/Space” as a way to describe it to funders, and put some sense of solidity to this dream.

It’s a steep mountain to climb, and we’re far from any kind of summit. We’ve received some very generous support for Work/Space from the NEA and some other funders which is amazing, but at this point, the project is all expense with no revenue. This is one of the reasons why you’re perhaps noticing how we’ve gotten more frequent and direct with our appeals for support. We NEED YOUR HELP. Every little bit counts and we really REALLY apreciate it. (Is this perhaps when you notice that this web-page has a blue “Donate” button at the bottom? Every wonder what that was about? Hint, hint…) Hopefully, if all goes as planned, we’ll soon start putting plays and projects out into the world that have incubated within Work/Space. But right now we’re risking A LOT and operating on faith.

In the largest possible general sense, I often think about how the reality of a thing is so often different from how it seems. Perception. In a specific sense I often think about the difference between the way the SITI Company seems from how it actually exists, day to day. I think that some people see our work and think that SITI comes from some kind of avant-garde, ensemble theater utopia where we all live and work together in a harmonious Shangri-La of constant creativity and collaboration. For better or worse, this is not the case.

For a number of years now, every December, SITI Company has held what we call our “Creative Lab.” This is a time when we gather in our Zeisler Studio here in NYC and focus on our next big project. Last year, we spent time with Liz Swados, who sadly passed away recently, dreaming about a poetry project we wanted to do with her. 

In many ways our Creative Labs where precursors to Work/Space. We did have one this past December, but the big project that we focused on was Work/Space and the future of the Company itself. We gathered and did some deep group dreaming about how we saw SITI Company moving into the future. What are the projects we want to do? How do we want to work on them? We read plays, and experimented, and proposed ideas.

It is now a week after we finished the first official three-week session of SITI Work/Space. We have jumped into not only a new year but into this whole new paradigm for creating work in our studio. Ellen is directing the SITI Company for the first time, and under her thoughtful and steady guidance we are experimenting with classic text in new ways. Anne and I have begun working on a very interesting set of ideas surrounding the work of John Cage. As part of that, we spent hours in our studio learning and playing chess! 

Simultaneously, we spent time transforming the way we do the Suzuki Training. Based on changes that have been made within the Suzuki Company in Japan, we have made more fundamental changes to the way we do the training than perhaps we have ever done in our history. On a very real and tangible level, this training that we’ve been doing for decades, feels different.

In April we will reconvene for three more weeks to work on more projects…

We started by talking about 3 projects, but the whiteboard in Michelle’s office, which lists what airplanes we have on the tarmac, has almost ten cool-looking aircraft that are all eager to take off and fly. What’s particularly exciting is that they are all very different. Different scales, different subjects, different approaches, designed, built and piloted by a variety of company members. 

It is hard to convey how deeply exciting this is to us. I have had the experience in the last year or so, since we started talking about Work/Space, of trying to explain it to people and then watching their eyes widen when the penny drops and they actually get what we’re trying to do. That has been thrilling, but not as thrilling as it has been to spend time in the studio as we actually begin to DO IT!