Theater on the Radio

10/08/2010 6:00 AM |

The SITI Company is wrapping up its latest residency at Dance Theater Workshop this month with two plays that made pre-Kane Orson Welles famous for his stage and radio work in the late 1930s: War of the Worlds and Macbeth (or Radio Macbeth, as SITI re-imagines it). Both shows are restagings. SITI Company's War of the Worlds originally premiered the day before Halloween in 1999 at the West Bank Café, and Radio Macbeth was first mounted at Ohio's Wexner Center for the Arts in 2007. Both make use of SITI's quintessentially postmodern approach to theater-making—deconstructing texts and reshaping them into theatrical events that turn mirrors back on the characters and the story, as well as the audience.

I spoke by phone with Anne Bogart, the artistic director and co-founder of the SITI Company, prior to one of the company's rehearsals for the shows, to find out why they were interested in restaging these pieces and the changes she foresees in the future for her own work, as well as in the American theater.

The L: Siti has performed both these pieces before. What impulse on your part or DTW's part led to the decision to reproduce them this year?
Anne Bogart: Going back further than your question, the original interest in Orson Welles came from pretty much a lifelong interest in big American theater artists who are on the verge of being forgotten. I do a lot of work about people who I think I can learn from and Orson Welles seemed to be emblematic of a real problem we have in this country of remembering. He's remembered as this fat guy on talk shows selling wine at the end of his life. But he was one of the most vital theater and film directors in our history.

I was actually working on a larger play around 2000 about Welles' life, it was sort of a biography of him. While we were working on that piece, we thought, wouldn't it be grand to let Stephen Webber, who was playing Orson Welles, work on the young Welles, in 1938, when he scared the world with his War of the Worlds. The thought was we would do this little piece that we would give as a Halloween gift for our friends. I wondered if we could reenact what might have happened in the studio that night in 1938 and in the enacting of that, if we could tap into some of the fear that we think would be so quaint now, of people thinking that Martians had arrived. So we put together this piece about the Mercury Theatre with the young Orson Welles making the radio play that scared the world and we opened in 2000, pre-9/11. We opened it at the West Bank [Café], downstairs in the basement, and basically it was so riveting that we've been performing it ever since. As a matter of fact, it's toured extensively around the United States.

I worked with Darron West, who is our sound designer, as co-director because it's really also about sound. We started fantasizing and we both thought, well, gosh, it was such a rich process, what would happen if we look at another piece that Orson did on the radio, again trying to get to the essence of it, and I've always wanted to do Macbeth. I mean it's the play that's the reason that I'm in the theater.