The SITI Company celebrates the collaborative nature of theater at the Hopkins Center
The revival of the company’s 1993 performance “The Medium” explores technology's effect on humankind.
Pictured from Left to Right: Stephen Duff Webber, Ellen Lauren, Gian-Murray Gianino, Will Bond, Violeta Picayo.
On March 31 and April 1, the SITI Company, a New York-based theater company, performed a revival of their 1993 performance “The Medium” at the Hopkins Center for the Arts. Directed by Anne Bogart, co-artistic director of the SITI Company and a professor at Columbia University, “The Medium” explores the media's influence on perception and identity, combining various styles of dance and expression to create a distinctive show that highlights the importance of movement and sound in creation.
When crafting the performance, Bogart said she was intrigued by the theme of emerging technology and wanted to produce a show that explores the shifting definitions of personhood and humanity as technology’s importance in daily life continues to grow.
“I wanted to make a play that was about who we are becoming as human beings vis-a-vis the technologies that are coming at us… how are our relationships changing?” Bogart said in a pre-show discussion. “How are our perceptions of living and dying [changing]?”
In asking these questions, she was inspired by the writings of Marshall McLuhan, a 20th-century media theory philosopher who articulated the complexities of the modern digital world prior to the age of the Internet and its impact on our personal psyches.
The show begins with a rendition of McLuhan — portrayed by actor Will Bond, a founding member of the SITI Company — suffering a stroke, which projects him into the world of television. For Bogart, beginning the show at this specific moment of McLuhan’s life was profound given his identity as an avid speaker.
“Marshall McCluhan was a great orator,” Bogart said. “I learned that towards the end of [McLuhan’s] life, he had a stroke, and in the moment of the stroke, he lost the ability to speak. Imagine that — a guy who lived his whole life speaking… who couldn’t speak anymore.”
Afterwards, McLuhan’s character enters an “Alice in Wonderland”-like state: He travels between network channels in a “multichannel multiverse,” according to Bogart, interacting with various characters as he experiences the challenges brought upon by futuristic technology. According to Bogart, the performance conveys one of McLuhan’s famous quotes — “there is no inevitability, as long as there is a willingness to contemplate what is happening.”
“You have to be awake to what [technology] is doing to you,” Bogart said.
In reviving “The Medium,” which has not been performed on stage since its final show in 1997, Bogart cited the importance of the collaboration that occurred among the cast members and the creative team in crafting a cohesive performance.
“The fact that they are physically studying all the time together, figuring things out, trying to make things better and always working towards being better actors is what creates the glue that I think allows the passion to erupt,” Bogart said.
Violeta Picayo, an associate artist at SITI Company and cast member of the show, echoed Bogart’s sentiment on the collective culture of the ensemble company. Unlike most of the main cast members, she had not performed the piece before.
“In ‘The Medium,’ there's so much happening simultaneously,” Picayo said in an interview. “It is all very distinct, but it is all telling its own part of the story. Every performance, I find something new that someone else is doing and how it lines up with what's happening on the other side of the stage, the music, the text and the choreography.”
Picayo noted that the show’s rich history was an important guiding point in allowing her to learn from the cast, several of whom participated in the original performance.
“I got to learn this piece inside out because there are three folks of the five on stage who've done it before — some of whom originally built it,” Picayo said. “But we [also] had this incredible amount of information and memory about what the show has been before, which includes archival video and almost 30 years of memories… So what you get is this really great meeting point of those different perspectives.”
Like Picayo, Gian-Murray Gianino had never performed the piece prior to its revival. Reflecting on his role in the production, he said he was grateful to have been able to step into the shoes of past actors.
“To get to know their choreography, their bodies, their psyche, their emotions — all of these went into creating something called ‘The Medium,’ and I'm fortunate enough to get to…learn from it,” Gianino said.
Janaysia Gethers, a senior at Plymouth State University studying visual and performing arts, watched the performance on TKTK on April 1 when Gethers’ directing class came to Dartmouth to immerse themselves into the revived performance.
“We’re all performers and my teacher brought this idea up to us to see the show and we are finally here and enjoying the experience to take in some new sights,” Gethers said.
Gethers was excited to celebrate the physical nature of the theater again.
“It’s been so long since I’ve been outside our little town of Plymouth,” Gethers said. “I’m really excited to experience something that feels almost new.”
For both the actors and audience, “The Medium” is not only a celebration of McLuhan’s work and the SITI Company’s 30 years of collaboration but of theater itself.
“It's a theater — it's about bodies and sharing the story with other bodies in [that] space and that's really exciting to me,” Picayo said. “It’s exciting the way we can awaken ideas within our community and with strangers that we can meet, especially now after we spend so much time apart.”