Poland, theater

yesterday’s news

Antepentoday (day before yesterday): drinks with M. at Puzzle, before my last night in Wro.

Pentoday (yesterday): checked out of the culinarily named Cinnamon Hostel on ul. Kazimierza Wielkiego; Wroclaw Glowny; took the train from Wroclaw to Warsaw, during which time I reviewed the miejscownik case (locative) in preparation for the start of Polish classes at the University of Warsaw next week; arrived in Warsaw, mid-afternoon.

Made it from the train station to my apartment in Praga, with two enormous suitcases, in about half an hour (excellent public transit); unpacked; turned around and went back out for a 20:00 performance of chór kobiet’s second piece, MAGNIFICAT, at the Instytut Teatralny.

Wandered home in a slightly rainy night, past a weird display of eight-foot glowing neon plastic tusks in changing colors, springing from the sidewalk near Plac Zbawiciela, in place for a store opening.

I have much more to say about the CK piece, which is about the relationship of Polish women to the figure of Mary in the Catholic religion–but one sound that has stuck with me is a singer beginning the familiar line of “Ave Maria” but cutting it two syllables short, so that the audience only hears “Ave Ma–.”

CK’s work often plays on the idea of musical memory–what we know, what we expect–and presents something askew from our expectations.

Today, a much-needed day of rest or something, after the Fulbright orientation, the trains, the Festiwal in Legnica, and more trains. Lots of emails to be sent, lots of organization details relating to the interviews. I think of AB, a director who once told me when I asked him how to be an assistant director, “Be a stage manager.” He wasn’t entirely correct, but the basic idea–that learning to be organized is the most important skill a director needs–has never left me. The two shows I stage managed were the hardest jobs I have ever had, but I learned more from them than any others.

And now, having brought the organization of myself and everything I’m writing to a state I can leave it in, I’m going to absent myself from work for a bit.

Poland, theater

return to mleczarnia

Wee’reeee baaaack! Writing in this cafe is like writing in the Great Coffeehouse Time Vortex; I am simultaneously present at Groundworks (both the Cahuenga and the downtown locations), MoonBeans and the first floor of Meyer Library at Stanford, Carma’s and One World in Baltimore, and Ashland’s Key of C.

I have a new resolution for this blog; 100 words a day. I have been writing a lot of articles lately, and trying to get them posted or published in other news venues. This means that the feature of SOS relating to immediate reflections on the experience has suffered. But if I give myself permission to keep it shortish, then I’ll still do it.

So, I’m writing in Mleczarnia, in Wroclaw, eating a heart-shaped gingerbread cookie and staring at an unlit candle. Where to begin…

The Fulbright orientation ended on Saturday morning. During the orientation, I was very performatively engaged, more so than I expected to be–I saw a performance of Prokofiev’s R&J ballet at the Wroclaw opera house, the Pina Bausch 3D film, and two avant-garde puppet theater performances (one about Marlena Dietrich, one based on Racine’s Phedre) by my friend A. Articles in progress on all this except Prokofiev.

In addition to this, we had Polish language study in the morning, lectures on Polish culture and history in the afternoon, tours of Wroclaw and environs on the weekends, and socializing in the evenings. I made many new friends. The Fulbrighters are, as you would expect, a very cool and diverse group. We are now far-flung, from Lodz to Gdansk to Lublin to Szczecin–our trains dispersed this weekend–but I am looking forward to visiting all of them.

After that orientation, I took a train to Legnica, a smaller town in the southwestern Poland region known as Lower Silesia (a region that includes Wroclaw, and that has changed political affiliations many times through history). While there, I saw four performances and a concert as part of the Festiwal Teatru Nie-Zlego (lit. “festival of theater that’s not bad”). What I saw of the festival was characterized by work that has some interest in movement, dance, and music as well as text–but I only saw 2 of the 4 days. Many of the plays incorporated surrealistic elements and humor. I heard audiences laugh more in this festival than I have in any previous Polish theater experience. Articles, yes, in progress.

