The sunlight on turning leaves, chased with rainfall, is quite striking right now here in Portland. On some streets, whole lines of deciduous trees are all exploding with richly vivid colors, layering the dark streets with fallen things. Thankfully, I retrieved my coat from the cleaners yesterday, in time for this Vermont Expedition coming up.
There was, understandably, a great deal of baggage to work through with my Hand2Mouth Theatre colleagues, who do feel that a certain amount of trust has been broken by my leaving for this approaching month-and-a-half. I can certainly see and acknowledge their position, as I would probably be of the same mind myself were circumstances exchanged. And I do regret going back on my word to them, as such.
But by the same token I feel that there is no clean "correct" course of action here. To have refused the VSC offer would have been greater cause for regret, for me personally. I was offered a part in a script which, upon close scrutiny, I found to be quite strong, with a company whose work I am aware and appreciative of and with people whom I have cause to respect and admire. Here in Portland, comparable conditions prevail, up to this point, with Hand2Mouth Theatre and their work.
The crux lies in that the Vermont Stage Company is the first Theatre to approach me with a fully professional and respectful offer, the composition of which does not rely on me to manifest anything other than my art for them. That is, it's not going to be expected of me to build things or create playbills or hang lights (although of course I'm willing and able to do all of that, cheerfully so, because I am a Theatre Marine [see below]). What clearly matters first and foremost is that I play my own discrete part in this production, for which I will be compensated, in what is for me handsome terms.
This is important because I've never been in this position before, in my brief but tumultuous theatre career. This kind of treatment has heretofore been only theoretical, a pleasant utopian dream that I never really sought, nor ever really expected. Recent theatre experiences have been successively more difficult as my abilities and ambitions have grown, but the commensurate artistic satisfaction I've drawn from these recent experiences has never been consistent. In many ways, I believe the hardscrabble, anti-professional, DIY-ethic prevalent in the theatre circles I orbit, is responsible for this.
For me, it essentially comes down to an issue of respect. I don't feel that more money means greater respect; I feel that a decent compensation is part of a larger package--discrete expectations, specific responsibilities, clarity of design and intention--that together feels more dignified, better managed, and more respectful of me as an independent theatre artist. We're wasting less time and energy making it up together as we go along, because we've got our ducks in a row and we know what we're doing and why.
To be sure, I have great affection and regard for the hardscrabble, anti-professional, DIY-ethic, which, after all, is responsible for several of the most satisfying works it has been my privilege to be a part of thus far. And it's gotten me this far to boot. But I need this piece, this experience of professional work, to complete myself as a self-respecting artist. This, and my regard for the script of "The Drawer Boy", is what impelled me to make the decision I've made.
I take all this time to explicate this decision for you, dear reader, for no real reason other than to clarify my own thoughts in my addled blood-deprived head, and publicizing such things through this weblog is good in that in this manner I can more clearly see who I am and who I am becoming, by using an audience to keep me honest. Hey, I bet that has something to do with why I do theatre in the first place.
So if you're reading this, dear reader, I know it's complicated and wordy but please hear me when I say that I'm not trying to be smug or conceited about anything. There's a great deal to work through with this whole "growing-up" business, and I appreciate your honest patience.
lost in the leaves somewhere in the hills,
So it looks like me and the Big Blue Monster are hitting the road again. In just over two weeks, to be exact.
I know I'll be disappointing colleagues at H2M back here by going east for six weeks. And this certainly made for an agonizing decision for me, in these circumstances. But the offer of a good part in a strong script with some mighty professionals, one of whom I've worked with before, plus respectable treatment--as in a decent wage and plane tickets--all of this made for an offer I can't refuse. If only because, try as I might, for some reason I just can't induce my rent to pay for itself. Go figure.
So if any of you, dear readers, are out in Vermont-way, let me know.
Right now I'm still living in my luggage. I'm living in the crawlspaces between the epic days, the clammy surfaces beneath the flush of sweaty adrenaline.
The Inkwell Communiques went quite fabulously, if chaotically and quite by the skin of one's teeth (see previous posts). I still can't really begin to write what it is about, even after having performed in nearly every incarnation of the Communiques since their conception. It involves fantastical characters that live in letters, while their author bears witness to the personal tragedies of loved ones, in the context of decades of cultural and political calamity. There is the enduring contest of whimsical hope against the dehumanizing, oppressive machinations of stultifiying wickedness. There were acres and acres of silk, and strange hats for the Circus characters, and an orchestra of highly trained, experienced and talented voices, the living work of world-class theatre artists pouring lifetimes of accomplishment into a teeming press of breakneck days.
It is truly and really a privilege to do theatre, both onstage and back-. Everyone should have the opportunity, at some point in our florid, fustive, tumultuous lives, to experience what it is to command and share a stage in a packed theatre space (packed spiritually as well as physically). Especially in the service of a Mentor whose work inspires and motivates you and your work.
