'Existentialism,' Directed by Professor Anne Bogart, Debuts at La MaMa

Lillian Motten
March 07, 2024

Theatre Professor and Directing Concentration Head Anne Bogart has reunited with famed avant-garde La MaMa resident theatre group, Talking Band, to direct Existentialism, running through March 10, 2024. Conceived by Bogart, the piece was co-created by Talking Band members Ellen Maddow and Paul Zimet, with Bogart serving as a co-creator, in addition to directing the piece. 

Bogart, Maddow, and Zimet knew that they wanted to collaborate—but exactly how the piece would materialize took longer to determine. Bogart recalls the moment she understood what the piece needed to be—while in conversation with Maddow and Zimet. “I literally looked right at [Maddow and Zimet] and I said, out of the blue, ‘Oh, I know what it's going to be. It's going to be called Existentialism, and will be inspired by the relationship between Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.’ Presto! It was done.”

In the finished piece, Maddow and Zimet play the two characters inspired by Beauvoir and Sartre, a couple who live in two small houses side by side, which are described as “both close and apart.” As the characters go about their daily routines, they grapple with the notion of creating meaningful lives, when so much about life, except for the continued passage of time, is uncertain. In a joint statement, Maddow and Zimet commented on their collaboration with Bogart, noting, “In working with Anne, we felt challenged and encouraged to explore deeper, to be more daring, and to have more fun. We knew that working with her again would throw us off balance in the most positive way.” 

An Obie Award-winning director known for co-founding the renown SITI Company, her defining work in the avant-garde and experimental theatre spaces, and her extensive published work, Bogart first collaborated with Talking Band in 1988 when she directed the piece No Plays, No Poetry. Created in collaboration with and featuring Maddow and Zimmet along with others, the play was an intricate staging of Bertolt Brecht's theories (as opposed to his plays). The play won Bogart her first Obie Award.

Talking Band was founded in 1974 by Maddow, Zimet, and their collaborator Tina Shepard. The group has produced over 50 new works, both at La MaMa and numerous other Off-Broadway venues. Existentialism is one of the several works included in Talking Band’s 50th Anniversary season, and marks Bogart’s second collaboration with the group; her first in 35 years. The collaboration proved fruitful, with a piece that melds Bogart’s voice with Talking Band’s. Bogart credits her collaborators for being the core inspiration for the play, saying, “[Existentialism] was really inspired by those two actors, those two creators—who they are and how they function in the world together. It gets very close up on these two people. And yet it's a long shot of the world we live in.”

Tickets for Existentialism are available to purchase here.