I saw one of my favorite Polish theaters, Teatr Cinema from Michalowice, who I’ve loved for two years but before this had only seen on video. They performed “Nie mówię tu o miłości” from their repertoire. The title means “We do not speak of love here.” I also saw three new companies (new to me, that is)–Teatr Witkaczego z Zakopanego’s “Bal w operze”–a Lithuanian puppet theater company, Teatr Lėlė z Wilna’s “Pozytywka (Muzikinė Dėżutė)”–and a collaboration by Teatr Dada von Bzdülöw & SzaZa z Gdańska called “Caffe Latte.” On the last night, there was a concert by Warsaw Village Band. Articles in progress, etc., etc. Unfortunately, I did not get to see the performance by the organizing theater, Teatr Modrzejewskiej w Legnicy, but I’m hoping to return for that later this year. Articles…

During the Legnica festival, I had a volunteer guide around town–a college student and Legnica native, K. She and her friends–self-proclaimed “theater freaks”–gave me a sort of Legnica 101. In return, I told them about Julie Taymor and Spider-Man, as well as “Shrek, The Musical.” I think they got the short end of the stick. I really enjoyed connecting with the students. Two of K’s friends are about to begin drama school in Wroclaw, and I’m hoping to stay in touch with this group of people as they conduct their training. I want to also get a perspective on Polish theater as it is taught at the universities. More articles.

In Legnica, I was also able to conduct interviews with three theater people in the town–directors, festival organizers, community organizers, artists–and am working on compiling those.

Night train back to Wroclaw yesterday after Warsaw Village Band, staring out the window and thinking about the large violinesque object with drone strings that the musicians from WVB found in a well, broken, and restored. “Violin” is a really hard word for non-Polish-speakers to say–“skrzypce.” There is a Polish comedy routine in which the comic makes fun of all the different ways to mispronounce it. He ends up saying things like “trzy pizzy” (three pizzas). I learned about this from my super-cool student friends in Legnica. They were incredibly informative. I wish I always had college students to tell me what’s going on.

Today, back in Wroclaw, I had a three-hour-long-interview with a scholar for another article in progress. Different subject. I also bumped into another Fulbrighter, a Wroclawian, in the Empik bookstore. Nice to run into people accidentally. Makes the whole country feel a bit smaller. Starting to have a network of friends.

I will return to Warsaw tomorrow, where I will see chór kobiet’s second piece, “Magnificat,” in the evening.

It’s good to be getting started. I know I’ve been in Poland since July 20, but having my first post-orientation days–and having them be so full of theaters and interviews–is a good feeling. I was here before, but now I’m here here. And there. And everywhere.


More everyday Warsaw


It began to rain in Warsaw yesterday evening–not the overwhelming summer storm I expected in Wroclaw every afternoon between 4 and 5 PM, but the constant petty drizzle of fall. It hasn’t stopped since. Although it is not exactly raining, it’s not exactly not raining, either. The weather has turned.

The skies are–gray is the expected word, but a flat, pale white is more like it. The sky outside my room is the same color as the white walls inside my room when the lights are turned off. A white-gray. People have brought out their lightweight raincoats, though the Varsoviennes are still wearing ballet flats under them. I’m glad that this happened. I was about to buy more clothes–what I brought with me is not enough to look professional while observing rehearsals 6 days a week–and now I will buy different clothes. This has reminded me that the tendency of the weather, for most of my FB year, will be towards cold.

I love it. It reminds me of Chicago. I need a rubber stamp that says “It reminds me of Chicago.” I’m glad to have explored the Old Town and the outdoor parks while it was still sunny, but colder weather means fewer tourists, and the city for its residents.

A few more non-pictographic snapshots of Warsaw:

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Poland, theater

before I forget


This evening, coming home, it was raining lightly in the plaza outside the Centrum metro station. A rock band with amplification–teenage girl singer, teenage girl rhythm guitarist, and older male rhythm section–was playing a song with some Polish words and some English words mixed together. The chorus was just a repeated “Hallelujah.” They had lighting and a tent, and some kind of creepy manager figure who kept walking in front of the band and mouthing the words of the song.

About 10 yards away, there was another musical act–one guy with a bunch of plastic tubs. He had been playing them a few hours earlier, when I’d come out of the station. He seemed resigned that he wasn’t going to be able to compete, but he didn’t pack up, either. He didn’t have a tent. A woman came up and spoke to him as if they knew each other. He had a big suitcase, like Harold Hill’s, for people to drop coins into. The tricked-up band had no suitcase. But they had a tent.

An enormous head of Rowan Atkinson on a movie poster, brightly lit and a thousand times larger than life, was above the bands. In the bad light and with my bad eyes, I thought it was George Clooney for awhile.

The singer sang better with her eyes closed.