But more importantly, to live in one's imagination is the most extraordinary gift theatre can give. The experience of theatre, whether in the audience, on the stage, or behind and above it, is to experience a world filled with worlds; the omnipresent implication of watching imagination made manifest is that we are all always adrift in a sea of imaginations, almost irregardless of our realities. I don't really know how to explain this. I can only dimly draw the picture of what it does to me, and ackowledge how much I owe my Mentor Randall.
While in Berkeley, I had the wonderful privilege to see Berkeley Repertory Theatre's production of Eurydice, richly enacted and wonderfully realized on a stage where water seemed to flow uphill, where an upstage elevator released floods, where the bathhouse tiles lining the walls were also letters from the dead. As the title implies, the play was a telling of the Orpheus myth from Eurydice's focus, and while some of the writing and acting choices I might conceivably quibble with, it is merely the affectionate quibbling of fondness. Eurydice was not a perfect piece of theatre, but it was certainly a moving and lovely piece.
Now back in Portland, I'm writing from a coffeeshop around the corner from my apartment, listening to Dion's rendition of Springsteen's Book of Dreams, and dreaming of those lush images from those several Bay Area stages. Eurydice's father dancing alone in the watery Underworld. In Inkwell, the Silk Sea cathedral-ing over Wolf and the Turtles. Pools of light in dark, empty worlds. Bridges peering over the mist in the Bay. I am quite enthralled in all of this.
as ever, more soon. best,
- Arrive at a desolate black box of a theatre. Remember why you love this sort of thing.
- Rearrange EVERYTHING. From the monster foot-thick flats hewn from solid oak, to the chairs in all the wrong places. The dusty old typewriters that don't really work. Hats, hats everywhere.
- Man the chopsaw and turn out a few batches of brace struts. Try not to nip any fingers again.
- Where the hell did they get so many Lekolites? What kind of theatre has that many Lekos and still somehow suffers from a shortage of Frenelles? Who ate all the safety cables? These are the questions going through your tech brain, as it rapidly becomes apparent that YOU constitute the majority of the light hanging crew. Roll up your sleeves, pull on your gloves, and thank your lucky stars for that handy little Gerber you still haven't lost (www.gerbertools.com).
- Go aloft. Hang a bloody butt-load of lights under the directions of a sad ignorant insecure college student who drives a Passat (she's from Colorado). Spend hours on top of a ladder. All without forgetting any major blocking for tommorrow's performance.
- As she re-plays her Charlotte Church cd AGAIN, you must remember not to kill any Techies. It's horrible for one's karma.
- Rise at the hairline crack of dawn. Take a deep breath. Pull yourself together.
- Chuck the briefcase on the truckbed and get them doggies rolling. You're burning daylight. Don't forget to pick up some chocolate on the way.
- Hit the ground running. Stay hydrated. Look sharp.
- Go aloft within two minutes of arriving onstage. Start re-gelling lights.
- Set up for the re-stage rehearsal. Don't mess up the silk sea again. Rearrange EVERYTHING.
- Now there's an audience milling around. Remember why you love this sort of thing. Triple-check your props. Make sure the Circusians get the right arrangement of silly hats.
- Spend three hours on a hot, packed stage before an overflowing theatre doing kickass if clumsy work. Remember to rearrange EVERYTHING tommorrow.
- Get slightly punch-drunk from exhaustion and lack of sustenance. Be grateful for the strong colleagues you do have, and remember to forget about shrill, insensitive, indecisive college students who don't really have anything to do with this project anyway. This too shall pass.
- Eat well. Congratulate yourself on having escaped yet another grisly death. Remember why you love this sort of thing. Be ready to repeat as necessary when the sun rises again.
There is a smart, pert tilt to the head of the urbane set here. Glory comes packaged with lip gloss and activist literature, at least in the circles I've passed through. The light of the setting sun casts sheets of bronze on the reflective surfaces of the skyscrapers and the arches. Even the grime in the streets show unsuspected depths in this light.
Insert into a mob of over 40 actors, all of them with legendary, elegant reputations, milling about like in a cocktail party only with scripts. "That guy did this movie where I thought he was absolutely brilliant, except I meet him now and I realize he's like that all the time..." "I had no idea SHE was still alive!..." "And the killer is, Terence could not believe he was actually playing the piano. In every production of Master Class they'd ever done, they'd never been able to find an actor who could do that."
Ten hours of rehearsal. Three hour performance. Actors flying in and out of town; every day is a different theatre stage...
I couldn't really begin to tell you what The Inkwell Communiques is about. I'm afraid you'll have to visit the Upon These Boards website (www.upontheseboards.org), to get at that particular tip of the iceberg. While I played Winter Ignis and Baron Bueno Scampo from Portugallion, my favorite characters by far have to be (in no particular order): Hanuman the Monkey God, Ephemeral Maudine (the Soulful Secretary), Alfred/Woodrow Headturn, and Henry the Janitor.
