Your Guide to Theatre Education

Anne Bogart, Ellen Lauren, and Leon Ingulsrud

In this series, David Dudley looks at the different models of theatre education around the country through interviews, with the hopes that a new student will have an easier time finding the model that works for them.

Anne Bogart is a director, writer, and educator. She co-founded the Saratoga International Theatre Institute (SITI) where she is a Co-Artistic Director. She also runs the graduate program in directing at Columbia University, in New York City.

Ellen Lauren is an actor, writer, and educator. Along with Anne, she is a co-founder and Co-Artistic Director of the SITI Company. Ms. Lauren teaches Suzuki training at the Juilliard School of Drama.

Leon Ingulsrud is a director, actor, translator, and educator. He is the third Co-Artistic Director of the SITI Company.

When were SITI's training programs started? When did you join?

ELLEN: There was a group of theatre artists, mostly actors, from the States training with Tadashi Suzuki and SCOT every summer for a number of years. He then became intrigued with creating a company based in the US, and wanted to partner with an American artistic director. He met Anne, they synced immediately, and decided to join forces.

ANNE: Together with the Japanese director Tadashi Suzuki, I founded SITI Company in 1992. The training programs began concurrently.

ELLEN: Anne brought her research and interest in Viewpoints. She also brought her own actors to the mix of that initial ensemble.

LEON: At the time that we started up the SITI Company, I had been a fulltime member of the SCOT company with Suzuki for seven years. In many ways the SITI Company was modeled on the SCOT company because of the Suzuki training, and when Anne brought the Viewpoints into the mix, we became defined, to a large degree, by the dialectic between these two contrasting yet powerfully complementary approaches to theatre.

ELLEN: It was an extraordinary time of discovery and wild experimentation. Those early days of the two vocabularies colliding remain in the bones of our daily classes.

What does SITI's program offer potential students?

ANNE: SITI offers potential students a rigorous training that can help to cultivate focus, power, clarity, and courage, as well as spontaneity, intuitive trust, and legibility.

LEON: In many ways our training is a way of encoding our values into practice. We are not interested in training students to make theatre that looks like our work. But we do have a strong point of view about the art form. The training offers us a way to have a conversation about our deep values and hopefully pass them on, without the noise of a specific aesthetic or taste.

ELLEN: In terms of the Suzuki Training, we offer a point of view that is specific, articulated, and above all, has criteria that objectify the actor’s skills. Much like a musician or classical dancer can measure themselves against criteria to realize their potential, the forms develop the inner landscape of the artist as well as external expressiveness and technical skill. Suzuki training isn’t blended into Viewpoints. The vocabularies are very different, but symbiotic. Together they create an exponential power both towards the actor’s consciousness of the self, and the external world they inhabit. These trainings provide a road map to negotiate one’s life in the theatre. The trainings are based in a strong philosophy of theatre’s role in our culture, in creating values that hold up to time and the natural changes one experiences as one grows older.

LEON: We hope that our students will do their own work and that it will be stronger, and more specific because of our training.

dancers in rehearsal
SITI Conservatory students training. From left to right: Julia Croft, Maria João Falcão, Ourania Samartzi, Leah Donovan, and Elmano Sancho. Photo by Megan Hanley.

The real challenge is to teach another generation of artists what you know, what you’ve learned, yet allow them to make their own work. You have to be changed, be delighted by their vision, and then help them express it better.

What makes SITI's program different from others?

ANNE: SITI’s was the first program to offer both Suzuki and Viewpoints training into an integrated whole. Although other programs offer this now, we are the home base.

ELLEN: Yes, and it offers a point of view towards the field, how to participate in it, how to change it for the better. One of our company members describes us as a classically trained company wrapped in a post-modern bow. A working, functioning company that has been together for a long time teaches our program. When not teaching we are taking classes. We make our work and tour, we have the gravitas of a twenty-three-year-old group, and we are still learning in the studio everyday alongside our participants.

LEON: For us, training isn’t education. Training is lifestyle. I think we’re trying to pass along the tools that have sustained us as a company and hope that they will help artists, not just survive the world “out there” but change the landscape. Another thing that I think is unique is that in many programs you have a singular specialist who teaches each given subject. It is the model of the master/pupil relationship. When you study with SITI, the entire acting company teaches our core training. So you will study the same material from multiple points of view. This is profound in that the real “master” is the training itself. We are all studying it.

What are the guiding principles of the program?

ANNE: Collaboration, rigor, innovation, courage, and expressivity.