(Watch this now! An image is going to turn into a STATEMENT!) The circumstances in which we perform are different. I’m sure the plastic tubs guy would have liked a tent, and the girl with the tent would have liked more confidence in her voice, or for her head to be as large as Atkinson’s, and Atkinson would probably like to be Clooney. But no one can make you get out of the plaza if you don’t want to. Just because someone else seems to have more of something doesn’t mean that you don’t still have something.


Poland, theater

No pictures

Long-suffering Milo, (can I call you “long-suffering”? I just did…)

You don’t know this, but I’ve never been very good at pictures. I take them and don’t put them up; I draw them, but don’t show them to anyone; I prefer, under almost every circumstance you can imagine, to use words instead. I should know better than to promise to share images. Sometimes I dutifully tote a camera around Warsaw, thinking of how happy it will make everyone to see some IMAGES instead of all this TEXT, but I always put off dealing with them as long as I can. So I won’t make any more promises I can’t keep, and I don’t feel like uploading the files right now–sorry–but I can tell you about Warsaw.

It’s taken me this long to write another post for one reason. Although I’ve been here since August 20, I’ve been staying in hostels the entire time–until yesterday. This was on the heels of months and months of uncertain living situations, and it finally caught up with me. I was unable to write while I didn’t have my own space.

But I do, now–I have a lovely room in a lovely apartment that I’m sharing with a lovely roommate (about which and whom more later) and I am finally in possession of brainspace with which to tell you how I got here.

So, to begin–after my visit to Teatr Cinema concluded (and I still need to write about that) I had about 48 hours to pack up, clean the sublet apartment, and get out of town. I did manage to have a couple of excellent Italian beers (Peroni? Why have I never heard of this before?) at Literatka na rynku, in the Stare Miasto, in the company of M. from the Grot Institute. We discussed future Wroclaw visits.

Even though my FB project is, from now on, going to be primarily rooted in Warsaw–I have moved to Warsaw, in case any one missed that–I will be coming back to Wro. frequently to collaborate with TPK and others.

My project in Warsaw now consists of interviewing theater directors and observing rehearsals. And writing articles. Many, many articles. It’ll be the same project when I travel elsewhere in Poland–Wroclaw, Lodz, etc.–but Warsaw is the base.

So. I took a plane from Wroclaw instead of a train–it cost the same, and I had far too much luggage. I felt like the Spaceballs princess at the terminal, but it was worth it.

When I arrived, it was a warm and bright afternoon. The place reminded me of Chicago, as I have already said to many people–in the wide streets and enormous open skies swept with enormous fast-moving clouds, in the strong winds, in the sense–part of the air–that a body of water is nearby, and most strongly in the packs of giggling young people hurrying down the street. I ate Turkish takeout food on ul. Marszalkowska, around the corner from my hostel, overlooking Plac Konstytucji, and was overjoyed to be in Warsaw. The only fly in an otherwise unobjectionable ointment was that my hostel, advertised as WiFi-enabled online, only had WiFi for PCs–not for Macs.

But I was not in a mood to be disappointed. It felt exhilarating to be in Warsaw. In my first days here, I went running around. I saw the Universal-backlotesque Old Town, reconstructed after the devastation of Hitler’s destroy-Warsaw campaign; the enormous Vistula, which I have already told my parents is as wide as the 405 (it is!); the statue of Zygmunt; the Chopin memorial in Lazienski park; the smaller Ujazdowski park with its statue of Paderewski. I rode the metro (the subway is just a line, not a loop) to see where it went. I even saw a play in my first 48 hours here–a Polish-language version of “The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia,” by Albee, at och-teatr.

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Dear Milo, and everyone,

It has been a whirlwind few days; I got back from the trip visiting Teatr Cinema in the mountains, I packed up and moved out of the Wroclaw apartment, and I got on a plane to Warsaw. Things are settling down now and I have lots of pictures to share–I took a whole bunch of Wroclaw, Michalowice, and of my first day here in Warsaw–but my blogging is limited by the lack of Internet connectivity at my hostel. I am otherwise really enjoying staying at the place, but I am frustrated that the free WiFi they promised on their website doesn’t work for Macs.

Some time soon I will find a cafe and do some update blogging and photograph-posting–but for now, I am having too much fun running around Warsaw to oblige. This place reminds me, a lot, of Chicago. Big open streets, a largely flat city, a huge river, powerful winds, and people enjoying the summer like they know it’s going to end. (And, of course, the presence of lots of Polish people.)