My dear friends Jen, Greg and Matt are most graciously harboring this mystified/ecstatic/exhausted intercontinental fugitive. In this much needed respite between rehearsals, I find myself pecking away at my keyboard, busily working at letters and papers and so forth (it is remarkable how busy one can be when one finally has the chance to step away from work).
I am happily tangled in this world right now. I am happily listening to Light of Day; A Tribute to Bruce Springsteen. I mailed my ballot yesterday. More quite soon,
Perhaps it is the truly startling number of occasions on which I have lately boarded yet another plane. Perhaps it is the season. Perhaps I am simply growing more brittle around my edges. Whatever the reason, I am finding it harder and harder to sit quietly through another flight. The inexorably lengthening shadows of statistical probabilities clutch more and more tightly on my fraying nerves.
As in, "It is far more likely, this time around, that something unthinkable will happen."
It is not in my nature to be anxious, I tell myself. There are far more variables in play than I could possibly account for, in every single one of my waking days. Precautions are essentially pointless in a large enough bell curve.
But lately I think of the fragility of mechanics. I think of what an ethereal thing our concepts of air currents and "lift" are. How can we begin to reckon with forces so powerful as gravity, factors so feckless as velocity, when we can hardly manage choosing entrees from a menu? I think of how the number of moving parts, in any situation, bears a direct relationship with the number of points, in time and space, in which something can go quite wrong. And somehow, I am not particularly reassured by the composure of our airport worthies.
In this context, terrorism as such strikes me as almost banal.
And I am quite taken aback by this sentiment, as though I were desecrating something, as though this specific blend of violence could somehow possess a sacral character.
In this frame of mind, I find a seat, next to a pair of mildly obnoxious evangelical college students. I obsess about turbulence. I nap fitfully.
I dream about an island on the Pacific's coast, which doesn't to my knowledge exist. The island is roughly square in shape, and so small you can see across it, and on this island there is an inlet harboring a dark anchorage. A narrow strait separates the island from the mainland. In this dream, I live in a bleak sea-swept hut on a precarious mole stretching across the entrance to this harbor, which faces the open sea. The place is horrifying in its desolation. The island is drowning me.
I try to leave this island, either by sailing or swimming, it is unclear to me now which. But I end up only circling it, in spite of tremendous effort. The strait is terrifying; its shores are dizzying cliff-faces thick with crashing spray. And the ruined hut on the mole somehow terrifies me even more. I can see through the gaps in its collapsing driftwood walls; the roof is blown through. Scrub grows inside.
When I remember this dream now, sometimes I remember others with me. Sometimes I do not. Sometimes I remember sunlight in this dream. Sometimes I remember an empty sky, with neither clouds nor blue, nothing at all.
I wake up to my Wine-Dark-Sea-Deep Briefcase, and my reassuring books and papers and letters. I spend some time reviewing my Voter's Pamphlet, to the mild annoyance of my born-again seatmates. I brood in my airline seat, like a Norse mariner in his longship, thinking about omens.
That moment when the plane touches down, twinned with the moment when the plane first shuffles off the mundane coils of the world's surface, quite affects something serious in me.
Berkeley-Oakland-San Francisco is lovely. I'm in the thick of things, again. More soon, as ever.
I quit my job at the Library yesterday (www.multcolib.org). One could make the case that, on its face, this is perhaps not the smartest move on my part, given that my personal finances are on par with those of your average third-world polity. But I am going over to On-Call status, which allows me to pick and choose my work schedule, and as of this posting there are a surfeit of shifts available for the Library's On-Call workforce.
I quit my job in order to accomplish several things;
- I'm flying to Berkeley tommorrow, to do a project that is of the highest importance, artistically, politically and personally, and this will consume ten days. (www.upontheseboards.org)
- I intend to take the first of what will no doubt be a daunting battery of entrance exams and tests, in order to join the Portland Fire Bureau's Apprenticeship Program, on the 18th of November. This requires some time to prepare. (www.portlandonline.com/fire)
- The Portland-based theatre company with whom I am most primarily associated, Hand2Mouth Theatre (www.hand2mouththeatre.org), and under whose aegis I recently traveled to and from Poland (see below), shall be quite active in the coming months. This also requires time. A great deal of time. And energy.
There are, as usual, other trains running on these same tracks. The enumerated objectives above are the dominant beasts in a tumultuous menagerie of creatures straining at their leashes. To be honest, I am equally quite as daunted by all of this, as I am thoroughly excited and eager to stomp about all over the place.
The Romans made a distinction between Good Ambition and Excessive Ambition. The one was healthy and necessary for the livelihood of the person and the community, whereas the latter was destructive and pernicious and generally not so good. The word "ambition", incidentally, originally referred to how candidates for office had to walk around to solicit support, or, on a metaphorical level, how they needed to travel a great distance and exert great effort to achieve their goals. It has the same root as "ambulatory," which is an old term for a stroller, and "ambulance," which is perhaps not as innocuous a corralory as strollers are, for this topic.
