“‘Scuse me, you speak English?” the guy in the winter jacket asks me as he pulls his cell away from his ear. There’s some urgency to his voice, gravity.
In my neighborhood, I could, I suppose, be mistaken for a Russian or a Pole or a Serb, so the odds are decent that English is not my first language. But that I don’t speak it all? That seems a bit ridiculous. “Yeah.” There’s not much else to say.
“Let me call you right back,” he says into the phone as he snaps it shut. He drops the phone in the pocket of his jacket and pulls out an inhaler. “I live right over there,” and he points at a yellow brick apartment building, “and my daughter is at the clinic,” and he points in another direction, up the street toward the clinic by the college, and he pulls the medication part of the inhaler back. (more…)
As an exercise in breaking down complex ideas into their component pieces, I used to play music in the Introduction to Theater class I taught once upon a decade. I started with Kermit the Frog singing “The Rainbow Connection.”
I followed with the sort-of joke band, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, covering “The Rainbow Connection,” in a punk style.
Then I played The Clash’s “London Calling,” and I asked them, what do you think about when you think about punk?
I’ve got these credentials – a worn tool belt (he can do carpentry!); a doctorate (he’s schmart!); a non-profit (he’s an artiste!); a manuscript (he’s a writer!). Credentials say “I’m qualified.” Credentials say, “Trust me.”
Then there’s that joke – what do you call the worst student out of med school? You call him “Doctor.” (more…)
I am not currently related to anyone serving in the U.S. armed forces, although that will change in a year when my niece marries her fella.
During World War II, 8.6% of the US population served in the military. Now it’s 0.5%. In other words, it’s about 17 times less likely that you know someone who’s actively serving.
My experience of wars – Afghanistan and Iraq; the state of violence that is Libya; the state of threatening non-violence that is North Korea; and of the difficulty and deaths that occur in training that the public doesn’t hear about generally – all this, for me, is entirely mediated. Television, radio, internet. That’s it. I understand these experiences and individual lives intellectually and even then from a long, long remove. That includes the Army’s “Army of One” and the Marines’ “The Few The Proud” media campaigns, by the way, along with every platitude-filled politician who ever uttered the phrase “the ultimate sacrifice.” Most politicians, like most Americans, understand these experiences the way that I do – through someone else’s words.
Two weeks ago I saw The National Scottish Theatre’s production of Black Watch, and last week convinced two other people to go and see it. The script is based on interviews with soldiers who were members of the Scottish regiment, The Black Watch, and served in Iraq. It premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2006 or 07. With very minimal use of physical theatrical devises (a tricked-out pool table, some scaffolding, a one-time use of flying harnesses) and extensive use of physical staging and sound, the company focuses on the world of soldiers – these soldiers – and not on the immediacy of this war. This war was only the last battle that the Black Watch fought in, as they make clear from their history of the company and the present of the company.
The soldiers spend a lot of time being bored. They resent that most people already have their minds made up about the kind of people who go into the army. One particularly short-fused soldier shouldn’t have gone back for a second tour, one man explains to their interviewer after their third tour; he resigned, but they lost his paperwork. That’s what they do, he says, they lose your paperwork. They’re all a little broken from their experiences.
It is not a performance about the horrors of killing. It’s much more about the difficulties of surviving – not just the enemy, but the people who are your fellow citizens to some degree. The final minutes of the show manage to be horrifying and beautiful at the same time, a relentless Gallipoli of marching. And at the end, all I could think was that this was the closest I come to war. This and Doonesbury, when I character I know and casually care about loses a limb.
I wonder how well this production speaks to soldiers. I wonder how many of us in the audience has even second-hand experience with the wars, a family member or a friend. It’s not that I’m not grateful to be spared the experience – I am – but I suspect that if more of us knew what it was to serve in the military, then we’d think harder and plan longer before puffing our chests out.
Does that mean we wouldn’t have gone into Afghanistan, Iraq, the Koreas, Libya, or Grenada? No, I’m not suggesting that. We might still come to the same conclusion. I’m suggesting that, as a country, we’re disconnected from the people we ask to fight our battles.
All 11 parts of the Black Watch are available on YouTube. Here’s the link to part 1. Heavy accents and no subtitles, so strap yourselves in.
