Anne Bogart’s “What’s the Story: Essays about Art, Theater, and Storytelling”

Anne Bogart’s “What’s the Story: Essays about Art, Theater, and Storytelling”


(audience applauding) – Well, as the moderator, it’s up to me to speak first, I guess. Anne is my hero and the
world’s leading genius and I’m crazy about her. You don’t need an introduction because I’m sure you all know her well. You can’t hear me. My mic and you can’t hear me? – [Audience Member] That was better. – Now I have to talk louder, alright. Thank you. And also we don’t want to have just this little private, intimate
conversation, we’d like to have an immersive
conversation and really invite you early on to ask questions or make remarks, whatever. – Can I actually say
then, because there was such a great atmosphere. We both arrived early
’cause we’re both nerds and we sat here and people came in and there was music playing. Didn’t it feel like a salon? (audience laughs) So I wonder if Brad up
there, I wonder if you mind turning some of the house
lights back up again. Are you up there? The other Brad, there’s two Brads. Yeah, just so we can see ourselves. I’m being an unbearable
director, I’m directing already. (audience laughs) Directing the evening and the lighting. How’s that feel, is that better? We can see each other. So I’d like to keep that atmosphere which is precious, that kind of talking to each other and not
looking down like this all the time. That’s radical. I interrupted you, Chuck. (audience laughs)
– You did? – Chuck is my hero too. He married me. – Well, and Anne married me and my wife. – Right, got it? (audience laughs) I married Chuck and Chuck married me. But Chuck married me and Rena, Rena and I. Is that proper English? – Yes, I conducted the ceremony. – And I conducted…
– Anne conducted the ceremony for me and my wife Michi. – [Anne] You know, the funniest thing was Chuck’s marriage, which he actually, I think he called me up at some point and said, “Will you marry me?” (laughs). He asked if I would marry him and Michi. And I said sure, but what do I need to do? And he said, well, we’ll take care of all the official stuff, you
just have to show up for the marriage. And I said, okay. So he said, at another
point, we’re going to get married in a Chinese
restaurant in Queens. (audience laughs) So I thought, okay, and then
he said at another point I’m going to send a car for you. I said, you don’t have
to send a car for me. He said, I’m sending a car for you. So the book is called What’s The Story, I’m just telling a story. (audience laughs)
Stories communicate things, so I went in the car
and we showed up indeed in the middle of Queens and I walked up these stairs and looked around in this vast restaurant and there
were about 200 people starting to arrive, that’s how many people were there, ish, right? – Ish. – They were the theater’s who’s who in this restaurant in Queens. Everybody was there, all the directors, really great Broadway
singers, parenthetically what he prepared was a
karaoke guy, a guy who goes from wedding to wedding with his karaoke machine and a 13-course meal. That was all that was prepared. I came in and I thought,
oh my god, he didn’t want me to marry him,
he wants me to direct the day. (audience laughs) So I rolled up my sleeves
and I started walking over to these directors
who I esteem highly like Robert Woodruff and David Schweitzer, all these great directors. I went up to them and I said, okay, what’s the strongest line in this room, because I’ve got to marry them, because I kept coming
up to Chuck and Michi and saying, do you have any plans? They said, no, there’s a
13-course meal (laughs). So, oh and Martha Clark was there, and I said, what we decided
was the strongest line in this huge upstairs restaurant in Queens was through the center and so I thought people need to know what’s going on so I picked up the microphone and I said ladies and gentlemen,
welcome to the marriage of Chuck and Michi,
what you’re going to do is you’re going to eat six courses and at the end of the sixth course I’m going to marry them and they’re
going to get married and then you can have
the rest of your courses. Meanwhile there’s a
karaoke machine over here. Meanwhile this karaoke
guy who clearly went from wedding to wedding
all over the boroughs, his face, because we’re
talking some of the major Broadway singers getting
up and singing karaoke and belting these songs
and this karaoke guy, he’d never seen anything like that. (audience laughs) So anyway, that’s going
on, six courses go by and I get up, it’s a hot day and I’m shvitzing like crazy, I pep the microphone and I say, okay ladies