I will not pretend to prescribe which form of Ambition I am currently engrossed with. I find it exhilerating to be on the cusp of either, and equally satisfied that I am not merely standing still in a stagnant place. I embrace impetus and momentum, and am possessed of at least enough self-confidence to trust in my abilities to sort things out as they unfold, and keep my ducks in a row, and stay one or two steps ahead of next month's rent. Angels and ministers of grace, defend us.
You will hear more from me as I touch down in Berkeley. Also, you will hear more backlogs from Poland, as they surface and insist on having their days relived. But I promise I will try not to preen so much as I have been, sorry about that. Context, context, context is everything...
And please, please remember to VOTE.
I just spent a week with my family in Canada. They celebrate their Thanksgiving on the 11th of October, those crazy Canadians.
These are the nights I live for: flying down I-5 in the middle of the night, with my sleeping Mom in the passenger seat, watching the glare of city lights growing on the dark, fir-lined horizons, sipping sweet coffee and waiting for tommorrow to change lanes and let me get past.
I'm worried about money, and my future, and all that grown-up crap. And of course I'm worried about the elections. If Bush wins, I'm either immigrating north or I'm joining the military, if only to thereby earn the right to attempt to join the political discourse and not be entirely marginalized (although Kerry's example is not exactly heartening).
It strikes me as a very Roman way of looking at our civics. I'm quite opposed to American operations in Iraq at the moment, but the way this country is wired, opposition means that I can't stand in the same room with any of the hawks. Unless I get a combat patch, like my cousin already has, and thereby prove that my principles are valid. But like I said, the examples of Kerry and Saxby Chambliss and even McCain show that such service is not a guarantee against the depredations of the polemicists, and the obloquy of the government itself. And by the way, why should I risk my life to have my principles validated by crusty, ignorant white people?
I do believe in living by one's principles, however. If I have to risk my life in the service of my country, even when I emphatically disagree with its government, then I can and will do this to voice my dissent with greater authority and assurance thereafter. It's not to have my principles validated, it's because I believe in a political community, in which citizenship means responsibility as well as liberty--in other words, that we are responsible for each other, that we cannot just contemptuously dismiss whatever the other side says out of hand, that even when I contest the very legitimacy of the current government, I still recognize and affirm its various constitutional powers (at least until 5 Supreme Court Justices say otherwise). I can't afford to pretend like the Republicans that make up 50% of this country don't exist.
And beyond this, I trust my own moral compass to discriminate between a moral and an immoral order, which, in light of Abu Ghraib, and two-hundred-odd years of Indian Wars and My Lai and Cuba and the Phillipines, I would not put past the current officers and commanders of the US Armed Forces to issue.
But implicit in this consideration is the premise that the satisfaction of having lived by such principles outweighs the physical danger, and, worse, the dangerous possibility of complicity in this government's enormities at home and abroad. The latter point is especially cutting: it makes no sense to register my protest against the Occupation of Iraq by marching into Samarra.
Still, neither is it doing any good mulling over all of this with no practical effect, in the middle of the night somewhere on the freeway to Portland. Lord, I hope Kerry wins.
He gave me a balloon. Arguably my proudest moment in Poland.
At this point a large, brooding Cadillac, dating back perhaps to the Ford administration, switches on its headlights and slowly rolls into the playing space.
I should mention that at this point in the performance--and indeed throughout the whole evening--a most excellent soundtrack of funk mixed with smooth something underscored the onstage events with perfect pitch. The excitement and the energy of the performance rolled around the slick parking lot with such intensity that people hardly noticed when it started to rain.
Three characters emerge from the Cadillac: a seductive woman in a clinging white dress, with matching pumps, boa and bonnet, accompanied by two tall men in black suits with matching ties and fedoras. Rumpled Mask then joins the three in ecstatically, cloyingly, lovingly polishing and marvelling at this battered black Cadillac, whose windows keep fogging up.
At some point Rumpled Mask melts into the audience, as the action moves from the Cadillac to the oil drums and the audience, while White Dress pulls out a briefcase stuffed with American bills. At which the Black Suits adopt menacing poses, and begin chucking plastic colored balls at the audience. Quite forcefully pelting people, or tossing them way overhead, or out into the streets (the taxi drivers cheerfully tossed them back). This lasts some time.
The music and the lights shift attention to the top of the Cadillac, where White Dress now stands with a container drawn from one of the oil drums. To the rousing chorus of the Wonder Woman theme, she expertly evokes all the kitschy excitement of a game show girl, pulling out number after number from the container. At this point you realize that the balls the Suits were pelting you with all have numbers, and many in the audience, bless their hearts, begin scrabbling in the puddles looking for the matching number.
The suits take a pair of powerful spotlights into the audience, combing around the plastic balls, forcefully and almost desperately looking for the number. But mostly they just mess with people, leading them on and pulling them around and shoving their way to the back and front again.