Update: I’ve got proper numbers now for how many people did and do serve in the military, so the 2nd paragraph is changed. These stats come from the May 2011 issue of Harper’s, in the index (p.15). For the 8.6%, they cite the U.S Army Center of Military History; and for the 0.5%, the U.S. Department of Defense (p.82). I don’t have hyperlinks for either, or for the index itself.
I have to begin this with a confession and a commercial. First, the confession: I am a fuddy-duddy. It’s nearly 10pm on a Friday night and I am triumphantly home and looking forward to bed. That’s who I am.
The commercial: think back to halcyon days when you might have heard these lines on one of the four television channels available.
“You got your chocolate in my peanut butter!”
“You got your peanut butter in my chocolate!”
V/O song: “Reese’s… Peanut Butter Cups…”
Now swap out “hollow plastic noodle” for chocolate and “clarinet” for peanut butter, and that’s the kind of music I was listening to tonight. That’s right. Free range jazz. We’ve just come back from Transistor, where we saw Extraordinary Popular Delusions. Two weeks ago it was Mucca Pazza at Mayne Stage. Four weeks before that it was Gang of Four at the Metro.
Let me put this in simple numbers: in 2011, I have already seen 3 live shows. This is more than 2010 and 2009 combined. I think we saw David Byrne in 2007 or ’08, maybe? In general, I haven’t been a huge live music fan. The David Byrne concerts (Milwaukee and Prague) were great. At Archa in Prague we could dance but in Milwaukee it was all sit-down at the Pabst. Live versions of the songs sounded like the songs we knew with different arrangements – not a far cry from a concert album, really.
Gang of Four was a slightly different deal. First of all, I’m late to punk. I like it, and the post-punk of GoF, but I don’t know most of the music very well. I have saved a voice mail of one of my friends singing “I Love a Man in Uniform” on my phone – a capella – to remind me of GoF’s more famous melodies. The sound mix at the Metro was pretty awful and the details of the music was hard to make out, but for the first time, I enjoyed the performance of the music rather than trying to get into the music itself. Kind of a revelation.
Mucca Pazza is a punk marching band. I saw them outdoors last year at Global Union (and if you’re in or near Milwaukee at the end of September, you should really mark this weekend on your calendar) and was frankly a little scared for my eardrums of catching them indoors. Wise, but unnecessary. They were fantastic and fun. They’ve also got cheerleaders, one of whom is a performer at the circus arts oriented Actors Gymnasium, so there!
Back to Extraordinary Popular Delusions – the free range jazz I spoke of before.
I’m used to liking things for their virtuosity, being able to tell how good someone is. At a David Byrne-live album sort of concert, that’s pretty easy. It’s a polished show, the sound mix is set, even when they play off album and go with Goran Bregovic. Gang of Four were clearly skilled, but the sound made it difficult to appreciate. By contrast, their opening act, Hollerado, had a much less polished performance. They were fine – they were good – but their obvious effort made them seem feel like they were just trying too hard. The confidence that GoF brought to the stage was part of what made their show so good.
Mucca Pazza has some skilled folks as well, no doubt about it. They promenade into the house, playing instruments in and among the audience as they filter their way onstage, all the while doing big band orchestral numbers with mad abandon. And our free range jazz musicians? They had an intellectual thing going. It wasn’t pleasant music, necessarily, but it was incredibly interesting. I could bring the drums into focus, or switch over to keyboard or bass, or clari-noodle (that was actually only about 2 minutes…). All four musicians ran a split focus, concentrating on their own playing and attending to the sound bubble that they collectively created.
I hadn’t really thought about confidence in music performance before as separate from virtuosity. It’s unlike what I’ve imagined when I think about listening to and enjoying music and sound.
I’m stuck on the line between doing, action, and performance.
Basically, the problem is trying to write something that relates to an artistic performance and not necessarily how we act in our daily lives. Because I’d really like to think about some other things besides my friends dying, and I suspect other people would, too.
Part of what I’d like to perform for you is Competence. I don’t have my form down in this different vein, so rather than subject you to something to long, I’m going to sit on it for a while and leave it at this: if you’re in the Twin Cities, go to the Fringe, go see many, many shows, and include in your selection Your Mother Dances at the Southern, which I saw tonight. Good, fun, sexy.
Dream of competency.