More soon,

Poland, theater

Day of the Blessed Mother of Herbs

August 15, 2011

Dear Milo,

I didn’t realize today was a Polish national holiday until I left the house. My favorite Piekarnia Familia was closed, as was every other piekarnia (bakery) on my walk to the theater. It was too quiet for a Monday, and the people I did see on the street were walking slowly, holding their children’s hands, taking photographs, or carrying little bunches of flowers and plants tied in green and yellow twine.

I still had to get some work done today, though, even though it was a holiday, because I’ll be taking the bus to Jelenia Góra tomorrow to spend some time (just a day or so) with the surrealist theater company Teatr Cinema.

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acting, Poland, quotes, the chorus, theater

“Like most poets, I don’t know where I’m going.”

Monday, July 25, 2011

Dear Milo,

It’s Monday afternoon. I’m sitting in the front room of the dimly lit cafe Mleczarnia, at (I think) the very same table where I first sat with R. when I first came to Wroclaw, two years ago, eating a slice from the same walnut-encrusted cake. (Perhaps not exactly the same cake. But its brother.)

Mleczarnia is one of my favorite places in Wroclaw, and not just because its courtyard adjoins the White Stork Synagogue. It’s also beautiful inside. The walls are covered with black-and-white photographs. The people in the portraits, in black dresses with white collars, in wedding gowns and formal suits, remind me of the one photograph I’ve seen of my grandmother’s mother, Sylvia Schwartz. Candles as tall as rulers stand on tables, next to teapots of dried flowers. And in front of me, a line of actors and tourists and Wroclawians are ordering enormous glasses of Zywiec.

To my great happiness, R. is actually in town, and will be joining me in a few hours!
I have my laptop and my cake and some tea I’ve let overbrew. I have two days of training to tell you about, but first I have a quote. (“Now, sir, what is your text?”)

“Like most poets, I don’t know where I’m going. The pen is an instrument of discovery rather than just a recording implement. If you write a letter of resignation or something with an agenda, you’re simply using a pen to record what you have thought out. In a poem, the pen is more like a flashlight, a Geiger counter, or one of those metal detectors that people walk around beaches with. You’re trying to discover something that you don’t know exists, maybe something of value.”
–Billy Collins, interviewed in the Paris Review (http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/482/the-art-of-poetry-no-83-billy-collins)

If you read “the performer’s body” for “the pen,” then this quote also applies to our own training. It is necessary to enter the rehearsal room with no more preconceptions than you have when you picks up a pen. (Of course, you often pick up a pen with tons of preconceptions. But the best writing comes when you let them go.)

The only way you can get anywhere is to let yourself not know where you’re going.

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Poland, the chorus, theater

For what purpose, I cannot say yet

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Dear Milo,

Today was a day I’ve been waiting for for a very long time—the first day back in workshops at SOTG.

[recap of evening of 22nd]

Last night, my roommate L-from-London cooked a delicious vegetable curry (cabbage, eggplant) and we ate it with kasha and talked over our apprehensions about what today would bring. Roommate M. came home later, and we all three shared some fears and some hopes for the next day. It’s fun living with two other actors, going through the same experiences, but it also has the effect of having emotions be multiplied. Last night, what we were all going through was a bit of nervousness.

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Poland, the chorus, theater, travel

The Belle of Something City

July 20, 2011
Dear Milo, and everyone,

I’m sorry I haven’t called, I’m sorry I haven’t responded to your emails, and I’m sorrier that I didn’t get to see you before I left. But I have left, although I still have an hour or so left in the United States. We will not see each other for some time. But I am going to try to be writing here.

I am sitting at a cafe table in Newark Airport, waiting for a flight to Munich. From there, I will take a puddle-jumper to Wroclaw, where I will begin a year-long program with a Polish theater, Song of the Goat (Teatr Piesn Kozla). I will be doing their in-house MA in Acting program, and training with them. This study is being funded by a Fulbright.

None of this has sunk in at all, BTW. Last night I was working on a grant for a theater company I sometimes freelance for, and I was rattling off the facts of their announcements. So many performances, so many audience members, X, Y, Z. That’s what it feels like for me to write “I’ll be on Poland for a year, on a Fulbright.” It feels like I’m describing someone else’s life, rather than my own. Someone who has it together—someone who isn’t wearing socks and flip-flops.

But it’s me, together or not together. It’s me, following the trail of the elusive Greek Chorus Beast, as usual.

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