and gentlemen, clear this space in the middle,
Chuck you’re going to get on this side, Michi
you get on this side, I put one daughter behind Chuck and one daughter behind Michi and I said, this is the way it’s going to go, because you know ritual is important and you have to get ritual
in the right order, correct? I said this is the way it’s going to go and just making it up, this is the secret of directing. (audience laughs) What’s going to happen is you both need to start walking towards each other. Now this is the who’s who
of New York theater scene is after their sixth course watching, and you’re going to walk towards
each other and you have to find a consent to stop and after
you stop, I can’t remember exactly the order I said,
but it was very important the order at the time,
I said the daughters are going to give you the rings,
you exchange the rings and then you kiss and
once you’ve done that you’re married, okay? So they both looked very
nervous and they walked towards each other and then
they got the order wrong, I can’t remember what it
was, and I was standing there going, holy. – Oh, the order we got
wrong was, I thought, wow, there’s Michi, what
a chance to kiss her, so I kissed her. (audience laughs and claps) – So I had to go, stop! Start again! Back! We’re going to start this
whole thing over again and then they got it right and then they were married and that’s the end of my story. What are going to talk about now? (audience laughs) What’s the story, Chuck? – I don’t know how many of you have read Anne’s book, but I’ve read it twice now and it’s fantastic and so rich and full of 728,622 stories, so that it’s a very rich, it’s not like this, Anne
talks about what’s the story so there’s one simple narrative line going through her life and the book, but what’s beautiful
is this incredibly rich life of multiple narratives and stories and characters and events and things and one thing I’m reminded of is how much, Anne is one of the
world’s greatest listeners. So that she listens to
what’s going on in the world and in life and in the
theater and with actors and when she goes to a
show and all the rest, it reminds me, I had an old
friend named Dick Fisher who when we first met
in our 20s and we came to New York and he
worked in the admissions department at Princeton, which he said was kind of a boring job
and he thought it might be really fun to be an investment banker, so he went back to business
school, he came out, he got a job at Morgan
Stanley, when it had I think 152 employees, and when he retired as president and chairman
of the board, it had 62,000 employees
worldwide, by some measures the largest investment bank in the world and he had done it all because it was fun. He was not greedy, he
went home and had dinner with his family every night
and then they would go out to the theater or go out to concerts and stuff like that. He never had a cell phone
because he didn’t want to be bothered in his personal life, because in the middle of
the night people would always try to call him. And what I think, it was
fun and also he was the world’s greatest learner,
so that I would see, we would go into a meeting
and everybody would say what they thought and
Dick wouldn’t be saying anything until finally he would think, yeah, I think that’s a
great idea, let’s do that and that was the decision. And Anne in rehearsal,
I mean, the city company in rehearsal, the lighting
designer’s giving the actors acting suggestions, the
actors are telling the sound designer what to do,
the sound designer is telling the lighting designer
what to do, the actors are telling each other what to do, Anne is saying nothing, and then the next day Anne will say, Leon, you
remember when you came downstage here and then you said that thing and then you turned around and threw Mondo across the stage into the audience? That was cool. That’s the decision, so that finally the piece went through
one psyche and came out coherent, but it was the psyche that was the best listener
on the planet Earth except for my friend Dick Fisher. (audience laughs)
They tied, they tied, I guess. – I should have gone
into investment banking. (audience laughs) Can you imagine? How can we, it’s such a good feeling in this room, so
appreciative that you’re here this evening and I think
I share that with Chuck. How can we keep this an open conversation? – Yeah, let’s. – Why not? This is radical, right? We’re not supposed to
open this up so early. (audience laughs) It’s iconoclastic. – [Brad] Can we talk about the book without having read it? – Sure.