Yesterday was the 33rd anniversary of my brother’s death, and every year we mark the occasion with homemade tacos. My dad gets curry on his anniversary. Such is the luck of the draw and whims of family.
My mother looked a little beaten up yesterday from when she picked me up at the airport until bed. She told me that the day is hard, every year. She didn’t make a big deal of it – no rending of clothes, ashes on head, nothing dramatic. She just seemed a bit tired and fragile.
At dinner, my sister asked me if I was disappointed not to be a part of the Minnesota Fringe that’s going on right now. The vehemence of my “very much,” seemed to surprise her a bit.
The words are just information. I miss you. I’m upset. I love you. I care. They’re supported not just by everyday actions – a phone call, punching the wall, flowers – but by the conviction with which we perform our words. My mother doesn’t perform her grief over my brother’s death. I don’t perform my disappointment over The Heart of a Dog being done and not performing here. If we didn’t perform and denied our emotions, you’d say we were in denial. But we acknowledge, just don’t make a big deal.
So how do you know how big a deal it is? And how inappropriate is how big? The performance needs to be proportionate to the scale – somehow.
My mother did her dissertation research comparing widowhood between caucasian, Jewish, and African=American women. The period of mourning was a topic that arose in the course of her work. What used to be “wear black and be officially in mourning for a year” for the white community has become, after a year, “don’t you think you should move on with your life?”
So here’s a question. If performance makes such a big deal in our face to face communication, what is filling that gap when we’re reading these words and there’s no one to perform?
If there’s a single phrase that suggests in our common language that we perform ourselves, it is “out of character.” If we do or say something that is not typical, we hear, “That’s not like you.”
I like performing, but I also like my time as the center of attention to be limited. I really, really enjoyed doing THE HEART OF A DOG with Andy. I loved teaching. But I don’t want everyone looking at me all the time. I like the anonymity of being a guy in the city and not having to worry about someone recognizing me. And if they did, it’d be basically just a novelty anyway. Jonathan West, former artistic director of Bialystock & Bloom and current managing director at Sunset Playhouse, once had someone recognize him in a coffee shop. Said fan was so enthusiastic about whatever she’d seen him in, that she gesticulated his coffee right on to his computer.
See? A little anonymity goes a long way.
I did something screwy to my knees yesterday, and today I’m walking around in constant mild pain. It’s more of a drag than anything else, but combined with whatever was bothering my stomach, I felt like hell by the time we were heading back from the dog park this morning. Lisa commented that my eyes looked glassy.
I can’t perform that – glassy eyes. I can limp, or I can try not to. I can hide some symptoms but not others. I can be sick without acting sick. When we feel like it, we recognize that there’s a qualitative, existential difference between someone who is an asshole, and someone who is just acting like one. My father-in-law has a list of several of these people.
This is the “low affect” question with Anthony. For me, at least. How much of his depression is performed and symptomatic, and how much is generated by his body? The tremors, the tics, those are all symptoms of the disease – or, I don’t know, maybe the drugs that are supposed to be alleviating other things. Anthony is not like anyone I’m used to. He’s articulate and can talk immediately about his lack of threshold between complacency and anger. And because he’s articulate I expect him to be able to do something about it, and I watch as he snaps from complacency to anger, unable to do more than observe behavior in himself that he doesn’t like.
It’s not that the performed “sick” is less true. If I don’t limp, then my performance is a lie by not indicating my discomfort. There’s no more inherent relation between performance and truth than there is between words and truth. We can lie or convince in all kinds of ways.
Today I was, in no particular order, pack leader, husband, handyman, landlord, erstwhile colleague, and patient.
I got to thinking about this while sitting in the ophthalmologist’s chair and he’s looking at my dilated pupils and we’re talking about how Lasik surgery is going to be so 5 years ago in about 5 years, given what’s coming down the pike. He’s checking on the pressure in my eyes. What are we talking about here? He answers, but without saying what he’s talking about. No, is there some liquid in there? Yes, he elaborates in slightly more detail, there’s different liquids in the front and back of the eyeball, and points to one of those doctor posters you see in offices everywhere. Vitreous humor, I ask. He’s surprised. Yes, the other is aqueous humor. He’s okay using big words since apparently I know them, too. I feel no need to explain that I came across these in a comic book.
