The less you notice them, the better it sounds

Friday, July 29, 2011

Dear Milo,

Good afternoon. I write, shamefully, from the newly installed Starbucks on the Rynek, an hour before I am to meet D. I shouldn’t be at Starbucks, but it is a cafe where I feel no embarassment about camping out with a laptop for hours. The behaviors seems impolite at some of the other, nicer cafes here.

It will be really good to see D. Fans of Parallel Octave know D. as one of the founders and core group members (and everyone’s favorite bicycle philosopher). He has traveled, of his own volition, from Berlin to participate in the next 5-day workshop intensive with me. I am impressed by his fearlessness. We are going to have a coffee at Lulu Belle before the fun (pain) begins—“Radical Actor Training,” led by G2. It will be good to see him.

Earlier today, I had salad with J. (US Artists Initiative founder, person responsible for bringing me to Wro. the first time) at a Spanish restaurant, and got a list from her of chorus-oriented directors I might seek out to interview. Earlier, spent the morning reviewing my texts for the workshop—Tamora from Titus (“Have I not reason, think you, to look pale?”) and Olivia from Twelfth Night. The Olivia is one I have known in my bones for a long, long time, since those scenes (“In his bosom? In what chapter of his bosom?”) were part of my childhood acting work at the Theatricum (an outdoor theater in Topanga Canyon in LA.)

I have an hour here, and it’s time for some catch-up blogging on the last two days of G.’s workshop and the day off. It will lack some detail. But I need to do it and be done with it. As a measure of the extent to which things have deteriorated around here, today’s quotes will be from Trey Anastasio. Don’t say I didn’t—well, don’t say I did, either.

ANASTASIO: […]Musicians come and go and they’re stewards of the music for a brief period of time. But once the music plays—it’s really between Beethoven and the listener at that point. The musicians are there to get their goddamn hands off of it. All that training! Thousands of hours! Sight-reading every day! All so they can get the hell out of the way because nobody gives a crap about them at all. The less you notice them, the better it sounds. I mean, it was the highest level of art in music that I’d ever seen, and it was performed by people who had spent countless hours of work just to be invisible.

BELIEVER: In music, you never notice that quality anywhere more than in the orchestra.

ANASTASIO: And the challenge of getting ninety people to play together! Try getting four people to play together.

-Trey Anastasio, interview w. Ross Simonini for The Believer. Via Longreads.

Yes, yes, yes.

So, the past few days. Here goes. These will be rushed recaps, because when I’m three days off blogging, that’s how it happens.

[Recap of Wednesday, July 27]



Walk, but move towards a particular point in the room. Reach it. Like walking with a purpose, in a direction. G. talks about confidence.
Variation: walk towards another person, instead of a point.
–Add in drums, and reduce time to get there. 4 counts to move.

***Awesome***–Walk to another person, see them, think of what they remind you. A river? A bear? A stone? Think of an object or thing that they are, and look into their eyes and acknowledge it, then move away from them. Powerful.

Stick work.
Partners. Each hold an end of stick, guide each other. Walk around, crouch/stand, try different means of being connected through the stick.
One person sets stick on end, other catches it as it falls.
Same, but start with back turned to stick. First person yells “Now!” and you turn around and try to catch it.
One person in center of circle, throw/catching sticks from all of us. At their instigation, not ours. I am not good at this, because I am too cautious and afraid. At one point G. calls to me “Hey! Don’t sleep!” He’s right.

Before the break, G. talks about how acting requires you to be “on” all the time. “No rest in acting,” he says. You can’t take time off. You can’t take time to rest or sleep or be afraid. You have to keep moving forward.

Break, and then Alexander technique-esque lower body massage. Your partner lies down and you move his legs, feet, ankles and hips. He is passive and heavy and motionless—you move the joints. Very powerful. Lasted a long, long time.

In the evening:
Food at another milk-bar type place called Brasilia, near the university. Coffee and ice cream at the good ice-cream place in the flower-market square. Some of us head to Mleczarnia—four of us, obstinately, make our way to Gal. Dom. to take the train to see Harry Potter. This was one of the best ideas ever, and just the break I needed.

[Recap of Thursday, July 28]

Running into stopping; leader shouts STOP a few times; just a few remain running; try to collect the group with you, try to persuade others to join you. Two variations, one where you are required to select someone to run with, and one where you’re not—where people only join you if they want to.

Difficult. Very difficult, because you can see exactly when others are inspired to join you, and when they are not. Personally challenging for many of us, including me. I used to lead variations on this with the MOH&H cast all the time, and it is very humbling to see how I fail at it as a participant. Those who can’t, teach.

Stick work again. First in partners, again with suspension/stillness on the catch.

Then in the group, running round, about 6 sticks moving through us as we run randomly.