– Sure, what do you think of it? (audience laughs) – [Brad] Read meaning everything, and all I know about the book so far is what you just said about it. I didn’t even know there
was a book until recently. – I’ll jump in and just take your generous hook on your fish. I grew up as a postmodernist, I grew up deconstructing with
great gusto and thrill. I was not born in the modernist era, I was born in an era where we looked at what had once been hierarchical and certainly in the theater you say you start with the text, which is followed by, what comes second
in a modernist theater? – I forgot. – The director (laughs), right. Anyway, if you imagine
you tip this whole column of important things, say,
lighting’s at the bottom or costumes are at the
bottom and you tip it all over and it falls into pieces and you pick up each
element, light, sound, and you say this one is no more important than anything else. So I was brought up and I continued to with great thrill deconstruct everything that I got my hands on, but I feel that we’ve gotten to a point
in the organization of our social lives together, that we’ve deconstructed to the point where nothing means anything anymore and that it doesn’t make sense to further deconstruct. And suddenly, in this new
ism that nobody’s created a word for, postmodernism
is followed by what? I don’t like the word
constructivism, but there’s something about constructing
or reconstructing. Is the issue of whose
stories do we tell now? Who are they for, and how do we tell them? And it literally happened in a rehearsal, it was in, a number of
years ago, I was working on a play called Going, Going, Gone and it was about the breakthroughs in quantum astral physics. And can I take you
through this whole story? It’s another story,
but I think it comes to the issue of this book finally. I remember reading on
the front page of the New York Times Sunday
magazine, in the ’90s at some point, if anybody remembers it was alive back then and living. Stephen Hawking was on the cover. You remember that issue? And Stephen Hawking
essentially said, his author’s message in this article
was the breakthroughs in quantum physics are so
extreme and important that we have to understand
them as lay people, everyone needs to study them,
because if you understand what’s happening in quantum
physics it will change your understanding of
life, of relationships, of death, of everything. So I thought, oh, okay, I’m going to study quantum physics and I’ll
throw in astral physics while I’m at it. That’s why I started
buying these books called Quantum Physics for Dummies,
you know those books for beginners, because I’m really bad at mathematics, when it comes to an equation I get really confused and always have. Anyway, so I got all
these books and I think in the spirit of Stephen
Hawking, I’m going to try to figure this out. So I’d start reading
and I’d get to a point in the book where an equation appeared and I just shut down and
I couldn’t go further. I put the book down, a
couple of months later I picked up another
book, be reading along, that’s interesting, interesting, equation, I put it down, I couldn’t
get through these books and I couldn’t understand. So around that time, we
were working, SITI and me was working a lot at
Actors Theater Bluhall and I always like to
drive my car, which is a 14 hour journey, so I
decided to get books on tape and it was tape in those days, not CD, this is the mid-90s. And so I started driving
to Louisville, I remember driving to Louisville and
I put on the books on tape on Quantum Physics For
Dummies, whatever it was into the, and I kept
driving, and I would listen, it was very interesting,
and then would come a part that I didn’t
understand but because it’s on tape I didn’t take
it out, I just let it play, so I’d forget about what
was being spoken through the book being read, I’d
look at the landscape, I’d look at the clouds, and
just was having a lovely time and suddenly I’d just say,
holy crap, I just understood Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle! Or oh my god, I just got
Einstein’s Special Relativity. And what I learned is
that, is what they call in physics fuzzy logic, is you can’t actually understand something
by studying it too hard directly, that you
actually have to move away. It’s how we innovate, we
get our best ideas when we’re not thinking about something, when we’re asleep, taking a
walk or something like that. And what started happening
as I listened to these books on tape and relaxed, I
started indeed understanding the breakthroughs in quantum
physics to a certain extent and indeed my understanding
of life, relationships, death, work, everything changed. Now as a theater director,
I am dedicated to sharing the thrill that
I get from research with an audience, through
the actors I work with, through the designers, I
started thinking how can I, and it’s also actually to
add a little more truth, I’m a little bit lazy and
I know that if I work on a play about something I’ll study it deeper because there are people
involved, if you know what I mean. So I thought, how could we
do a play where the audience has the same experience as
I do driving in the car? How is it possible that the audience can, I can provide an experience
where the audience uses their fuzzy logic,
so I thought, well, I started collecting about
200 pages of possible texts that I thought would be
interesting to be said, but meanwhile I was
thinking, I need a structure and a story that’s very compelling. It should be a play that everybody knows, it’s something about, well,
drunkenness would help and a long night would help. Couples would help, because there’s a lot of couples in thinking
about quantum physics. Are you getting to guess the play I chose? Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? To make the story a little shorter, four actors from City