There are different classes of patients in the same way that there are different classes of clients, and Nathan and I chitchat over how we’ve dealt with clients, me as handyman and contractor and him as computer IT guy. While we’re having this discussion, we’re in my garage, which Nathan and his wife are renting from me and my wife, and I’m stripping a door whose paint started coming off in sheets. His wife Jessica has the tenure track version of my old teaching job. Our interactions are fraught with potential.
In the spirit of TMI and as an homage to Meredith, I offer you the following story about my vasectomy, which is what being a patient today weirdly reminded me of.
I need to begin by saying that there is nothing in my lived experience to prepare me to be awake while a man and a woman, medically trained both though they may be, shave my testicles. Nothing.
Yes, I was surprised, too. Goffman calls this a “negative frame,” if you care, but what’s relevant here is that we try to fill negative frames with SOME FRAME OF REFERENCE. Any one will do.
Naturally, I try to demonstrate that I’m a chill dude, and what better way to do that than to engage in idle conversation. No, I don’t remember if I asked him how his weekend was, but I guarantee that whatever I asked, it was equally dumb. What I learned from this particular incident is that, try as you might, you cannot make an abnormal situation normal. You really can’t. I tried. It didn’t work. My guess is that although this is a new situation for every man on the table, it is completely normal for those two individuals. For all I know, they’ve created a taxonomy of behavior for how people behave, ranging from “freaked out and declined procedure” to “exhibited gender or sex-negative behavior due to the presence of either the male or female medical practitioner” to “totally failed to convince us of his chill-ness by pretending that this is no big deal and people shave his nuts for him all the time.” (For the record, they don’t.)
All of those things that I was today are just roles. They’re not me precisely, but they indicate bits of me. Each one is a predictor of sorts for you, as are other things like my music tastes, my friendships, if I’m habitually on time or habitually late. Or the odd predictor that I just shared this story with you.
“My chair told me I should start dressing more like a professor,” said the grandmaster of my martial arts dojeng. In addition to being an 8th dan in both hapkido and tae kwan do (“Only 7th in hapkido,” he corrected me, “but either one is a can of whoop ass”), he was also a full professor in the law faculty at the university and had written a couple of textbooks. His response to his department chair, “Well, I’m a professor, and this is the way I dress, so professors must dress this way.”
Let’s hear it for syllogisms.
We’re supposed to look a certain way (dress for the occasion) or act a certain way (your age, to name one). When I used to be heavily into academia and would talk about “performing the self,” I got a lot of eye-rolls. “That sounds like bullshit,” was the intimation. Academic gobbledigook.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of academic gobbledigook. A LOT. We are a veritable gobbledigook machine.
The idea of performing the self was sketched out by a Russian named Evreinoff and detailed by an American named Goffman (among others). We have an idea of who we are, and that idea is what we perform. If you’ve ever seen me in a suit, you’ve seen me out of my element. I don’t know how to wear a suit , and you can tell. I am comfortable in jeans and t-shirts with a Leatherman on my belt (for the record: Leatherman vs. Gerber, I don’t care). “People can change,” we hear, and are treated to a conversion story about how the person became someone else – typically a better person. Yes, people can change, but mostly we don’t. Because we rehearse our performances every day of our lives and changing requires a new directorial vision.
RadioLab (a show some folks hate, I grant – I’m not one of them) did a show (it might have been Who Am I?) I podcast while driving out to teach at a suburban university last year about personality. One of the stories was from a woman talking about her mother changed after a stroke, and a neuroscientist they spoke with said, roughly, “Yep, we’re all just a bump on the head away from being someone else.” I was listening to RadioLab again yesterday on my now daily 90 minute commute (it won’t last, I’m happy to say), Numbers, and how we, people, naturally think “logarithmically,” and we learn to count by integers only between 3 and 4, by which they meant, we can repeat the words that stand for numbers, but we only really learn what they mean by 3 or so.
One of the things that came up while I was in graduate school was “aphasia,” which is the process by which people lose language. Linguists interested in language acquisition look at the reverse process for insight, and it turns out that there is a generalized, actual reversal. The hardest sounds to make, for example, are theorized as the ones we learn last. The ones we learn last tend to be the ones we lose first.
