During our Pas-à-pas, the stage director Anne Bogart, one of the artistic directors of the SITI Company based in New York, has agreed to exchange letters with us for the whole season that will be made public and that will answer to some of our questions regarding the creative process.
How to put more life into the artistic process ?
The only way to put more life into the artistic process is to put more life into one’s own life.
Did you ever thought about writing a manifesto for your work? Why or why not ?
Every time I write a blog, I think of it as a manifesto. The writing helps to keep me honest and changing.
How do you articulate your view on the world with your view of art ?
I try to be honest about how my view is changing day by day. I try to describe what I am learning and how I am changing with what I am learning and experiencing.
Do you have thinkers that influence you in the way you create art (Does Antonin Artaud have any influence on you ?) ?
Antonin Artaud definitely had an effect on me. His theories, not his plays. He challenged me to expand my definition of what it means to be human. Others that have influenced me:
Do you think that there are things that should be assumed as principles in the artistic process, in the way we use representative forms ?
I try never to assume. Assumptions are death.
How do you relate to the history of performance in art (John Cage, Andy Warhol, Living Theatre for example) ?
I study with as much depth as possible, including John Cage, Andy Warhol and the Living Theater. I have made plays about John Cage and Andy Warhol (not the Living Theater) but also about Gertrude Stein, Bob Wilson, Joseph Cornell, Virginia Woolf, Marshall McLuhan, Orson Welles and others.
What do you feel about the way art is done today ?
I am very interested in the way that people are thinking about and approaching the field of art today.
Would you change things about it ?
No. I am interested. Fascinated. Curious
What is your view on the relation between the audience and the artists ?
The audience is the final arbiter and the most important ingredient. Art is the audience’s experience.
How to open spaces where everyone feel free to participate in the process of making ?
Listen closely and respect those present in the room.
3. Telling a story
How do you relate to the difference between reality and fiction ?
The language of the theater is expressive and metaphorical rather than “real” and so, for me, the best theater is fiction. But fiction points to what is true.
Do you always feel the need to use the fiction to work on a subject ?
How do you tell a story, where do you start ?
I start with “Once upon a time” or, and even better, from Joseph Campbell’s mono-myth theory, I start with “The Call to Adventure.”
Is it for you fundamental to try to tell a story, to go through a myth, to expose a sort of allegory ?
This depends upon the specific needs of the project.
Or are you also sensible to what European theatre call « post-dramatic theatre » ?
I have certainly read the book on post-dramatic theater by Hans-Thies Lehmann but I must say I do not put a great deal of stock in those theories. You are right, they are very European.
What is your relation to reality ? Do you feel our world as reality ? Or is reality what you create on stage ? What are your views on the matter of truth ?
I believe that reality is relative. I live by the quantum mechanical notion of “an observer created reality.” Therefore I do not feel that any one particular world-view is a definitive reality. I try to be as “real” as I can with what I put on stage but I also understand that all theater is metaphorical and so stage moments contain a certain truth within the confines of metaphorical expression.
I have the feeling that more and more we are losing contact with the power of fiction, of mythology, and that we feel the need to always define things between true and fake. Is there a political view in this that you understand ? What should be the role of theatre in this case ? To clarify the truth ? To elaborate the « fakeness » of the stage ? To try to go beyond and work on senses, on beliefs ?
The politics around losing the power of fiction has a lot to do with technology and corporations. We see the world in smaller and smaller disjunctive bits as in social media and the media in general, all of which robs us of the “thrill of the fiction.” One of the roles of theater is to bring back durational attention. And that is radical in this world. And political!
As an artist do you try to make a play that is true to yourself or to the world ?
To myself. But I am always studying the world.
What does it mean for you to « invent » something ?
I do not think that I invent anything, rather I make new constructions from past influences.
2. Conditions of work
We are now in times where lots of conflicts and debates emerge from the way the creative process is handled by directors and performers in general, regarding the way we interact in the making of a show or a play, the way the relationship can be defined in terms of hierarchy for example. Is it something that you think about these days ?
I have always thought about the creative and collaborative process. I believe that our job is to form an ideal, model society in rehearsal ; to create a model for the world that we want to inhabit.