Company, I did a cutting of Edward Albee’s brilliant
play, cut it from its two and a half hours’ length
to about an hour and a half and asked the actors to memorize the text and we started to rehearse that portion of Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? And I said, what you need to do is that I need to be able to close my ears and understand everything that I’m seeing. So that I get the story through my eyes and so, hand me a drink had to have a hand me a drink, I needed to see it, so it’s a little paint
by numbers, but it’s also a great play and it can be very emotional. So once the entire play
was staged, bit by bit, all of the sections of Who’s
Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, I said get rid of the
text, well, the actors knew beforehand this was going
to happen, it’s not like I told them they’d
memorize it and then it was going to go away. We didn’t use a word of
the Albee, and I said what we need to do now, now that the play is staged, is to replace the text, this is the ultimate version of
deconstruction, right? This is super-super-postmodernism,
to replace the text with scientific
text about quantum and astral physics. So, and it has to be in exactly
the same, what’s the word, like cadence or it has to scan the same as the Albee text, so we started the top and the four actors were skimming through their pages, you know, pour me a drink, dadda da dadda, and they
would find the subject we were on, if we were on string theory or we were, yeah, anyway, we got through about three quarters
of the play, replacing the text, it was fascinating actually and very emotional,
and the actors who were in that production say
to this day that that was the most emotionally
rich, those relationships between those four characters were rich, experience they’ve had. We got to the Walpurgisnacht section and we had used so much
quantum and astral text and we were sitting in
a circle, really stuck about what comes next and
somebody said the Bible. Oh my god, and we ran and got a Bible, this was in the days before the Internet, we ran and got a Bible and we ended up using text from Genesis
and from Revelations. And it was deeply satisfying and it worked with the play. If you want to imagine
what the play looked like, it was literally, we did
it at the Humana festival of New American Plays
and it was, there was a white couch on wheels,
it was a doorframe, there was a drink cart
where every drink had a different color that
was sort of lit and it was on wheels too, and an
elastic white, what do you call it, white elastic,
that defined the room and we would say, everybody,
if you’re inside of this room you are in what they call
in physics classical space, which means, now, we’re
probably imagining each other in classical space, we’re
functioning in classical space. If you step outside the room you’re in quantum space. I didn’t really know what
that meant at the time. And poor K.J. Sanchez who was playing Honey, she’s always going to the bathroom if you know the play,
so she’d leave the room and she’d be out in quantum
space during rehearsal and she kept going, Anne,
I’m in quantum space, who do I do?! (audience laughs) Anyway, I’m getting to the book. This story’s not in the
book, I don’t think. We opened and as I said it was a very powerful emotional
experience, but something about going back to the
Bible when you deconstructed to a point where you can’t do it anymore, you have to go to something primal, and I remember waiting for the elevator at Actors Theater with
Michael Dixon the dramaturge, the literary manager, who was dramaturging in this
production, he said, Anne, you guys have done it,
you’ve come to the end of postmodernism and
you found the beginning of the next thing. You’re starting to create meaning again. It took me a couple of years to understand the profundity of this,
at least for myself, to understand that the issue of story is newly important and there
are playwrights right now who are writing in ways
that ask that question. I’m thinking Anna Deavere
Smith, for example, is a good example of somebody who’s saying whose story am I telling? I think Moisés and the Tectonic
Theater Company, I think Tony Kushner is doing, a lot of people are actually asking whose
stories are we telling and how are we telling them and who are they for? So this book is an embracing of the fact that I’ve always loved stories, that I actually teach through stories. In other words, there’s
a couple of students I’ve had in this room right now and wouldn’t you say that’s true, Jimmy? When I try to teach
something about directing, I basically tell the
story of how I learned it. And that actually creates emotion and if you don’t create,
if you don’t have emotion you don’t remember
anything, that emotion is the heat that creates the protein that is a thing called memory,
that has a synaptical connection that you can access. And so stories create
empathy, which create points of view about life. Facts never change
anybody’s, right, you’ve tried to tell facts to Republicans. Or Republicans have tried to tell me facts and it just doesn’t work. But tell me a story,
if I can actually start to live inside this mini-universe that is a story, I can start to care, start to see through other peoples’ eyes and so the book is very much looking from a postmodernist point of view about our awkward attempts to tell stories again. Brad, are you happy now? – [Brad] More or less, I still have a question about the suspicion that necessarily arises,
the suspicion about, well, you’re telling this story now after postmodernism, why
are you telling me this and how much of it is true and why should I believe you and why should you be telling this story and not someone else and you know which part
of the story is true, which part isn’t true, is any of it true? It just seems like there’s a certain kind of suspicion that lingers. – Yeah, and that is the
