TheaterRita Kohn Anne Bogart is the artistic director of SITI Company, a theatre company well on its way to becoming legendary. Indianapolis’ audience can witness why on Saturday, Jan. 22, with the company’s production of Score at Pike Performing Arts Center. Tom Nelis stars as Leonard Bernstein in Pike Performing Arts Center’s ‘Score.’ As a one-man play, featuring actor Tom Nelis, Score unfolds the life of Leonard Bernstein as composer and conductor, showman, educator, activist, ego-obsessed charmer and bon vivant.
NUVO spoke with Anne Bogart via telephone to learn why reviewers are commenting on the SITI Company’s production.
Bogart’s aesthetic as a director is informed by a partnership with Tadashi Suzuki, who co-founded the SITI Company with Bogart in 1992. She speaks of going to Japan and confronting Suzuki’s idea of what theatre is. “I have come to believe that contemporary American theatre must incorporate artists from around the world and learn from the cross-cultural exchange of dance, music, art and performance experiences. What I’m interested in is the place where boundaries of all meet and touch — singing and speaking, literary arts. It’s not Aristotelian. Each moment is a microcosm of the macro. We’re working for the honesty of choices at the instant, and then we see the results.”
SITI Company actors are trained in two distinct methods. According to their web site descriptions, Suzuki Method’s principal concern is with restoring the wholeness of the human body to the theatrical context, and uncovering the actor’s innate expressive abilities. Rigorous physical training seeks to heighten the actor’s emotional and physical power and commitment to each moment on the stage.
The Viewpoints is a SITI technique of improvisation that grew out of the post-modern dance world. Articulated first by choreographer Mary Overlie, the technique breaks down the dominant performance issues of time and space into six categories; SITI and Bogart expanded and adapted this technique for their actors.
Another unique SITI component is its ratio of five designers to ten actors. “At first we did not have designers as part of the company,” Bogart recalled. “We quickly found the designers were as committed as the actors. Top-notch designers who committed their souls and spirits when we were first starting out and had very little money to pay them. So now part of the collective is design, which always emerges from the body of actors. Design starts with actors on stage.”
What mostly sets SITI apart from other production companies is “a change in thinking about the relationships between artists and institutions.”
“When we began, we decided not to be related to a building,” Bogart continued. “Yes, we have an office and rehearsal space in New York, but we are integrating into other organizations of the existing American and international theater systems. We have ongoing relationships with arts centers and universities. We prefer to come to life inside them.
“For example, we’ve performed at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, OH, for ten, eleven years. We’ve built a very loyal audience there. We are different from other touring companies in that way. We don’t appear fly-by-night and you never see us again.”
Bogart points out that at SITI what actors and designers bring is a profound sense of what art is about, individually and collectively. She speaks of “love of the art form.”
“Art is something you have to work hard for. It transcends every day.”
Recognition of SITI’s work keeps mounting. Among Bogart’s dozen prestigious awards are two Obies, a Bessie and a Guggenheim Fellowship. SITI Company actors and designers have garnered a gross of other citations and honors.
But what convinced Don Steffy, Pike Performing Arts Center director, that he had to present the SITI production as part of his season was hearing Anne Bogart speak. “You could hear a pin drop,” he says of her presentation some five years ago at a theatre conference.
“To experience this kind of theatre by a leading director is what we strive to bring to our students and the general public. Whether you’re a student of music or theatre, it’s a chance to get inside the head of Leonard Bernstein.”
To date, Pike Performing Arts Center is the only Indiana site for a SITI performance.
Score, which is centered around Bernstein’s articulations about music, is SITI Company’s third play of a trilogy about the artistic process. Bob is based on the life and work of Robert Wilson, and Room was inspired by the life and writing of Virginia Woolf.