I wonder how aphasia plays out with performing yourself. What parts of ourselves go away? To hear Hana talk about her, Lucka never lost anything of herself in her last days. Anthony, meanwhile, between the actual brain tumor and all of the meds he’s stuck on, has what his battery of doctors calls “low affect.” It’s not that his personality isn’t there, but he’s not showing it as much. When does a lack of practice mean a bad performance?
After one surgery a few years ago, Anthony woke up inviting people to call him Tony and interested in football. Neither of those things is “Anthony,” and neither of those things lasted. Where did they come from and where did they go?
For the record, the grandmaster of my martial arts school still occasionally wonders if everything he’s experiencing isn’t actually a delusion and if he’s still lying injured in the mud in Viet Nam.
It’s the last day of Fringe Festival Praha 2010. Expect a blow out tonight at the after-party at A Studio Rubín.
Yesterday we spent the morning running errands that really took a long longer than they had any reasonable right to take. “Thank you, Prague,” said Andy, who seems to have grown to have the kind of affection for Prague that you might have for an older brother that cuffs you upside the head, and then follows up with “two for flinching.” Andy tried briefly to imitate pedestrians on the Charles Bridge yesterday, and nearly ended up taking a woman’s eye out. Which made the imitation all that much more authentic, and Andy all that much more embarrassed.
We got our last Prague Kickstarter picture taken (posted this AM), and here’s the superhero that was next to us as we were framing up.
Then we made it up to Charles Square where we found the coolest hollow tree ever, and Kelly got some good pics (bottom of the page).
A good show energy-wise for us, with probably the smallest house we’ve had – 10 people. But a very appreciative 10, and we’re grateful to have had them at all. After a week of overcast skies and two days of particularly spitty, unpleasant rain, the weather broke and we’ve got beautiful, warm weather with a lovely breeze. I’m surprised anybody came inside at all.
It doesn’t get much better than Prague in spring time.
Went to see Company FZ’s HORSE last night, which was at turns hilarious, lyrical, awkward (in a good way and on purpose), and quiet. Not a particularly Fringe-y show in that there’s no way they set that stage up in 15 minutes, but that’s only a point of fact, and doesn’t bear on the execution. Flick Ferdinando plays a series of women and horses (and the odd pony) in a series of scenes that touch on horses in various ways, from sexual, to showcasing, to shooting one that’s gone lame. A beautiful, lovely piece.
Tonight, I think, I’m seeing The Fugitives, probably the last thing I’ll see at the Fringe.
I haven’t been blown away by anything like I was last year with In a Thousand Pieces, or Backward Glance, but that’s not to say it hasn’t been a strong year, only that the level of intensity isn’t quite the same. I suspect every year has a slightly different personality – how could it not?
One of the advantages of my schedule last year was having the timing jump a bit – this year, Andy and I perform every night at 6:30pm, and there’s all kinds of shows we can’t see. I’d really like to see Suzy in Shakespeare’s Will, for example, but she ends 15 minutes before we go up. Can’t really work my head and clock around that. I’m looking forward to the juggled schedule at the Minnesota Fringe to compare notes.
I was up too late last night, 3am. This is what was in our doorway when I got back to the flat (the picture taken this morning, obviously).
Who drinks beer from a straw?
We only have two more days of the festival. This is both a reason to celebrate and mourn.
The show is definitely hitting a stride, even though we fell back a pace or two on account of me being selected to start off playing the dog. Yep, I did three nights in a row in Milwaukee, the first night here, and since then, five nights in a row, it’s been Andy. Now me again. But we didn’t fall back to last Friday – there’s ongoing development. The big trick, I’ve been thinking, is keeping some kind of momentum from this experience going into August in Minnesota.
Last night was Big Club Night, in which Andy partook and I didn’t. Club Lávka is the biggest dance club in Central Europe, and according to one of the volunteers who chose not to go, not a place she’d feel comfortable sitting on furniture. Still, some 20-30 folks made it there last night, and Andy rolled in around 5:30am. I didn’t notice. My morning errand was sussing out how to pay the difference on our apartment that we were mistakenly not charged when we moved in. No, there’s no scam, just sloppy work on their part. After many many hiccups, we’re sorting it all out tomorrow.