Finally someone raises their hand and steps out a little awkwardly onto the playing space, holding the matching number. He's carrying a stained paper shopping bag and his suit is badly rumpled, his expression set to varying degrees of bewilderment. The music and the Suits and the Dress all explode with enthusiasm. They do a victory lap where all four shake hands with everyone in the audience. The three dress up Rumples in Dress's white boa, champagne comes out of nowhere, and everyone takes turns taking pictures of each other in the familiar poses of achievement, with the Cadillac providing a fitting backdrop. Flowers come out of one of the oil drums. In all of the excitement, Rumples hardly notices that one of the Suits took the briefcase to free up his hands, and suddenly everyone's piling back into the Cadillac but the doors keep locking when Rumples tries to get in. He realizes he doesn't have his money. He realizes he doesn't even have his shopping bag.
He defiantly (if awkwardly) steps in the Cadillac's path, refusing to let them leave him. The Cadillac obligingly growls, and threatens him, and soon Rumples realizes the Cadillac is perfectly willing to hurt him. At which he backs away into us, and the Cadillac again rumbles and lurches, freaking out the audience and Rumples equally.
The Suits pile out and begin to beat Rumples, quite violently. White Dress steps out with boxing gloves, which the Suits take, roughly handing a pair to a dazed Rumples. Dress rings a bell, and the combatants break off and lean against the car or the oil drum, with their best Ali-vs.-Foreman expressions, doing the whole towel-and-spit thing. But it really is a one-sided fight, and the remaining Suit spends some time enjoying himself, playing with Rumples with classic Chaplin and Buster Keaton moves. Until suddenly Rumples finally does manage to land a knockout punch and a crotch kick before anyone realizes what's happening, and the other Suit has to pull Rumples off while White Dress grudgingly hands Rumples the money again.
Then something shifts, and White Dress starts clinging to Rumpled Guy, while the Suits nurse bloody noses and dagger looks. Somehow everyone manages to communicate to the audience that, to patch up this regrettable little misunderstanding, the characters have decided to all go boating together. The clamber up on top of the Cadillac, one suit on the hood, one on the trunk, both grimly doing gondolier duty. Dress and Rumples sit on the roof, popping open more champagne, Rumples growing more and more smitten, Dress vapid and coy. It's a pleasant day on the river. Here, honey, let me hold the briefcase for you. Hell, no. Ducks go paddling by. Look at the willows.
Soon Rumples gets it in his head that in order to impress the Dress, he should start rowing, too. But he's had a few too many swigs of champagne, and he almost falls off the boat, so the Suit, like any good servant, refuses to hand him an oar. Rolls his eyes. But Rumples persists. Suit is firm. Rumples is determined. So Suit hands over his oar, and joins Dress with the champagne.
Rumples starts rowing. But the other Suit at the back is still steering, which is an affront to any man's masculinity. After some effort, Rumples is rowing alone, with some difficulty, while the Suits are living it up with Dress and the champagne. It's still a pleasant day on the river. Ducks go paddling by. Look at the willows.
But Rumples doesn't really know how to row. And he's wrongfooted by the supercilious suits who now order him around, and Dress doesn't even notice him anymore. He doesn't notice, or he can't help it, when the Cadillac drifts into some choppy water. He tries to stop and ask for help, but the Suits backhand him and, whether out of folly or anguished resignation, Rumples goes into the drink.
When he surfaces again, the tableaux has changed dramatically. The briefcase is sitting on the hood, and one of the Suits pulls a gun out of it. The Suits then position themselves opposite one another, and Dress positions Rumples opposite her, so that all four are standing on the points of a compass, where the Cadillac is North and the audience is South.
The Suit at the audience takes aim at the Suit at the Cadillac. Dress smiles. Rumples doesn't get it. The tension, musically and physically, is unbearable. Suit shoots, and when nothing happens, both Suits are visibly relieved. Rumples flinches with the trigger, taking his awkward bewilderment to its most precarious height.
The Suits and Dress shuffle around, rotating in some inscrutable pattern. Rumples is to the right, Suit 1 is on the left, and a relieved Suit 2 is taking aim at Dress. Tension again, Rumples makes a move to block the shot but the other Suit holds him back. Pulls the trigger, nothing happens, shuffle again.
Dress has the gun. Rumples is the victim, the Suits on either side, holding Rumples in place. Rumples starts to plead, but before he can even say anything, Dress pulls the trigger and nothing happens. Shuffle again.
Now Rumples has the gun. A hapless Suit is the victim. And this time, predictably but startlingly, a shot rings out and the Suit is thrown back. Rumples is horrified. The others calmly and sadly take the body around to the trunk. The remaining Suit then hands Rumples the fallen Suit's fedora, and the briefcase with the gun. Dazed, Rumples is pushed into the front seat.
The Cadillac starts up, does a three-point-turn and trails out of the parking lot. The last image is of a leg dangling out of the lip of the trunk, with the vanity license plate lit up, which says "CADILLAC", of course.
This was the best piece of work I saw in Poland. Check out the link to see Teatr Usta Usta's website.
