Theater News

Anne Bogart Brings Back Bob

The esteemed director discusses the creation of her landmark work about Robert Wilson.

Will Bond in Bob
(© Joan Marcus)
Will Bond in Bob
(© Joan Marcus)

As the head of the graduate directing program at Columbia University and the founder of SITI, Anne Bogart is one of the driving forces shaping the contemporary theater landscape. To celebrate the 70th birthday of one of her heroes, visionary director Robert Wilson, she’s bringing back the SITI show, Bob, to New York Live Arts.

The work, a one-man tour de force she created with actor Will Bond and dramaturg Jocelyn Clarke, charts the director’s life in movement and words using solely text from his interviews. TheaterMania recently spoke with Bogart about the creation of the show, her fascination with Wilson, and whether naturalism is killing the theater.

THEATERMANIA: What was the origin of this piece?
ANNE BOGART. I’ve always been interested in Wilson because he’s ten years older than I am. I could never understand as a young director how he did those pieces. What he was doing; who he was; how did he get that way? He seemed so from another world. So when Bondo (Will Bond) worked with him on a show at some point in the ’90s, I wanted to know everything because, you know, directors are never in the room with other directors. So I said, “hey, Bondo. What was it like?” and “Can you do Bob?”

TM: Did you know if Will could actually imitate Wilson?
AB: He got a funny look in his eyes, left the theater, and came back as Robert Wilson just like that. I was rolling on the floor laughing about it, and I just screamed, “we have to do a one-man show!” as a joke. “It’s got to be called Bob!” Somebody who was there, a guy named Jocelyn Clarke, said “you should do the piece.” I looked at him — and I was kind of joking but also serious — and said, “I’ll do it if you write it.”

TM: What happened next? Did you start working on it right away?
AB: few months later my mother was dying, and I couldn’t sleep at night. I was pretty far away from her on the other coast, so I called my assistant at Columbia and said, “Can you find everything that Bob Wilson ever said in an interview?” She went everywhere there were interviews he’d ever done in his whole life, and she started sending me boxes. Every time I saw something interesting, I would type it into the computer. It got to be so many pages that I had to put it into categories like gossip or his thoughts about aesthetics or influences. Then I sent that hundred pages or so to Jocelyn, and he in his miraculous way sent back a 30-page script. That’s the script we’re working from. It’s all from Wilson’s interviews.

TM: The show feels like a combination of a one-man show and dance piece. Was this duality in your mind when you were creating the show?
AB: When you look at Robert Wilson’s work, he choreographs before he even puts text on, so it’s in the spirit of Bob’s work.

TM: Will Bond’s movement is so precise. Why is that?
AB: In the first quarter of the play, all of the gestural material and the shapes come out. There’s a full circle of the movements. The table and chair (the two lone set pieces) end up where they begin. As you come into the theater, you watch him sitting in the chair looking at this bottle of milk, and that’s how it ends. You see the same gestures and shapes over and over again in the way that Wilson was inspired by Gertrude Stein. Through the regeneration of the same gestures often in the same order. Bondo would come up with them, but they were inspired a lot from Bob Wilson’s shows and photos of him.

TM: There’s a line in the show where Wilson declares, “naturalism is killing the theater.” Do you agree?
AB: No, I think the glorious thing about the theater is it’s so many things. Naturalism is just as valid as abstraction or expressionism or psychological realism or any of that. I do think that naturalism is weak. It was Robert Edmond Jones who said, “naturalism is something you do when you don’t feel well or quite up to the task.”

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Closed: January 29, 2012