Then the action started at 10:30am. Jarda from Brno texts me: Rozinka can’t make it, something’s come up at home. See you at 13:30 at Florenc, yellow bus. A good deal of running around later, I meet Brbla as he gets off the bus. No Jarda. Didn’t he text you? Someone stole the security camera from the back of the theater – for the second time in two weeks. He’s meeting the police. Shortly after, Jarda calls, he’ll be in at 4pm. Got it. Brbla and I have lunch, hang out. He orders a coffee and a shot of rum. Pours the rum in the coffee. Drinks. A Czech specialty, he tells me. A Brbla specialty, Jarda later corrects him. Jarda is delayed even further, until 4:30, and I still have to drop them off at the theater, get to the flat, turn around and get back. Everything works out with only the slightest of elevated heartrates, and I leave Jarda and Brbla to their own devices.
We had our biggest house yet, just over 30 people. I spent the rest of the evening continuing with Jarda and Brbla (the latter smoked three packs of cigarettes over the course of the evening – not the day, the evening), as they were taking a 12:30am bus back to Brno. You couldn’t find nicer guys, they’re not getting in until 4am or so.
And they gave us the best compliment that I could have imagined. Now, they don’t really speak English, but they can understand it pretty well, though we do speak pretty fast. They definitely got all of the cursing. They said that the story was visually clear, they loved the back-and-forth exchange of characters, and that (here’s the good part) it reminded them of the work that Goose on a String used to do. Spare, more of a focus on action.
Couldn’t have made me happier. They didn’t even think we were disgusting.
First let’s clear up a little linguistic confusion. Today, which is Wednesday, is not Hump Day as far as we’re concerned, because today is day 6 of the festival. Yesterday, day 5, was our hump. This is appropriately Prague-like, just a little off center.
Nothing terrible happened yesterday, though many company members seemed to have a bit of the blues. Middle of the run, middle of the week when it’s harder to pull in audiences, maybe the time by which the foreign things (for foreigners, of course) have accumulated to a critical mass… In our case, every good thing was simply undercut by a less-than-good thing. No big deal, which we recognize, but we allowed ourselves a bit of crabbiness.
The day starts off perfectly – getting Lale to the airport on time, getting to my friends who graciously allowed us their laundry for washing costumes, perfect. No lunch until 3, so I head back to the flat, drop off the clean and dry clothes (heaven) and head downstairs with Andy to grab food (for me) and beer (for him). All good good good. We don’t have the opportunity to see Sealskin, another selkie show, this one by the folks from Multistory Theatre that did the Orpheus and Eurydice adaptation I liked to much last year. That’s got to be on today’s list, else I won’t be able to see it at all. So instead we decided to change some money.
In his morning travels, Andy had discovered that all of the fantastically convenient CHANGE – 0% COMMISSION shops on the road do a nice little just-barely-advertised sleight of hand. Look over there!
The actual exchange rate is around 20 koruna to the dollar, and if you exchange over $1,000.00, you get that rate. If you exchange less, no problem, we’re here to help you, and the rate is 15 koruna. 75% of your money just went away, but keep in mind there’s no commission! He also learned that a lot of places don’t take traveler’s checks, which Kelly and I had both been talking up for their security. Gotta finda banka. No problem, there’s an American Express office right on Wenceslas Square, we’ll walk there, see some stuff and oh no! It’s gone! No problem, I’m sure we passed a Travelex somewhere around here… Oh, pop into Raffeisenbank? Sure. They’re a bank, they exchange money, but oh, hello, no travelers checks? Oh. Okay. Well, we’ll just keep walking. Thanks anyway, very helpful, blah blah blah. Komereční Banka is big, this is a big branch, let’s try here, and oh, you don’t have your passport? No, we can’t help you. They’re already countersigned so that… No?
The teller at the Komereční Banka was the most forbidding Czech person we’d seen on our trip to date. But this will change by the end of the day.
Not bad, right? No. Not bad. Just frustrating. Off we go to the theater.
Smallest house to date, just around 10 (the day before was 11), and one of our better performances since opening night. No one said orgasm, no one forgot their lines, great energy. And you know what really helps the atmosphere? Someone making a cappuccino. Technically, the bar is supposed to be closed for food and such during performances, but there was a huge raft of confusion, and 2 minutes before we started, a couple came in, managed to order a full meal (and a cappuccino during the performance itself) and went at it with gusto. It’s okay, they said to the house staff, we’re here every year, we know how this works, we’re performers ourselves. Oh, that’s cool. Sure.