postmodernist dilemma and which is why there
is no political action happening right now, because we think we don’t, everything’s
relative, we have no right to privilege one story
over another, but I think we in fact do and that we are responsible to say whose stories should we tell. I think after 12 Years A Slave came out, which is I think you might agree with me is a great film. Terry Gross of Fresh
Air fame was so obsessed with that film that she
invited onto her program a man who is a historian
who knew a lot about post-Civil War Reconstruction
and she brought him on to discuss 12 Years A Slave
and at a certain point she, Terry Gross asked
him, why this story, why 12 Years A Slave,
why not another story? And he said, because
there’s hardly any stories that survive, because of the circumstances of slavery, because of
the lack of education, the lack of available
communion of stories, this story matters and I think that also in relationship to, that stories help us from keeping off, falling
off the edge of the Earth and being forgotten and
to me the theater is if it were a verb, it
would be to remember, to put things back together,
to get to remember, and so the question is
what are we remembering? What has value for whom? And that’s a huge
opportunity to tell a story and it is a cop-out at this point to say I don’t have a
right to tell the story because one privilege is over the other. Do you know what I’m saying? And I think it’s a politics that grew out of the McCarthy era, where we were robbed of our relationship as
artists to the world we live in, to politics. Leon, thank you. – [Leon] It seems to me,
and I don’t think this is necessarily a new thought, but I’m struck by the fact that both of you have been talking about
listening more than you’ve been talking about telling. And so it seems, there’s
a thing that happens and then there’s a story that’s told about, one way or another
references that thing that happened, but that
story doesn’t happen until it’s heard. – Hm-mmm. – And so it seems that
what you were saying is that stories are things that you hear, not things that you tell. And I wonder if that’s, if you would comment on that. – Well… – [Leon] I am thinking of
John McCabe on this too. – I know, and I’m thinking of the role of the audience. And the sacredness of that in the theater and the role of
participation in the theater as opposed to other art forms that don’t demand that kind of participation, the empathic participation. And it was, I think,
Alfred Brendel who said, no, it was A. Alverez wrote an article about Alfred Brendel,
the great pianist, who’s famous for his Beethoven and one day, and I guess they live in a similar area in the same neighborhood
in London, one day Alfred Brendel called
up A. Alverez and said would you come over, I’m
rehearsing for a concert and I need you to come over. So A. Alverez went over
to Alfred Brendel’s house and Alfred Brendel brought
him into his summer home with the big piano and
there was a chair set up for him and Mr. Alverez was very nervous, because Brendel said
please sit here, I’m going to play you what I’m going
to play in the next concert and Brendel thought, oh
my god what am I supposed to give Brendel, I mean,
Alverez thought, am I supposed to give Brendel notes on his playing? What am I doing sitting here? But what he realized is that
Brendel couldn’t practice without that person sitting there. And I think that a great artist is a lover of the art, Rena and I were in California last week and we took
out the, follow this, the boyfriend of my niece to dinner. We were with my niece and
my brother and his wife and my niece’s boyfriend is an artist. You’re going, well maybe
he’s not an artist. (audience laughs) He actually looked
really stoned, basically. Anyway, so at one point
I said to this guy, Ian, what is interesting to you? Who are your influences? He’s at the San Francisco Art Institute and he’s graduating. He said nobody, no one. I get confused if I
think about anybody else. It’s just me and the art. And then Rena said,
maybe don’t think about who is influencing you
but what works of art have influenced you. He said, no, I can’t tell you anything. It’s not like I don’t see them, but I can’t tell you, no. We’ll see, he might turn out to be the next Pollock. (audience laughs) But it’s the relations that we create with the storyteller
that makes us complicit. Do you see where I’m trying to get at a circular situation, Jimmy is going to help me out here. – [Jimmy] I think just in
response to what you were, where you tell stories and
the way the way I’ve heard multiple stories in a time, when you, the context of a story
allows people to enter it at different moments and
apply it for different situations or different
moments in their own lives. – Right. – [Jimmy] So I think
it’s, what you’re saying is being, the thing
that’s outside of you that needs to be contextualized. And entered into, and
I think if a story is universal enough,
Shakespeare for instance, it won’t go away, we
just may rediscover it or reenter it in different moments and complete that circle
like you’re saying. – I remember when I had, I’m
being awfully naked here, when I went through a
cancer experience and I had a phone call with my
then friend Anne Cattaneo who’s now at Lincoln
Center and she said, Anne, you’ll never read King Lear the same. It will never be the same to you again. It’s a completely different
play and she’s right, I think you’re absolutely
right that your experience gives you a relationship to the story. You’re always quoting
Aristotle about, that we live only in relation to others, right? I think it’s true we live
in relationship not only to others but to what others create. What is that quote? – Well, human beings become who they are in their relations with
other human beings. And this is why, when Philoctetes was on a desert island, he wanted
