Still Under Construction

Mar 15, 2022

About five years ago, the members of SITI Company began to ask a difficult question: are we an institution or are we a company? What is the future of SITI?  Should it continue indefinitely under new leadership and with new members, or are we a group of like-minded theater artists who assembled in 1993 and then kept making plays together? After much discussion, deliberation, and emotional back and forth, we concluded that in fact we are not an institution, rather we are a group of people who joined forces thirty years ago to collaborate. With this understanding, we decided that SITI, in its current configuration of company, staff, studio and office, would continue only through our thirtieth year, the end of 2022. We began ambitious plans for final productions and tours as well as a SITI archive. Our intention was to build towards a grand celebration, honoring our thirty years together.

In March of 2020, when Covid closed everything down, we had just opened our production of Euripides’ Bacchae at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Instead of a four-week run to look forward to, the actors had to return to their homes to begin a long period of distanced convening. Our studio and offices in midtown Manhattan were shut down, and the actors were obliged to learn how to teach the training via Zoom. Our annual intensive training program in Saratoga Springs in 2020 did not happen at all. In the summer of 2021, the program took place on Zoom. Our collaboration with the Singapore company Nine Years Theater on a production of Chekhov’s Three Sisters had to happen at a distance. Nine Years rehearsed and performed the piece in Singapore while Darron West directed the SITI actors for video in a house upstate New York. Darron alone made the trip to Singapore to incorporate the video, although he ended up sequestered in a hotel, unable to leave his room, for the first three weeks of his four-week stay. Darron and Brian Scott also made a short film, again upstate, starring Ellen Lauren, adapted from Room, our production based upon the non-fiction writings of Virginia Woolf.  This past November, when we could finally get together in person in a rehearsal studio, albeit under strict Covid compliances, we began work on two productions, one a resurrection of SITI’s first devised production, The Medium and also Darron West’s brand-new adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  

We rehearsed and performed an early version of Radio Christmas Carol this past December at the Fisher Center at Bard College where we will return in December 2022 with the production in its finished state. This past January and early February, The Medium ran for three weeks at City Theater in Pittsburgh and is now coming to the BAM Fisher in New York City in mid-March and then on to the Hopkins Center at Dartmouth College.

We are back, albeit in full Covid protection mode.  I am hyper aware how “things” have altered. Audiences feel to me both determined and tender. I find myself more interested in caring for the link between the stage and the house than ever before.  The connection between actors and audience feels sacred to me.

This coming autumn, 2022, SITI will premiere a new production at La Mama ETC by company member Chuck Mee, an adaptation of Mee’s earlier play Under Construction.  This coming June, we will workshop and develop the new production with the participants of our online Saratoga/Skidmore intensive training program. During this time, the company will gather in person regularly to work dramaturgically on the new script.

We premiered the original Under Construction in 2009 at Actors’ Theatre of Louisville, as part of the Humana Festival of New American Plays and later performed it at Arizona State University, the Krannert Center in Illinois, and finally at New York Live Arts in New York City. Now, as I examine both the script and the video of the original production, it is clear that the new conception must be a significant departure from the original. I feel with great force how much our world and culture have altered dramatically since 2009 and, especially now in our current precarious environment, by the day. My eyes have been opened to significantly different ways of looking at our country, at our history, and at the current environment that we inhabit. And I know that many of my colleagues feel the same way. What remains true from the original play is that we still live in a country and a culture, indeed in a world, permanently under construction, destruction, and re-construction.

The original Under Construction was conceived as a dialogue between two specific visions of the United States. On one side, the artist Norman Rockwell and on the other the raucous vision of contemporary installation artist Jason Rhoades. The play, as we performed it then, juxtaposed Norman Rockwell’s vision of 1950’s against the contemporary 2009 world that we inhabited then.

Working on this new production, I want to create the conditions for an experience that is both challenging and joyful for the actors as well as for audiences who join us on the journey. While celebrating 30 years of working together as a team, as a family, I want the audience to be given the opportunity to share SITI’s ethos and love for the theater. Some of the material from the 2009 play will remain and there will be new material, but there will also be moments from past SITI Company productions that I want to resurrect with fresh new eyes. 

Leon Ingulsrud came up with the idea for the new title: Still Under Construction.  I nearly jumped out of my seat when he suggested it. How appropriate, how right! Even at the age of 70, I feel how much I am still under construction. SITI, as we enter our thirtieth year together, is a company still under construction. And emphatically, we remain a nation still under construction.