By Jim O’Quinn
Look at photographer Mark Seliger’s elegantly deadpan portrait of Anne Bogart and her SITI Company (with 11 out of 18 members present, along with a winsome stuffed deer in a tutu) in this issue. Then remember Bogart’s striking description, during her keynote speech at the 2006 TCG National Conference in Atlanta, of how her company becomes a “tribe” in performance, and what that tribalism means in the consciousness of the audience: “The way people are on stage is non-hierarchical—a community actually creating something together on the stage, and it’s novel, in a sense, to see people function that way. So it is a different social system. And every time we make a play or get up on stage for an improvisation, it becomes a tribe, that group of people on stage—it becomes like any other tribe in the world with its own mores, its own sense of humor, its own structures, morals, values, ethics. In terms of audiences, the notion of ‘Can we get along?’ and ‘How are we getting along?’ is present in the room at every moment—sometimes painfully, sometimes joyfully.”
Look at two other personality-packed photographs, these taken by theatre portraitist Rivka Katvan, of collaborators Jessica Hagedorn and Mark Bennett, on the issue’s cover. Then remember the riveting session on new musical theatre at another TCG National Conference, in Minneapolis in 2007, during which this creative duo ebulliently tracked the development of their controversial show Most Wanted, based on the 1997 murder spree of Andrew Cunanan. Here, too, according to composer and co-lyricist Bennett, the social universe that takes shape in the minds of the audience is a crucial consideration: “We allow the audience to view the actions of the characters in a certain world and a certain time, and to make its judgment about what they see,” he avows.
Whether or not you were introduced in person to Bogart, Hagedorn and Bennett at TCG’s roving conferences (the 2008 version of which, incidentally, is slated June 10–14 in Denver as part of a landmark convocation of the nation’s entire performing arts sector, as Teresa Eyring points out in her column), you’ll be fascinated by the accounts in this issue of these artists’ working processes and their out-of-the-box aspirations for a new kind of relationship with audiences. Ironically, neither the creators of Most Wanted (a show whose future life remains an open question) nor SITI Company (which is in the market for, in Bogart’s words, “a center where all of our energies can be concentrated so that we make a bigger impact in the world”) know just where those audiences are to be found in the coming months and years.
What they do know is this: The impact they’re trying to make will be lasting and powerful only when the audiences with whom they share their work assume a kind of partnership in the artistic enterprise. “It takes a certain immersion in time to realize that you’re being asked to participate in a profound way,” Bogart reasons, “either as an actor in the collaborative process, or as an audience in a collaborative process—which is about the audience, ultimately.”