to come back to town because he understood that
alone on a desert island he was not quite a human being. – And I worry about my
cousin’s, my niece’s, did I say cousin before? Niece’s boyfriend. He’s not in relation. I’m going to get into so much trouble. (audience laughs) This is livestream. Yes? – [Woman In Front Audience]
Going back a little bit, you said after reading the Hawkins article that you felt that you needed to go back to what you call story
and therefore you chose the Bible and my question is why did you choose the Bible instead of the big bang theory? It seems almost (pause) either hypocritical or fearful or it doesn’t seem rational. – I understand completely
why you’re asking that. And I would probably in your place ask the same thing. Trust me, we had done the
big bang theory already in that play, we’d been through that. And it isn’t rational in
a way that I don’t think religion is rational. Yeah, and it was not a rational choice. – [Woman In Front Audience]
You admit it was not rational? – Absolutely, you’re absolutely right. All I can say is it felt
to be the right thing and hearing those words at that moment, which was in the play
the moment where they’re completely drunk, it’s
completely late, nobody’s making any sense anymore,
returning to that felt true. I understand your problem with the Bible. Yeah? – [Woman In Back Audience]
So this says a lot about language, doesn’t it? That you had them memorize
the play with some of the words of Edward
Albee and we’re talking about listening, understanding,
empathetic stuff, telling a story, as Leon said it’s about hearing it and how we hear it. So when you change the
language and the language is perhaps unperceivable,
unperceptible to the audience but they see the bodies in space as we do in all your work so beautifully, it means something because of action, I would call it. What does it mean then to be postmodern or post-post modern and take away language that people understand
and use something else? It’s an interesting
question because language is about action really. I can say I love you and I can do it ten different ways, it will
mean ten different things. I can say one, two,
three, four, five and mean I love you, so are you
saying that language is less important as we go on? What is important in this story, if you take away language? – On the contrary, language
is, I think, has become more and more important
especially to use properly. And so in speaking of the
play Going, Going, Gone, that’s a very particular
experience where I wanted the audience to give up understanding and to get it later, so
I wish I could remember because I can’t remember
any of the lines from it, but you know how it
starts with, what a dump she says, right? Huh, what a dump? I wish I could remember the first lines. That’s how bad my memory is in that. After about four minutes,
or maybe one and a half, the audience went, what,
I don’t understand a word and they started getting
engaged in the action and could follow it and
were following the story. And yet, the language was working on them in the same way those books on tape were working on me and little by little… – [Woman In Back Audience] I see. – …little by little
the language did actually make sense and I haven’t
had that experience yet, I haven’t had the patience
to read James Joyce, but I bet I could have that experience with his writing. I also have problem with his misogyny, but I bet I could have
that experience with, I haven’t read all of Proust. Rena, you’ve read all of, I think I could have that experience, no that’s easier, I think I’d stick with Joyce. (audience laughs) Which maybe is as complicated as the scientific writings on quantum physics. So in this case, this
is a very special case, I do believe in language,
I believe in using language well in finding the right
words that open doors. I think language is more
important than ever, but I also think there are many languages. City Company is working
right now on a project at the Krannert Center in Illinois and it’s called Making Communities Visible and it’s a little bit part of this project which is, Mike Ross, who
runs the Krannert Center which is, for those who don’t
know the Krannert Center it’s like the Lincoln
Center of the prairies. It’s in the middle of Illinois and it’s a monolithic, massive building
full of concert halls and many huge theaters and fancy, the word for this is lobbies, very large lobbies and the project was started by Mike Ross, who’s the director of the Krannert Center who said there’s a lot of people who live in the area of
Champagne-Urbana where it is who never come to us, because it’s too exclusive, because
they’re scared of it, because it’s like this big monolith and we started to create this project which in the end would
make communities that never go into this art palace to come. So they located four communities from Champagne-Urbana that, Leon
has been on this journey, that we would create relationships with and over the course of
two years, actually three, they would actually end
up performing something performative in the building that would make their community visible. And the four communities
are, because we’re in the middle of it, one is
faith-based African-American community in a neighborhood
that’s being ripped down, torn apart, another is
first through fifth graders, bilingual, another one is
community leaders who lead things like the Boys and
Girls Club, but who deal with people who never
come to the Krannert, and one other group is what they call first generation, these
were communities identified by the Krannert Center, they
looked around, they said what people never use us,
never come here, so the last one is first
generation college students and each community is phenomenal and they have their own
stories and, oh, I just parenthetically want to tell
