Elizabeth LECompte

[Artistic Director, The Wooster Group]

“I’m not a person who loves to see everything fall apart all the time, but I realize that sometimes that has to happen to make something more.”
Things actors in the Wooster Group never do:
Sit around talking about the text
Assign roles
Stop working on a piece

The Wooster Group has its origins in the Performance Group, the groundbreaking theater company founded in 1967 by Richard Schechner, the legendary American experimental-theater director. Elizabeth LeCompte joined the company in 1970; five years later, she began to create her own work with Spalding Gray, apart from Schechner’s company yet still in its venue, the Performing Garage, located in SoHo in New York City. This former factory on Wooster Street still serves as the group’s home base, where they develop—and often perform—their work. While the details are not public, several decades ago a rift occurred between LeCompte and Schechner, leading to his departure and the 1980 formation of the Wooster Group with LeCompte as its artistic director.

Since its beginning, the ensemble has been in a continual state of flux, with members involving themselves in other pursuits only to fluidly rejoin. Simultaneous to these comings and goings has been an equally constant artistic evolution that has produced a considerable body of work: twenty-one meticulously crafted pieces for theater, along with twelve for film/video and five for dance. The group does not present “plays”; they serve merely as springboards for some of the most complex, bewildering, and intellectually challenging work ever seen onstage. Add to that list of attributes the word controversial: just last year, the group’s performance of Cry, Trojans! sparked debate when LeCompte made the provocative decision to have her Trojans appear in redface.

LeCompte has received nearly every artistic honor imaginable: a MacArthur Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, an appearance at the Whitney Biennial, and many others. Relaxed and imperturbable, LeCompte fielded my questions for an hour in the quiet of a Toronto hotel room.

—Hillar Liitoja

THE BELIEVER: In Toronto there is an organization called the Theatre Centre that is devoted to supporting every kind of experimental theater. It promoted your last visit by starting off with “Just two words: Elizabeth LeCompte.” How does it feel to be the object of such intense respect and scrutiny in the very circumscribed world of dance?

ELIZABETH LECOMPTE: Well, right now you’re saying all that, and it feels great, but I don’t really experience it like that in my regular life. I feel that I’m still at the very beginning of my career, in some ways.

BLVR: Your involvement with theater started off with Richard Schechner’s Performance Group.

EL: Not really; it started before that. When I was in school, I was involved with a company in Saratoga Springs called the Caffé Lena. It had a full café on one side and a loft on the other side. This woman named Spencer started a theater company, so on the weekends I would waitress at the café and then began to become involved in the theater company. And this company, for a year and a half, included Spalding Gray—so I met him there and then we went together to New York.

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Hillar Liitoja is the founder and has been the artistic director of DNA Theatre, in Toronto, since 1982. DNA has produced over thirty works, all of them radical, including some twenty “environmental” theater pieces, three ballets, and one installation.

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