- Shard of Steel, stolen from the Gdansk Shipyards
- 2 Bottles of Sobieski Vodka
- 6 bars of chocolate
- My Gerber, aka the Tool which Unlocks the Possibilities of the Universe
- Collection of old movable type letters
- Book, "Robert Mapplethorpe and the Classical Tradition", which could conceivably be seen as pornography by barbarian tribes like the Visigoths, the Alemanni and the Neocons.
- Antique brass lighter with a secret compartment, which could conceivably be seen as a Weapon of Mass Destruction by desperate, election-season Federal officers.
- Cycling tire patch kit
- Small dram of Polish honeyed mead
- Cache of foreign postcards
- My dignity
- Museum ticket stubs and paraphernalia
- papryka potato chips
- nice German tie for my father
- handmade Polish icon for my mother
- Swiss pocket watch
I run through the checklist of Items I Do Not Want the US Fatherland Security Chuckleheads to Confiscate. Satisfied at my unwieldy arrangements, and with one last lingering look at the Backies room filled with sleeping twenty-somethings, I descend to the reception floor.
The lovely young German woman at the desk hands me a cup of coffee, and I am surprised to discover that I have a few moments of leisure with which to enjoy this. A cab is then called for, and in moments I am darting about Berlin towards Tegel airport, the window a blur of lush greens, scrolled ironwork, polished steel skies, parked Volkswagens shining in the mist, windswept Berliners, and the traffic signs that are the same but different, still startling me at their sameness/differences. The Germans build extraordinary electronic billboards at the entrance to the airport, setting out flight information and gate numbers most conveniently. I reach Tegel with all kinds of time to spare.
This, of course, is when the chaos hits. Flights are delayed. Hours are lost at Customs and Immigration. The Big Blue Monster that is my sturdy military duffel bag, suffers an invasion by polite German uniforms inquisitive of the shard of rusting Gdansk Solidarnosc steel I stole for my cousin. I run through Frankfurt International to make my flight home to Portland, which began boarding five minutes before my plane landed. Somehow I manage to buy six bars of German chocolate before breathlessly boarding Lufthansa Flight 468.
I would have thought that some sadness would settle, upon leaving Berlin and Poland and Europe behind me, but I am too exhausted to be melancholy. In these moments, I am adrift in an archipelago of strangeness, and utterly empty of substance. Impressions wash over me, and details pierce my surface, leaving stains and scars I notice only much, much later, in the middle of the night or while brushing my teeth or in walking down a familiar Portland street that suddenly no longer feels familiar anymore. In these moments, exhaustion becomes me.
There is so much, and so little with which to say anything of substance. In Canada at the moment, visiting relations and mulling over a Berkeley prospect.
We then split up to do some last minute shopping again, and some of us walked to the Basilica of St. Francis, with its beautiful Art Nouveau interior and its famous stained glass windowof God creating the Waters, with the verse title, 'Let it Be.' I was also surprised to see the Shroud of Turin there. I don't imagine that happens everyday. Walking along, checking out a lovely church, when suddenly the shroud Christ was supposedly wrapped up in pops up at your elbow. But see, that's the sort of thing that happens in countries which don't rely on aWal-Mart mentality for cultural sustenance.
The whole interior and the renovated windows were designed and executed by Stanislaw Wyspianksi, now one of my most favorite artists of all time--he paints, he sculpts, he directs, he designs sets and interiors and whole buildings, he draws searing self portraits and powerful theatre posters, he stood on the cusp of ArtNouveau and Art Deco, singlehandedly resurrecting stained glass in the religious mode and introducing it to its secular mode (his Apollo Window done for theKrakow Medical Society is stunning), and then he suddenly dies from syphilis. I visited the Polish National Museum dedicated to his works, housed in his former home, and I had what was arguably the most spiritually satisfying experience of my whole trip. Drop whatever you're doing today and go to Powell's or the Library to find some of his stuff. Do it now. You can play with your Cabbage Patch Dolls later.
That evening was perhaps our worst performance of the tour. Time is our ravenously relentless enemy here, and the technical runs necessary prior to performing in new venues continually sap almost as much energy as a full performance, leaving us doubly and cumulatively more and more exhausted with each passing day. Thus the mundane frustrations of technical and physical obstacles, which in a normal theatre setting are only of a routine nature, in a touring setting present a constantly challenging pressure which saps precious energy and creative gumption. After a certain period of time, you don't know how to bloody fix the fire sequence anymore. You can't figure out where you're supposed to be, on the 5th different staging in as many days and as many cities. You can't remember where you packed your set tools, or your props, or your costumes, because you've just spent the last hour missing warmups while messing around with the stupid fire things and now the audience is waiting and you're not even in costume yet. These are the reasons why Providence saw fit to ordain Stage Managers in aid of our humble, imperfect works. Without Stage Managers, I tend to lose stuff and get new scars on my person, which is exactly what happened in Krakow. And I'm not even getting into the language-cultural issues, which are plenty indeed.