The clinking of spoons is not a big deal. Not much difference between that and a scootched chair, after all. It was their incessant, three-quarter volume talking that was distracting. It was so distracting that several audience members told them to shut up. Maybe they do performance art? Spoken word? I think they may have left the kavárna after being scolded, hard to tell, and we continued on with the show. Then, during Shardik’s final monologue about not fitting in, Irenka, the sweet miniature (or just small) Doberman with whom we had our picture taken (see previous days’ post) woke up and barked. Took the piss a bit from the scene, but it cannot be admitted but that this was funny.
Okay, so a good show. Basically a really good show with some weird stuff. We go backstage to change, Kelly rushes over to the next theater to buy us all tickets to Dr. Brown, and Andy’s pants are gone. He’s in his costume pants, but his “civilian” pants, which had been hanging next to his civilian shirts, are gone. The shirts are still there, bunched up and pushed to the side. I check with the techs in the office behind us. There’s a new company playing downstairs, they explain, maybe they took the pants. By mistake. Can you check? Sure. Andy grumbles about German companies. And not two minutes later, the tech shows up with Andy’s pants, and all is well. I point out that if his pants didn’t look so much like Poland, and it’s probably his own fault, and we’re good to go.
We talk with the house staff about the weird people, we pack up our props, we run to see Phil in Dr. Brown, which is more absurdist clowning than stand-up, and barely manage to squeak in. 25 people watching a show in a room designed to comfortably hold maybe 10 at most. So we were uncomfortable, and the humor is intentionally awkward, and it was good fun.
Andy’s going to call it an early night, get some rest. Kelly’s getting over feeling sick, I’m thinking to go out to Rubín and see folks because tonight I’m going to hang out with Don and František, Thursday my friends from Brno arrive. Good. And we walk out of Dr. Brown’s small theater, and a more forbidding Czech woman than the bank teller (though she may actually have been Russian) taps me brusquely on the chest and says, “You’re disgusting.” Excuse me? I think she’s joking. I assume she’s seen the show, of course, because I haven’t done anything else disgusting, but at first it seems like the goofy kind of compliment one might receive. It’s not. “What you have done to Bulgakov, it would kill him a second time. You should learn more. You do not know what you are doing.” Well. I’m sorry you didn’t like the show. We certainly didn’t want to offend anyone in that way. “Do not be sorry. Just do not…” There was more, but frankly I didn’t catch it. She was done talking to me and turning away, and it’s not really the kind of conversation that’s going to go anywhere.
We had some low key drinks with each other. Andy left early. None of us went out to socialize.
But yesterday was hump day. Today is day 6, and it’s all going to get better from here.
We only saw one show yesterday, as it was Lale’s last day in town. So a slow start to the day, taking the cable car up Petřín Hill and having some coffee at the park coffeeshop at Nebozízek overlooking the city (Kelly’s got some photos of this on her facebook page). We met up with Phil (last name appropriately unknown) from Dr. Brown, who does a sort of absurdist stand-up routine. Sound weird? It is, and it generally reduces people to awkward giggles. We’re going tonight.
After spending far too much time sitting around, we found ourselves somewhat crunched for time, so rather than climb to the top of Petřín, we wandered back down toward the city. Kelly and Phil hung back to shoot some publicity still for him, and Andy, Lale, and I made our way to Wenceslas Square, since Lale had heard that the klobása (sausages) are not to be missed. And indeed, she and Andy were thoroughly delighted with what they ate. Although Andy kept inquiring as to the crunchy bits. “Vegetables, right?” I decided to go for the fried chicken cutlet (schnitzel). This was an error in judgment, as my friend Don warned me (not for the first time) last year, and for which he scolded me this morning once I told him that my bellyache was just about gone. “What did I tell you about eating street food?”
It’s probably due to my head being on my stomach, then, that during our performance yesterday afternoon (Andy was the dog: Kurt 4, Andy 3), that I misspoke.
Coulda happened to anybody.
Doctor Voronov is recording himself with Doctor Bormenthal upstage, and he’s saying, “Being capable of rational thought does not make us rational creatures. Like us, dogs are collections of proteins, bound up into muscles, orgasms, and synapses.”
You heard me. Orgasms. Kelly was barely able to function, and the limits of Andy and my mutual telepathic communication was discovered: we have none. There was about 30 seconds of ad-libbing while we attempted to (a) incorporate the gaffe into the characters and have them react to it, (b) not crack up, and (c) not forget where we are.
