Anne Bogart – SITI Company Q: What are we doing?

Actors are like astronauts going out to space to explore and then report back to earth’

After having received a scholarship for the SITI company intensive training in Saratoga Springs, New York, I lept at the chance to learn from the legendary Anne Bogart aswell as her phenomenal company members; Ellen Lauren, Barney O’Hanlon, J.Ed Araiza, Akiko Aizawa, Leon Ingulsrud, Will Bond, Gian-Murray Gianino, Kelly Maurer and Stephen Webber.
The month comprised of Viewpoints, Suzuki, Dramaturgy, Speaking, Movement and Composition classes aswell as each week devising a short play which was performed to an audience.
Anne Bogart is a generous, wise, sensitive, intelligent, compassionate human being who has an infectious passion for theatre.
She posed the question to us as artists: ‘What are we doing?‘ And these were her suggested answers:

1. Creating a model society

Theatre is the only art form which asks about social systems. How can we get along better? Music and art do not ask these questions. How we are with one another. You cannot hide the politics of rehearsal from performance. In rehearsal it matters what world you create. It matters how you speak to one another. We are trying to find balance from a sense of imbalance and this is mirrored in most plays.
A neuroscience nurse once went to see a viewpoints class and afterwards remarked ‘That’s the way the brain works.’
Viewpoints is a different way of being on stage.

2. We are meeting in the violence of the present moment

An actor speaking a monologue is under more stress than an olympic jumper.
Training and rehearsal is about finding the right energy to meet an audience. To be free and changeable under that stress. Its about how to handle being that target.
James Joyce said there are two kinds of art. Proper art being static art because it stops you and improper art being kinetic art because it moves you. You would think it would be the other way round – proper art moving you, but no… Improper art has a ‘kinetic’ quality – it excites rather than stills the mind. The feelings excited by improper art are kinetic – desire or loathing. Desire urges us to possess, to go to something; loathing urges us to abandon, to go from something. The arts which excite, pornographical or didactic, are therefore improper arts. Proper art upholds the value of the static art of ‘the spiritual’ for here the mind is arrested, and raised above desire and loathing. For example a Cezanne painting of apples stops you, you do not desire to eat the apples.

Its easy to get people to feel the same thing in theatre. Its really difficult to get people to feel something different. We don’t just want a general wash of desire.

To create intensity in theatre, not tension. Some theatre is just to weak – it can just be blown over. The present moment is where you find the power.

Show two opposites and the truth will be in the middle. Don’t just show the truth. Set up the thing and show it between two other things and then you set up the violence of the present moment.

Play the logic not the emotion.

Feed forward (be eager, go out to find).
Feed back (the info coming back at you).
Bad actors use too much of both. Good actors seem to balance it. Having the ability to reach out to then get the feedback, the sensation.

3. Raiding the graveyard

Theatre stages were originally made over graveyards. In Noh theatre the stomping was to remember the dead. ‘To re-member’. Completing sentences that dead people did not finish. Bringing issues to the stage which need to be re-membered; giving the dead people a voice.
The theatre is an act of mourning.
A book or a play on a shelf is still, it is dead wood. We need to wake it up, bring to life the issues and let it speak. Give the dis-ease to others. Creating a space of spiritual otherness.

4. We are following the pulse

The word ENTHUSIASM in Greek means filled with God. We are cultivating enthusiasm – a love for the art form. There is a question on how to handle criticism. If your blood boils when someone is giving you criticism then they are most probably right. The body is a barometer. Pay attention to the blood boiling or the goosebump factor. The body can help you choose what play to work on, what character to play. This sense of the body telling you will be what then can pull you through the many obstacles. Listen to the barometer - attend and listen to the pulse as an artist.

5. We are reifying courtesy

Choose a play larger than you.
Choose a character more complex than you otherwise you will make that character smaller than you.

As an example of courtesy: When in an art gallery resist the urge to photograph the piece you are looking at; resist the urge to own it and capture it as something miniature. Instead just spend the time really looking at it as it is.
The word chivalry – based on the idea that the other person is dangerous. Don’t treat the other person on stage as not dangerous. They need to be dangerous. Actors need to make the space chivalric – the codes are reinvested with original meaning.
How do you allow the world to be dangerous? You undefine it. For example, a piano is not just a piano. Wake up what you have defined.
How do you approach and enter the arena you are rehearsing or performing in? Don’t let the space be messy.e.g. people eating lunch or leaving items of clothes and bags untidy in the space. Don’t wait for the audience to make the space dangerous…do it right away.
How are we speaking to one another in rehearsals? The word WANT is killing theatre. It sets up parent/child relationships. For example an actor saying to director ‘Is this what you want?’ Normally nothing to do with the play and normally something perverse. Rehearsal room should not play out family dynamics.
Often people do not finish sentences. It is very powerful to finish a sentence, and a courtesy to allow someone to do so. Often when someone is sharing a thought or an idea it is most richly articulated and found in the end of the sentence. How do you cultivate attitude? This can be seen as a bad thing, but it is not. How do you carry yourself? Your posture is an active thing. Posture matters when you walk into a rehearsal room.
Theatre artists often have the wrong attitude. We need to see ourselves in the right way. Having the will to go out and the grace to receive.
How do we cultivate courtesy?
a. Be articulate in the face of uncertainty.
b. Find your words. Words are keys to unlock doors. Sometimes our words don’t work first time but we must keep going. We must finish our sentences and choose words wisely.
c. Describe what you want to happen.
Talk your projects into existence.

6. We are cultivating neuroplasticity

We have reached the end of post modernism. We have deconstructed so much that there is nothing left to deconstruct – to the point of nothing.
The brain changes until you die. Stories are an access to neuroplasticity. How we tell stories is determining who we are becoming. If we can change the way we speak with feeling which is linked with new understanding we can change the outcome. We escalate until violence. We need to deal with time because time has become a social problem.
We need to cultivate patience and confusion at the same time instead of avoiding them. It leads to creative and imaginative acts.

7. We are eating the world

Whatever you hear you own. If we don’t eat the world we have no content. Influence as influenza. What am I passing on? Own what you just ate. We are pressured to come up with new ideas for the future, but what about the past, looking to the shoulders you are standing on. Make it a point to study and travel more.

8. We are making gifts

a. Survival instinct. We make choices based on survival/ food and water.
b. Gift giving instinct. This one is a gift for someone else. Take care of this one as this is important. Once we have taken care of survival then we can operate in the gift giving.
We need to cultivate both. Need to be a producer and a gift giver. Work dies if it gets messed up. It happens in career choices too.

An American playwright who was once bogged down by the industry and considering going into mission work as she had a longing to do good in the world. She talked to Mother Theresa who said this to her:
‘In my country we have a famine of the body. In your country you have a famine of the spirit. You must continue doing what you are doing’.


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