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Finding Room in the New Century 

Director Anne Bogart on taking up space

Wednesday, Jan 30 2002
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Photo by John Nation

Co-founder of New York’s SITI Company, Anne Bogart is among the most significant new American stage directors of the past decade. Now in its 10th year, SITI has toured nationally and internationally with an eclectic array of works delving into the psyches of pop icons Andy Warhol, Robert Wilson and Orson Welles. Replacing our well-worn psychological approach to stagecraft with a choreographic one, Bogart draws from the intensely physical approach of Japanese stage director Tadashi Suzuki and American choreographer Mary Overlie. Bogart’s one-woman show, Room, features associate artistic director Ellen Lauren and springs from the ideas of Virginia Woolf, with textual adaptation by Jocelyn Clark.

The Weekly spoke with Bogart by telephone as she was preparing Room for performance at UC Davis. Bogart’s responses, delivered in gentle, soothing tones, were both swift and eloquent.

L.A. WEEKLY: Last year, you directed Gertrude and Alice: A Likeness to Loving, an homage to the life and love of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. Now Virginia Woolf. Why the sudden interest in female writers?

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ANNE BOGART: My interest in Virginia Woolf isn’t sudden. I first read her when I was 15, then I read everything of hers I could get my hands on. It wasn’t until 20 or 30 years later that I found the right actress to play the role, somebody who could embody the complexity and beauty and insight. It’s not an homage, but a piece about a woman’s search for space. In looking at Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, I chose not to do that piece, because I thought it was a bit jaded. Still, it addresses the issues of a woman’s place today, not only physical space but emotional space. Woolf was an early feminist writer, and her battles were much more Victorian. Ours are subtler but equally important. Room is about taking up space. It’s about attitude.

Do you wrestle with this issue personally?

Endlessly.

But you’re a woman of considerable accomplishment — two Obie awards and a Guggenheim fellowship, countless articles about you in the international press, and a book [Anne Bogart: Viewpoints by Michael Bigelow Dixon and Joel A. Smith] about your teachings. Honestly now, you still worry about taking up too much space?

Women simply don’t take up space in this society the way men do. We’re physically smaller. I was brought up to cross my legs. So certainly there’s endless undue modesty.

Hubris is the most common complaint against men in positions of power. How do you propose protecting yourself from it, even if only as a defensive reaction, if you aim to take up as much space as a man?

I think that’s the pendulum swinging too far. The issue is moderation. I was reading about the opera singer Kathleen Battle, who flipped, who went from being modest and sweet and enthusiastic to being a complete narcissist. That’s a very human reaction.

In our media-obsessed culture, surely you’d take up more space if your work were seen on film or TV, yet you’ve gone on record as defying those demons.

The reason I’ll never do film and television is because the notion of what an actor can do on a stage is quite extraordinary. You see an opera reaching to a level of poetry that is hard for a human being to arrive at. We don’t think of an actor doing that. We think of an actor doing a repetition of daily life, and that’s what we see on TV. Yet the [live] presence of an actor has come to mean more and more, being in the presence of somebody reaching for something extraordinary, as you are with an athlete. An actor is an acrobat of the soul. That’s the way it’s going, and that’s the way it has to go.

And can that view also, in some way, be traced back to your teenage reading of Virginia Woolf?

Woolf was the foundation of my understanding of art in the world — certainly of a female approach to making art. I was not only influenced but totally fascinated by her, probably to the point of obsession.

I hope you find all the room you need.

Thank you. Let’s hope we all do.

Room is being performed at UCLA’s Freud Playhouse nightly at 8 p.m., through February 2. Call (310) 825-2101.

Reach the writer at smorris@laweekly.com

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