since I’m telling stories, the African-American
faith-based community, which we met, the first time
we met with them was in an abandoned crack house
that had been taken over by this wonderful reverend,
and everyone in those meetings said, whatever
we do, whatever we create, it cannot, it must be full of joy. It can’t be about our problems. You know, we thought, let’s make a show about problems, and we said, well, what would you like to do? And they said, Dream Girls, we want to do Dream Girls. (audience laughs) In the Krannert, fantastic. But I’m getting to this
issue of language actually. Extraordinary meeting with this
young, 18, 19, 20-year olds, first generation students
whose families had never gone to college. They’re in a way swimming
through this experience and we start talking
about what they can do, how they would make
their community visible, and at one point this
beautiful young woman said, yeah, my best friend and I, every Friday we go out into the world
without our cellphones. That’s what we’ve decided to do and it’s a big deal. We have a completely different
experience of the world without our cellphones. We talk to each other, we look at things. (audience laughs) And of course, we at
City Company we started going, really, that’s interesting. And then another one of
these young people said, yeah, and we started creating an idea that they are going to create a tech-free zone where you have to give up your cellphone, go in and have interactive art experiences in the one part of the building. This other young woman, she said, yeah, I understand that because
we’re always doing this we have lost the ability
to read body language. Extraordinary, and extraordinary that it came from them, and
they all assented, yes, this is what we want to do. We want to create a tech-free environment. I find hope in the universe about this, but this is going back to
your question about language. Body language is a skill
that we take too much for granted and that I think
we’re losing in a sense and that there are many
languages in the theater and the theater is a
translation of literature into the languages of time and space and what are those
languages is a question. So stories come in many forms. A long answer to your
provocative word-question. – [Woman In Front Audience]
Did I hear you say language is more important than action? – Did I say that? I hope not. You know, my favorite
definition of theater… – [Woman In Front Audience]
I mean, do you believe them? – No, I… – [Woman In Front Audience]
I’m having a little trouble hearing you, so you might
not have said action, but I think you did. – [Man In Audience] Language is action. – I do know that, say, love is action, it’s not words, so I think action leads. I mean, one can talk… – [Woman In Front Audience]
I want to make sure, but action leads. – Absolutely, yeah. – [Woman In Front Audience]
I don’t see any, how it’s possible, action is always more important. – Yeah, but what creat… – [Woman In Audience] Action
speaks louder than words. – Absolutely, but then what creates action or clear action is thought. Thought precedes action,
and the development of thought is developed through language. So it’s a complicated… Hallelujah. (audience laughs) So I agree that action is
absolutely most important and I think, Leon has
heard this ad nauseam, but my favorite definition
of the theater, and you know I’m a performance
studies junkie, I like to read it like detective
novels, I like to read performance theory,
and the best definition of the theater I ever
read is by Paul Woodruff the philosopher in the book
The Necessity Of Theater. He said, theater is the art
form wherein human beings make human action worth
watching within a specific time, defined time and space. Theater is the art form
wherein human beings make human action worth
watching within a defined time and space. Extraordinary definition,
which then instantly throws the gauntlet down,
which is, how do you make action worth watching? It’s essential, so… I’ll stop there before I get into more trouble with you. (audience laughs) Anybody, yes? – [Chuck] Hi, I’m Chuck. – Hey, Chuck. – [Chuck] Thanks, so I
can’t speak to the book, unfortunately, because
I have yet to read it. But I’m familiar with both your work and whether it’s Trojan Women or Big Love or The Persians, there’s this
recall to the classics and it’s almost like you’re time travelers or historians, you’re bringing the past to the modern day and
whether it’s a retelling or a reimagining,
reimagination, I’ve been using that word a lot with remakes of movies and TV series, but anyway,
so in today’s climate with assimilation being
a very American thing, of homogenization of
culture, assimilating to, whether it’s cis-gender
or Protestant-Anglo ideals or puritanical ideals of
first settlers, masters of colony, with assimilation and capitalism and commercial interests involved in the entertainment industry and in the culture, how do you navigate that? What do you think we should do or what are you doing? You’re writing this book, we’re
having this talk right now, as storytellers, because
I feel like we are yearning for a connection to the past whether it’s back to
ancient Greece or Egypt or Persia or Macedonia,
you know, we’re looking to reconnect with our
past and what makes us us, what makes us human, and
I think it’s a struggle because we’ve kind of
lost some sense of our human identity, even
with what you’re saying about reading body language and technology actually getting in the
way, rather than helping man it’s sort of holding us back and I can speak that from my own personal experience as a server in a restaurant,
just the social skills and the lack thereof
is unsettling at times and at times I can use it to my advantage and at other times it’s
a huge disadvantage, but that’s speaking as a salesman. But so what are your thoughts on that because it seems like this