It is fairly safe bet that if you mention to Kelly that we, like dogs, are composed of orgasms, she will lose it entirely.
We had quite a small audience, only 11, which can be explained in part by it being Monday night. Until Wednesday we’re going to have small houses. It’s tough to pull people in without serious buzz on the workdays. But I think it’s also the case that the show really isn’t connecting the way I thought it would. I’m going to talk to Don and get some feedback about the performance, see if there’s not stuff we can’t work on even while we’re here.
Afterwards we went to THE HARBOUR, a group from the U.K. with a lovely, beautiful, magical performance about selkies, which are seals that transform into people by shedding their skins. Virtuosic, simple visual metaphors that were lyrical and clear, simple humor (young man cross-dressing as the crabby mother) that didn’t undercut the drama, but played like a counterpoint. Yesterday was their last performance (they’re off to the Edinburgh Fringe later this summer), and they played to a packed house. Pretty fantastic. James Walling at the Prague Post gave them a review the other day for a different summary.
Today is laundry day. Not our clothes, just our costumes, thanks to the generosity of friends Don and František.
Two last notes: we have discovered that as long as Andy is in Prague, it is his birthday. Also, we are made up of orgasms.
I’ve got this friend with brain cancer. He’s had it for going on 10 years now. His wife, as the primary caretaker, has to shift between multiple roles, often several times a day: the worker at her day job, the mom, the bill-payer, the nurse-maid, the housewife.
These labels aren’t simple stereotypes. They are job descriptions, and every time she goes from one to another it requires a certain amount of mental effort. Mostly unremarkable in that we all have to do this everyday – but in regard to her husband’s health, it takes on added significance, pathos, and other words that don’t do the horrible situation justice.
The roles are what I’ve been struggling with lately. Husband, partner, performer, producer, worker. As my wife leaves for another trip, and I leave for Prague a day before she gets back, we’re looking at another three weeks of long distance communication. Which in some ways isn’t so bad, because the farther apart we are, the clearer the roles are. It’s difficult to do a whole lot more on those conversations than be each others’ support. When we’re local to one another, we have to juggle a lot more.
I think that’s why having pets is so satisfying in so many ways. There aren’t that many ways to relate to a dog or a cat. With the dog, I’m the pack leader. With the cats, I’m just the Pinky-with-the-food (and warm lap).
I don’t often think about “performing” sickness. I used to think about it all of the time, when I was desperately trying NOT to go to school as a tweener. What might convince my mom today that I don’t feel well?
Do you slump your shoulders? Is your face pale? There are a bunch of physically borne symptoms that happen to us, and some which we can exaggerate. How much of that is real, in the sense of being induced by the germs that have invaded our bodies, and how much is amplified or created?
Last night, at precisely 1:43am, my dog made a hacking sound that brought me out of a dead sleep. She hacked twice more, got up, and slunk around the room with the posture of a dog who’d just been caught doing something she wasn’t supposed to be doing. Or that of a dog that felt very unwell. We got her outside for a few minutes in case she needed to vomit, and repeated the whole process again at 3:45am. She hacked at 5am, too, but didn’t get up.
Yes, she’s going to the vet, that’s not the point.
This morning she is clingy, staying close to one of the two of us, showing no interest in going on a walk, in going outside, or in chasing down galloping cats. If she’s not really sick, she certainly feels sick.
A dog is certainly as capable as a person of psychological manipulation, but the motivations tend to be a bit more transparent. She’s not angling for food. At the most, she’s going for comfort. She’s sleeping on the dog bed we have on the floor or sleeping underneath the feet of one of us.
A friend of mine wrote her thesis on “The Curious Paradox of Pain.” Pain is uniquely personal. We have individual thresholds of what is tolerable and can transmit that information to another only inaccurately. If we soldier on, we do not communicate our pain. If we express our pain too much (or for too long), we are needy or whiny.
The magic line of splitting the difference demonstrates suffering (yes, I am sick) and fortitude (I need help, but I do what I can on my own). Which is another kind of performance.
If you don’t know about Tea Krulos’ project, Heroes in the Night, you should. It’s not too late.
UNLESS YOU’RE A VILLAIN!