Seth Bockley (pronounced BOAK-ley) is an American theater director and playwright specializing in literary adaptation, media- and design-driven production, and new play development. His work has been seen from Bogotá Colombia to rural northwestern Ireland, and is rooted in highly collaborative artmaking practices and an inventive visual style. As a playwright his works include 2666, adapted with Robert Falls from the novel by Roberto Bolaño; Wilderness, with En Garde Arts; The Death and Life of Billy The Kid with Cabinet of Curiosity Events; February House, a collaboration with lyricist and composer Gabriel Kahane, which premiered at The Public Theater in the spring of 2012; Ask Aunt Susan (premiered at Goodman Theatre); The Elephant & The Whale (with Redmoon and Chicago Children’s Theatre); adaptations of George Saunders’ short stories CommComm (commissioned by the Goodman and further developed by New York’s Page 73 Productions) and Jon, which won the 2008 Equity Jeff Citation for Best New Adaptation. His directing credits include the multimedia military documentary production Basetrack Live, created with En Garde Arts, as well as large scale site-specific work with Chicago’s Redmoon Theater, including The Picture Book, centerpiece of the Donegal Arts Festival in Ireland. Other credits include Samsara by Lauren Yee; The Foundry Theatre’s The Box: A Black Comedy by Marcus Gardley; Ewald Palmetshofer's hamlet is dead. no gravity; Philip Dawkins’ Failure: A Love Story; Jason Grote’s Civilization (all you can eat); Jon and Jason Grote’s 1001; numerous events and spectacles with Chicago’s Redmoon; and the clown play Guerra, developed with Devon de Mayo and Mexico City-based troupe La Piara (toured Mexico, Colombia, and the U.S.) He teaches at the University of Chicago.
Adapted by Robert Falls & Seth Bockley from the book by Roberto Bolaño
2666 begins with a group of hapless European academics hot on the trail of an elusive author—a search that leads them into the dark heart of a Mexican border city where the murders of hundreds of women remain unsolved. This story gives way to a surprising, panoramic portrait of the 20th century that spans more than 100 years and jumps from Spain to Mexico to Germany and beyond, illuminating the power of literature to reflect and transform the world. An unflinching look at the nature of evil, 2666 is an ambitious new work unlike any other theatrical experience.
Premiered at The Goodman Theater (2016).
"...Watching this Goodman production - which surely will go down as one of those landmark moments in Chicago theater history - it is impossible to escape the fact that it has arrived at a moment of immense 21st century global turmoil. The unexplained title of Bolaño's book may, indeed, turn out to be prophetic. A countdown clock might be in order." - Chicago Sun Times
"...One of the most anticipated, bizarre, and audacious works in the American theatrical landscape finally makes its debut at the Goodman after years of development. 2666, adapted from the posthumously published novel by Roberto Bolaño, is a five-hour long epic narrative which, like the Chilean author’s novel, radically changes styles with each act." - Chicago Critic
"recklessly ambitious...an important toehold in the ever-unfolding Falls oeuvre (one of the great pleasures of the cultural life in the city)" - Chicago Tribune
Book by Seth Bockley, Music and Lyrics by Gabriel Kahane
Visionary and flamboyant editor George Davis transforms a dilapidated Brooklyn boardinghouse into a bohemian commune for the leading lights of 1940s New York. Residents include novelist Carson McCullers, composer Benjamin Britten, poet W.H. Auden, and the infamous Gypsy Rose Lee. The luminaries of 7 Middagh Street form a tumultuous and remarkable makeshift family, and search for love, inspiration, and refuge from the looming war in Europe. Inspired by true events, this powerful and funny new musical marked the first commission of The Public’s Musical Theater Initiative.
Premiered in a co-production at The Long Wharf Theatre and The Public Theater (2012). Developed at New York Stage and Film.
2013 Outer Circles Nominee
“Seth Bockley’s dialogue is funny and quick, but also has something on its mind. Kahane’s music and exceptional lyrics carry the production into the sublime.”
– Entertainment Weekly
“What’s astonishing about [FEBRUARY HOUSE] — apart from the preternatural skill that went into its creation — is the apparent ease with which it transforms a houseful of ornate Victorian furniture and brooding artists into something soaring and fresh.” – The New York Times
ASK AUNT SUSAN
In this wry new comedy, a 20-something man moonlights as Aunt Susan, an online guru offering advice to women on everything from boyfriends to back problems. Ask Aunt Susan becomes the web’s hottest spot for self-help, even as Aunt Susan’s boss, a reckless funder, hopes to profit from the women’s woes. As the website grows, so does Aunt Susan’s web of deceit—and soon the Ask Aunt Susan phenomenon is much bigger than one man could have imagined. This irreverent new play explores anonymity, authenticity and the unwieldy world of the web.
Developed as part of The Goodman Theater’s inaugural Playwright Unit (2010). Premiered at The Goodman (June 2014).
It’s another day in the office of Community Communications at the DeLong Air Force Base — except the base is closing and there’s a funny smell coming from the copier closet. Ron Rimney, the boss from hell, promises Jim a job at the soon-to-be-built Dirksen Center for Terror if he’ll help him get rid of the smell, but Jim finds that executing that particular order is more complicated — practically and ethically — than he’d first imagined. This strange, funny and ultimately moving new play is the latest collaboration between adaptor Seth Bockley and MacArthur Fellowship-winning fiction writer George Saunders.
Presented in a Page 2 workshop production by Page 73 (2011).
JON is a futuristic fable about teenage love in a corporate universe where television commercials replace life experiences. Adapted from the innovative story by MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship awardee George Saunders, the play invites the audience into a multi-media test-marketing laboratory, and unfolds a surreal and strangely moving coming-of-age story.
Premiered at Collaboraction/Chicago (2008).
Received the Jeff Award 2009 for Best New Adaptation.
“A must see show…a dystopian party you don’t want to miss.” – Centerstage Chicago
“…a sensorial spectacle…this one got me right in the gut.” – Chicago Tribune
“Playwright Seth Bockley has done a very sharp job adapting George Saunders’ short story for the stage…this riff on the over-mediated future isn’t merely satirical…there’s comedy in this strange, newish world. It doesn’t mitigate the pain, but it does make for an often vibrant outing.” – Denver Post
“The short story JON is an extended monologue, and Seth Bockley’s stage adaptation follows suit. You know those pieces of writing where the rhythms take over your brain? How, when you’ve seen a Pinter play, every conversation you hear afterward sounds like a Pinter play? JON’s speech rhythms commandeer your thinking in the same way.” – Westword
“…alarming and compelling…” – Boulder Daily Camera