is something that excites both of you and it excites
me as an audience member and as an artist, so what do we do? Do we keep having these
talks and write books to spread the word and hope? – Chuck, you go back
to the classics a lot. – Yeah. Well, I go back to the classics because, you know, we were all told in school and we’re told repeatedly since then that the greatest playwrights
in the Western world are the Greeks and Shakespeare and neither the Greeks nor Shakespeare ever wrote an original play. They always took something and redid it. And so if you take something
from the Greeks today and remake it, you’re asking yourself and people who come to see it, are we the same human beings, is it still relevant, is it still alive, and do we want some of these things to still be alive? Or do we wish we can change
some of these things? I mean, that’s what the Greeks were saying when they gathered in the evening to look at a play, to wonder is this, I don’t know if you’ve been to a theater in Greece, but many of
the theaters in Greece, you’d think the great
theater would be constructed so that you can look
out onto the countryside as you watch the play, but most of them you look at the city in the background because that’s where people live. So they look at the play on stage and behind the stage they see the town where they live. And they watch people behaving in the context of that town and they wondered could
we do better than that. So we’re still wondering
the same thing today. – I would add to that too that it’s tempting to be overwhelmed by the problems and issues that
seem insurmountable. I would not underestimate the power of what you can do in a small room. And it’s called, I
didn’t coin this phrase, I think there’s a book that’s titled Revolutions in Small Rooms. And I know growing into the theater world I saw, it happened very
clearly in the theater in New York, which was, a chorus line would never
have happened without Joe Chaikin and the open theater. In other words, the
innovations that were happening in those small rooms
were, totally blew up the dramaturgy of how a play is constructed and that’s happened over and over again and in addition to how a play is created, in a small room you create
a small social system, you create a politics
of a group of people, and as Chuck always says,
the theater is uniquely, and what makes it different from any other art form, it is about social systems. It’s the only art form,
its subject matter is how are we getting along, how can we get along better, how are
the actors getting along, how is the audience getting along, how are the actors and the
audience getting along. Certainly every play is
about a social system that’s usually quite
screwed up, somebody killed their father and slept
with their mother and there’s problems and the
play is a progression through disharmony to harmony usually with grief, usually if it’s a tragedy. So in the theater we have these layers, which is we have the
fictional layer of the play which is about how we’re getting along and it’s usually people
who are very screwed up. The paradox is that the
audience sees two plays at the same time. They’re aware of one
because it happens to the pre-frontal cortex of the
brain, which is the story, but they’re also getting
another story, going back to the languages of
the stage, which is how these particular human
beings are getting along on the stage right now. And I think the reason
why Stanislavsky and the Moscow Art Theater’s first
trip to the United States in 1922, ’23 was so
radical was not because they had a new method of
acting, but that people had never seen people be together that way and in those moments those people who were knocked out by what they
saw were young, young people whose names were Strassburg, Stella Adler, Harold Clurman who saw this and said, we have to do something in the theater, we have to change the theater. They were responding to
this new social system, but the new social system was also related to the breakthroughs in science and art of that time, from 1905 to 1923, when they were in the States, was the explosion of Cubism or was Heisenburg’s
Uncertainty Principle, certain breakthroughs of Freud and Pavlov, the Einstein and
Eisenstein and all of them and so what the theater
does is it looks at a world that is going through paradigmatic changes which we are doing right now and finds a way to show how human beings can function together in a way that works, so what I think people
were looking at in 1922 was they had never seen
theater in which there was not, you know, we come
from a theater that’s from melodrama, with the lead
actor and the back-up chorus. They were seeing a social
system functioning together in a way that’s completely radical. I think the reason why
there was such a strong response to the viewpoints in the theater is because when you watch
that work, you are seeing a different way of people getting along, that is in another way non-hierarchical, that actually expresses
a way to be together in the light of changes
in technology that are radically changing our lives right now. I’m going on a tangent,
but to your question I would just say it matters what you do in a room with a group
of people in the theater, that’s what we do. It matters how you talk to each other, it matters how you structure time, it matters how you listen to one another, how you respect one
another, and out of that can be born proposals
about the way we might function together and
flourish as human beings together socially. We’ve gone over our hour. We can continue this conversation, wait a minute, you’re supposed to do this. – Over martinis? – You’re the moderator. (audience laughs) – Okay, that’s it. (audience laughs) – Thank you so much
everyone for coming tonight. (audience applauds)

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