But all that said, the Krakow performance had a lot going for it. I didn't get another nosebleed during the bear death, the way I did back in Szamocin and Gdansk. (In retrospect, I think the gauze over my face obstructed my breathing, leading to the nosebleeds.) We got some kickass publicity posters that look so cool, I stole some. Many people liked it, and hell, how often do you get to say 'I played abear, a stone spirit, a demon and Elijah the Prophet in a thousand-year-old city'?
Our next two performances were personally the most gratifying for me, and our closing night in particular was quite stunning for us all, in so many ways. This is my last night in Berlin, and in Europe, soI must beg your pardon and finish these serial posts as I return to Stumptown, which I so miss. My best to everyone, look for more soon, keep on keeping on--
ich bein ein jelly donut,
We arrive at the theatre relatively quickly. Have dinner at Teatr Cogitatur's cafe, whose menu entrees Iherein copy verbatim, after translating:
- --Philosophical Crumbs Russian Style
- --Fight Between Lent and Carnival
- --Roy's Fish
- --Fillet Calvin
- --Handbook of Eustachius
- --Nuts and Bolts of Aunt Rudigar
- --Sweet Gretchen
- --Apocryphal Hot Soup
After sampling one or two of these (they weren't quite so great as their titles imply), we embark on an excruciating midnight two-hour odyssey in search of our arranged lodgings. By the very end, we were a sorry sight; five Poles and five Americans in a long, straggling line of baggage, strung out over a block, behind which our van with its trailer, strapped with props and equipment, crawls along, Pan Mihow improbably passive at the wheel. So frightening-frustrating was it to ride in the van at 1:00 in the morning, that walking to our hotel was preferred to spending another moment in thatgod forsaken van, whose last appearance was in the ninth circle of Dante's Inferno, as a vehicle for the just punishment of traitors and philanderers.
After arriving at our Communist-era hotel, which is now some kind of international student-union/inn/physical ed. institution (?), somehow I manage to have a long conversation with one of my Polish castmates about the cultural contrasts of Polish andAmerican theatre, and our differing definitions ofthat oily term, `professional`, and the crucial role which my experience of racism plays in my personal avocation for theatre, something endlessly strange and fascinating to my Polish colleague.
Next day I split off from the main group, overfull with residual trauma from the previous night's adventures. Also, I had hoped to visit Auschwitz during my time in Poland, and it was abruptly made clear to me that this day would ostensibly be my only opportunity. Unfortunately, the last train to Oswiecim (the Polish name) left before I could make it, and I spent the day writing my last mass-post and soaking up the Silesian Museum in Katowice, which was one of the most satisfying museum experiences I've ever had.
It's not so big. And it only covers Polish art from the 19th century up to 1939. But Polish painting is very, very compelling; they've managed to take the light from Old Dutch Masters and weave striking forms and bristling colors into everything. You see echoes of expressionism and romanticism along with the steady progression of things, but each is a vibrant interpretation of those prevailing norms--in general, the dramatic tension is much more heightened, the sense of purpose and momentousness is starkly delineated, the colors are explosively passionate. Winged hussars, babies sleeping, Grand Dukes and Archduchesses, still lifes and grandmothers with violets--the quotidian in European art somehow endowed with a special, potent something that is irrepressibly Polish.
Our performance in Katowice was cramped by lack of space and tech time. But the audience was startlingly enthusiastic, and crowded. More on this later. The next day I actually do manage to split off and visit Auschwitz, which was horrifying, and which every human being owes it to their common sense of humanity to see. I happened to visit on the same occasion as a detachment of Israeli Defense Force officers, and the cultural myopia as a result was altogether too much for me. There is something traumatically disturbing about seeing modern military uniforms, of any nationality, in Auschwitz. And I am much saddened that we still have no other recourse with which to deter violence than the kind of militarism which the IDF embodies. And we all know how effective said deterrence is, these days.
Every scrap of evidence is annotated with some statement countersigned by some authority verifying its authenticity, or the residue of some horrifying chemical, or the affidavits of several verified witnesses. The cellars are rank with stale air. Row upon row of brick blockhouses. Papers, labels, badges yellowing under glass. Long walls lined with mugshots of Jews. There is a room packed with human hair.
That afternoon I rejoin my castmates in Krakow, much shaken and sorely tried. That evening was probably our worst performance the entire tour, due to mounting exhaustion, continuing language difficulties and the relentless pace. I will write more on Krakow my next posting; I now write from Berlin, where I shall be for the next two days before finally returning home. Missing al lthings familiar,
Paul Paul Ogigol
Something Misha Something Something
Polish Polish Something Something
Paul Paul Ogigol
Gdjem, Gdjem, Gdjem
Gdjem Gdjem, Gdjem.
We are not afraid of Paul
We are not afraid of Paul
We will put him in a pan
We will scramble him for all.
We are not afraid of Paul
Jam, Jam, Jam
Jam, Jam, Jam" --Timon and Kaitan, ages 5 and 9.