ELLEN: Objectivity, criteria, humor, courage, and crisis.

LEON: Intelligence, imagination, openness, and fierce compassion.

Following that, what's working?

ELLEN: All the above essentially, and it’s all hard. Just because its working doesn’t mean it’s not a fight, and some days are agony and there are problems all the time. Courage is defined by the quality and ferocity of the obstacles one faces.

LEON: I see our students do things and make things that we never would have done, with the tools we gave them. This is always bittersweet.

What kinds of challenges have you faced? How do you intend to approach them in future?

LEON: We have a principle we’ve borrowed from top surgeons who say that you should always “Learn one. Do one. Teach one.” We’ve strived as a company to find the balance between these three states which for us might be called: Study. Perform. Teach. This balance continues to be difficult for a myriad of reasons.

ELLEN: Time is always in short supply. That’s not going to change even when you spend great parts of your life and energy trying to make it better, making better systems, creating better storytelling to raise the money.

ANNE: Fundraising is always a challenge.

ELLEN: We want to offer more scholarships, and at this level it’s hard to do that. It remains our goal. We’d like to have more people from developing nations train with us as well. Basically everything is too expensive in NYC to do this program—housing, studio space, you name it. But it’s also such a rich place to try and screw one’s concentration down for a program of this intensity.

ANNE: Scheduling is always a challenge. Often we do not have enough company members to fill the many requests for training.

ELLEN: But after those things, the real challenge is to teach another generation of artists what you know, what you’ve learned, yet allow them to make their own work. You have to be changed, be delighted by their vision, and then help them express it better.

What's missing, in your opinion, from the current education/training programs available?

ANNE: Rigor and accountability.

ELLEN: Purpose. Focus. Energy and vision. Criteria. Humor. Flexibility. Real collaboration, and what that actually entails.

LEON: I think the big thing that is missing is real world practical experience on the part of the faculty. Certainly there are exceptions, but way too often the norm is for programs to be full of teachers with thin professional experience.

Who do you feel is the ideal candidate? Who are you trying to bring into the SITI family?

ELLEN: That’s a problem, I think, with current programs: they tend to identify ideal candidates. You can’t do that. I would simply say talent, a huge sense of discipline, the ability to argue a point articulately, tangible intelligence, a sense of humor, curiosity, and kindness.

LEON: Training is personal as well as professional. So a lot of times it comes down to an ineffable sense that someone is “right.” I know that sounds wishy-washy, but when it comes to metrics, we’ve seen people who can check off all the right boxes on an empirical checklist, and still not work out at all. A healthy sense of adventure and a certain degree of fortitude seem to be needed, however.

ANNE: We look for actors who are courageous and collaborative and talented.

What do you hope your graduates/trainees do, once they complete the program?

LEON: We want them to find their own answers to the questions we helped them ask.

ELLEN: To make work, make new things we couldn’t make, make a big noise, build an audience for themselves, find their people, find their homes.

ANNE: Mostly they go on to form their own companies. This is what we support and delight in.

Any changes planned for the future?

ANNE: We hope to be able to adjust to the changing circumstances of the environment.

LEON: I hope that we can find a way to integrate our education programs with our production programs more holistically. We want to find a more synergistic way for the making of our own work to coexist with our training programs.

ELLEN: I have an idea that we spend a year making a huge piece with all of us, participants and SITI, and have this enormous event after working together for a year where all our butts are on the line.

Success stories?

ANNE: Twenty-three years together.

LEON: When we first conceived of the idea of a conservatory, we looked for a university partner to provide a home for it. After many interesting conversations and attempts, it became clear that no one we knew of was going to offer us the situation we needed to really create our conservatory in the way we needed to. So we decided to do it on our own. It was, in many ways, rash. We didn’t really have the infrastructure to do it, but we managed to not only pull it off, but create a program that we believe in and are proud of.

ELLEN: To still believe in what you set out to do is a sign of success, I think.

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Thoughts from the curator

David Dudley looks at the different models of theatre education around the country through interviews, with the hopes that a new student will have an easier time finding the model that works for them.

Education Series

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Theatre training in the US is failing, particularly in undergrad programs. The overwhelming majority of classes and theories are over 80 years old. And, as Leon stated, few faculty members are engaged in professional work. An alarming number never have been.

SITI has it right. This is how potential artists train.

I trained with S.I.T.I. when you folks first came to L.A. in 1998, and you changed my life. I have been passing on the work to my students, and those I've worked with in productions, ever since, and more lives have been changed. Thank you for the generous work that you do!