Then in a circle with one person in the middle, and that person is distributing the sticks around the group. (About 6 sticks moving.) But sticks only move when the center person asks for them.

Then in a hard variation where anyone on the outside can throw the sticks to the center person—leads to many situations where someone is getting clobbered with sticks.

Singing. We learn a song and sing it in a circle. G. conducts us and varies it. I am exhilarated by this, lifted up. How can I make the physical work as glorious for me as singing is? What is there that I can find from one that the other still lacks?
We repeat the song, over and over, at a quieter volume, and people take turns standing in the middle and improvising on top of it vocally. I should volunteer for this, but I don’t. I should, though.

Massage. Groups of 4: 3 people massage one person while recipient lies face down.

And it is done. Just like that. Our 5-day workshop is over. Cooldown yoga, then—done. Into the shower queue.

In the evening:

We wander out, to the milk-bar and Lulu Belle. We sit. We drink. We ask each other, “repeatingly,” the same questions. What did you think? Are you doing the MA? Why not? Why? What will you do it for? Can you afford it? Why or why not should one do it? Why, why, why, why, why, why, why? DLACZEGO? I am tired.

G., the workshop leader, comes out and sees us sitting with drinks and nods with approval. He is heading to Warsaw for the other theater he runs. He is busy, and I think of B., my former boss. Not even B. ran two theaters at once for long.

I ask after J., who lives in Warsaw, and he tells me I can find her at Literatka if I run over there now. This is a very pleasant surprise. I go, I find her, and we make plans for a lunch Friday.

Party, put on by the Greek actors. There is Greek food and Greek wine and Greek singing, accompanied by a drum. It is glorious. The Greek singing is interrupted by the Polish police, young men wearing black jackets with the letters POLICJA on the back, who have been called by the neighbors across the street. There is much amusement. There is more singing. There is talking of the kind that will never end. I realize I cannot be as endless as this party.

Leave the party in a timely manner, intending to get lots of sleep, only to realize that the tram isn’t running and I have no phone and no idea how to get a taxi. Walk, walk, walk. Figure out how to walk back but realize I don’t feel safe doing so at night. Return to obvious street corner and wait for night bus, whereupon a taxi pulls up. I manage to tell him how to get me home using only Polish. He asks me if I am German, and I get to use the phrase “Jestem AmerykankA.”

[Recap of Friday, July 29]

Wake up with a hangover in my calves and neck. Eat a grudgeful breakfast. What am I so off-kilter about this morning? What? It is very strange to not have rehearsal.

Buy groceries. Do laundry. Go to the Rynek and try to run thirty thousand errands: specifically, spend far too long buying a pair of waterproof leather Euro-esque sneakers that will be appropriate for the amount of walking and raining that happens here. Shop and shop and shop. I need a towel, I need bandages and tape for my feet, I need flowers for the office staff (kwiaty!!), I need batteries and an alarm clock, water and bread and milk and pasta. Fail to buy a cell phone.

Skip the party at Mleczarnia (walk all the way there and realize—far too out of it to join the group.) Return home early, grumpy, and collapse, which was what I wanted to do all day. Perhaps it is better to let the day off be a day of collapse than to try to accomplish anything during it. Sometimes accomplishing things is not what needs to happen. Sometimes nothing needs to happen. Like, often.

I have finished Star Trek: TNG, Season 5, and I don’t like 6 and 7 as much. They are full of episodes written after Roddenberry’s death, and they lack some of the compassion of his work. Still, I watch some, before falling asleep.

I will wake up early the next morning and jump into a monologue, Tamora, as if I had never left it. Perhaps I never did.

ANASTASIO: It’s when I start applying my own fucked-up perspective to a show—so I had a bad day, whatever—that I start adding judgment to it. Or I play something and start judging what I’m playing. It’s just like that, walking around in life, that’s true! How often do I find myself walking around and being aware of my surroundings and not having some fucked-up internal dialogue in my head that never ends?
– Trey Anastasio, interview w. Ross Simonini for The Believer. Via Longreads.

Well, I don’t know how often you find yourself doing that, Trey, but it happens to me quite often.

So that’s that. And now there are more workshops to come.

I am in a Starbucks. I am in a Starbucks. I am in a Starbucks. Who goes all the way to Poland to sit in a Starbucks? I do, I suppose. Sometimes.

I type so quickly. So quickly that when people see me doing it they are surprised. Z. types as quickly as I do, I know. When the two of us are together at a cafe, as we sometimes have been, in the Bay Area or elsewhere, the noise is deafening. I am, I must admit, proud of the speed we both have.

I am so glad to write every time I do it. This blog is keeping me sane. I come to the keyboard feeling as if I was sitting down at a piano. Which reminds me, I want to find a piano.

I miss you, all of you, today. And every day.