Cramped Renault van, 6 hours (two of which are all about being lost). Arrive at Gdansk Shipyards, where Lech Walesa and Solidarnosc began. Meet small family of stray kittens. Meet hosts in Gdansk, Teatr Znak. Stay in abandoned Manager's Residence, cramped rooms with high ceilings, sculpted Baltic brickwork under layers of Communist ash, crammed with abandoned technical manuals and Znak's masks and stilts. Loud Euro-techno music. Six bunkbeds in a room with jailbars for a door. One leaking concrete bathroom, 20+ people.
Teatr Znak performs their original work specifically for us visiting Americans, in what must have been the dining hall, now blackened and sealed into a theatre space, with Hamlet's words in chalk on the walls. Loud, aggressively physical, haunting images, spoiled by overbearing sexuality and bad Grotowski work. Still, there is ample evidence that they are skilled artists. They had the guts and the wherewithal to put down stakes in an industrial wasteland, which is now something of an artist's quarter in a demimonde squinted at by the authorities. Like Casablanca without the Nazis.
Gdansk: wide cobblestone pedestrian streets, where wander large herds of elderly tourists wearing matching neon stickers. Beautiful Baltic brick churches, where the paving stones are polished like glass and baroque still struts around like high class bad-ass. Amber amber everywhere.
Watch firedancers and oildrum-drummers in the middle of the night. Worry about gender roles on a street where no women drum, and no men dance. Go on a clandestine tour of the Shipyards with the Znak kids (I'm ashamed to say that of all my worthy H2M colleagues, I was the only one who didn't wuss out on this). Huge crumbling warehouses, mysterious Cyrillic controls, empty furnaces like dead volcanoes, crude foot-traps set by the hapless guards to catch malefactors like us. Tunnels and locked doors that yawn and sag in the dark. Tolkien's Moria passages. Huge ships sitting on the slipway in sheathes of scaffolding and rusting scraps. Cranes that make skyscrapers look like dominoes, reaching high overhead like vast fingers scratching at the moon. Have a beer on an ashheap surrounded by broken glass. Ghosts of Polish longshoremen and the lone guard roam the deserted yards, so its best to keep things quiet-like. Bridges that end mid-air, rooftops that look out on a horizon of ruins. Notice how distant the stars are.
I am now in Katowice, and mightily displeased/relieved that I will not have the opportunity to visit Oswiecim only 30 km away. Look to hear more from me in Krakow. Much love to you all. Know that there is nothing so lonesome as to travel in a foreign country, even when doing so with friends and colleagues, doing hard, backbreaking theatre.
Step onto a plane in PDX International. Pocket-size pillows. Rolling luggage. Streamlined cutlery. Step off in Frankfurt. Go down a long tunnel in the terminal following a funny little German man in an oversize pinstripe suit, loudly leading a clutch of elderly Germans. Rolling walkways. Illegible signs. Brushed steel everything.
Step onto a train in Berlin. You can still see the sixty-year old bulletholes and half-ruined cathedrals. The River Spree weaves through boathouses and the remains of the Berlin Wall. The sky as clear as a glass of water. Beware of neo-nazis in dark boots with white laces.
Customs officers pad by on the train. Curious blend of anachronistic mechanical visa-stamps and infra-red passport verification devices. Sip strong German beer while watching Eastern Europe wheel by out the window. Kick off boots for the first time in almost twenty-four hours. Feel eyes watching you everywhere, the other-ness of a stranger in a strange place. Remember what color your skin is. Sip more beer.
Arrive in Szamocin, wrinkled and road-giddy. Stars are brighter, clearer. Roads weaving in the wilderness, crosses at every crossroads. Unwrap the sleeping bags from the stilts. Start to question why you packed what you've packed, and why you didn't pack what you didn't pack.
The floorboards are worn smooth and dark, like polished mahogany. Even the nail studs are rounded from one hundred years of footfalls. Strange eastern European toilets that whisper all night.
Days tumble by rapidly. Long hours of sweat and language difficulties. Feast on kielbasa and potato salad, latkes and strong vodka. Swap some American songs for a few Polish and Ukrainian ones. Fall head over heels for the sunlight and the singing. Build some torches and flaming walls. Carefully husband your stock of wicking, because you've got a lot to build. In Poland, beer is cheap and women are deadly. Begin to hunger for newspapers. Watch the grit get into your fingerprints, no matter how often you wash your hands. Remember to send some damn letters one of these days. Get lost in the dark forest, singing loudly and drinking strong Polish beer. Learn that six shots of vodka really isn't a good idea.
Do some breathtaking theatre in a converted train station. Listen to the long speeches Polish directors love to make. Play with fire and bears and taciturn Polish audience types. Miss home. Wonder how you'll ever eat anything that isn't Polish. Struggle with more language problems. Reinvent self-conceptualizations based on a fluid paradigm of identity. Run out of Stumptown coffee the first week.
Look for more mass posts when I arrive in Gdansk. Peace and Health to you all, know that you're much missed, and watch your mailboxes.
keep on rocking in the free world,