Do you have very basic conditions of work, about the environment, about the way people behave in rehearsals, without which it is impossible for you to work? Do you have « rules » ?
Rules : Start and end rehearsal on time, everyone must respect one another and listen with their whole body. A clean space is key. Clear and uncluttered focus from everyone is required.
Do you think about morality or politics in a rehearsal room ?
Yes. I believe that the rehearsal room should create the social system that you want to propose to the world. This is a deeply political and moral activity.
Could you explain how you connect with the word « civics »? Is it something that changed the way you work ?
I believe that civics is what happens between people rather what happens within people. I have always paid attention to this notion of civics.
What do you tolerate from people you work with ? What kind of emotions, of behavior ?
I try to be patient with whatever people bring into the rehearsal hall. But I always hope for restraint and respect.
Did you ever encounter a very bad conflict in the creative process ? How did you solve it ?
Conflict happens ever single day. I try to tell the truth in those moments and act decisively.
Is art a moral matter for you ?
Yes. Moral and spiritual.
What is not allowed to happen in a rehearsal room ?
What is your opinion on this quote from the Preface of The Portrait of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde : « There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all. » ? Would you apply it to theater making ?
I cannot help myself from thinking that there is good and bad theater. Or perhaps it is a matter of taste. Bad theater is theater that I forget immediately. Good theater creates memories within me.
And furthermore, you stage The Bacchae. How do you connect with the Dionysian force of theater ?
I try to access the Dionysian impulses within myself in order to connect or apply it to it in the theater.
Is violence a part of representation ? Of desire ? Of Art ?
« At the beginning every artist knows that the empty stage is an open sea of possibilities and this is also the terror of the stage. » Romeo Castellucci
You’re now in the process of staging The Bacchae by Euripides, a play that ends with this sentence: « what we expect doesn’t happen ». How do you relate to that sentence as an artist?
My entire life these days is trying to organize myself around this very idea, “what we expect doesn’t happen.” I realize, as I grow older that I control very little of what happens. And this is a good thing. The art of life is the art of adjustment to what is actually happening rather what is happening in my mind.
Is there a starting point to a creative process and what is that starting point for you? How do you decide, if you decide, to work on a play or a project? What is the first thing that you try to do then in your approach?
The starting point of a project for me is a distinct “frisson de corps.” When I contemplate the idea of a new project or play or opera, the mere thought of it must give me powerful goosebumps. My body is a barometer and my body will let me know whether or not I will have the energy and discipline to undergo the years of necessary study, fund-raising and organization that is required in the successful realization of a new project.
The play must ask a very relevant question that I am interested in pursuing over time.
I start with wide-ranging research and day-dreaming. Associative thinking around the subject matter of the play is critical in developing an effective approach to the play.
Then, what do you organize and what do you try not to organize? What has to remain unknown or unexpected? How do you use this tension between not-knowing and knowing in the creative process? I mean, in a very concrete way, when you begin to rehearse, what is planned in a day and what is not?
In the most concrete terms, I develop two long lists: 1. What I know. 2. What I do not know.
I bring these lists to the designers and to the first rehearsal.
You are absolutely right that it is important to have both. I try to keep a balance between what is known and what is unknown. But there also have to be hunches.
I plan every rehearsal very carefully. But all of the planning is what allows me to NOT follow the plan when things come up in rehearsal. All of the planning and study simply give me the right to enter the rehearsal hall. Nothing more. What happens after that is alchemy.
Is a satisfying play for you one that has fulfilled your expectations or one that has not fulfilled your expectations? And then maybe, how do you connect with the expectations of the other members of your artistic team?
What is satisfying is when all of my expectations are only a launching pad for what happens in the rehearsal hall. I want surprises and delight. I feel that the other members of the artistic team feel just the same as I do. We all do a great deal of preparatory work so that when new avenues open up, we will have the confidence to move in those unexpected directions.
And also, if what happen in a play is not what you expected, then, what is this thing that is happening (excuse the formulation à la française !).
If what is happening is not what I expected, then there is no way that I can tell you what will happen. What I hope for: Good theater. Theatrical solutions. Moments that feel true.
courtesy La Biennale di Venezia photo by Andrea Avezzù