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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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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We were completely surrounded by critics

Dear Milo,

Raining? Sunny? Doesn’t matter; have no intention of going outside today, or at least, not beyond the courtyard. Today I have nowhere to be and I’m catching up on freelance work, cleaning off a desktop, doing laundry, taking out the trash, having space and time to reconnect the dots. I really needed this. Nothing makes you appreciate a day off like the exhaustion of rehearsal.

But it’s more than that; it’s the exhaustion of moving to a new country, the Polish language intensive, the graduation and the thesis, the final semester, the stress and sadness of leaving friends behind. I was and am well and truly worn out. Succeeding at something can be just as crazy as failing at it, and those two states can seem remarkably similar.

What’s the problem?

“I was trying to explain what the problem was, but what was the problem? I felt tears well in my eyes. We were completely surrounded by critics. The critics had opinions about everything, from the distribution of literary prizes to the advantages of a macrobiotic diet.

At some point we headed back into the rain. Although I had quit smoking six months ago, I paused to bum an American Spirit from a conveniently situated critic. “I thought you quit,” my agent said. ”

-That’s Elif Batuman, in the Guardian, on the stresses and crazinesses of having one particular dream come true; “Life after a Bestseller.” Via Explosion-Proof‘s site.

Getting what you want can be rough.

These bumps in the road are part of what the experience will contain, I understand, and I am getting used to it. I am grateful to everyone who’s been helping me navigate. You don’t have to look pretty in the ring; you just have to stay standing.

To get myself through said bumps, I have been writing lots. I did silly things, like creating (a year late) a properly designed triple-tracking submissions spreadsheet. I did some work in genres that have been neglected due to the prevailing influence of Planet Poetry. And I even found, under my computer cushions, an old post I’d been meaning to post since May.

So here’s something I wrote when I knew I was coming here but hadn’t gotten here yet. It’s a bit droopy, but perhaps you can understand, given the circumstances.

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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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musicals, poetry, theater

taking stock (at close quarters, art is a fishy business)

(1) Anthology I applications close tomorrow. Several different cities, states, and countries represented, as well as people coming to filmmaking from all sorts of different backgrounds: theater, film proper, visual arts, science fiction. I’m excited.

(2) Yesterday we had the first ParOct core group meeting of 2011, combined with brunch. (Rehearsal should always be combined with food.) It was glorious. We did some re-recording and setting parts in/for “Animula.” We have chosen ten poems (the same ten for Anthology I) on which to focus in core group: we are making choices, we are taking notes. We have a script. This is very exciting, after eight months of improv where everything got changed every time. Feels like the right thing to be doing.

(3) My first workshop poem of my last MFA workshop: today.

(4) My last MFA reading: also today. 8 pm, Gilman 388.

(5) Best Youtube comment ever, from the video for TMBG’s Birdhouse In Your Soul:

What you’ve just wrote is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever read. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone who read this is now dumber for have seeing it. I award you no thumbs up, and may God have mercy on your soul.

once more:
Everyone who read this is now dumber for hav[ing] seen it.

That’s funny.

(6) There is no #6.

(7) Really, Intiman Theatre? Really? Is there no such thing as a financially stable theater in this country? What would it take to have one? (Via AJ.)

(8) I’m your only friend; I’m not your only friend…

(9) It is possible to create a song to the tune of “Big Rock Candy Mountain” with the refrain “In the poems of Philip Larkin.”

(10) Ich habe ein poem, “Checking Out,” in the current issue of the Hopkins Review. (Winter 2011, Vol. 4, #1.)
The title is (I didn’t realize this until after it was published) obviously taken from the States song of the same name, from the album The Path of Least Resistance, which I listened to constantly while in NYC. (The poem is about being in New York.) Yes, this is my first poem published in a print journal.


In the poems of Philip Larkin,
all the women interfere
with writing poems and being alone;
they are greatly to be feared.

In the poems of Philip Larkin,
all images lead to death:
whether windows, horses, boats or trains,
all death, death, death, death, death–

(12) (more theater roundup): WashPost article on Irene Lewis leaving Centerstage. Also via AJ.

“I always knew it would be a split,” Lewis says of the roles she’s had to play. “Artists are mostly anarchists, and when you run an institution, you have to be a pragmatist. So that tension is considerable. And you have, what, 70 employees, and they’re depending on you to choose things that keep the doors open but not” – she leans forward on the word, and pauses before finishing – “to compromise. So I never did ‘A Christmas Carol.’ And an old production manager who used to work here said, ‘Irene, I don’t think a lot of people would stay here if you did.’ ”

(13) Women in literary criticism? What women in literary criticism?

(14) Nice to have a free moment, even if only a moment, to blog again.

(15) We begin our readings with a poem by another author, and I’m going to read an unpublished (and unedited, and unfinished) piece of Larkin free-verse journaling that I dug up from the Andrew Motion biography. No doubt he would not wish to have it read. It’s too long to post the whole thing here, but here’s the beginning:

What is there in me that justifies my ignoring other people?
I used to think it was art: but at close quarters art is a fishy business…
To me art is a sneaking mixture of wish-fulfillment, telling the truth,
And arranging the filings of life to the magnet of my character.
And I don’t like my character.
I wouldn’t back it for twopence, and I don’t advise anyone else to do so either.
– Philip Larkin, untitled poem, from Philip Larkin: A Writer’s Life by Andrew Motion, chapter 23, p. 181, Faber & Faber: 1993

What Motion says to introduce this is quite lovely, too. Oh, why not do everything out of order. Here goes. Same page:

Slowly but surely Larkin crushed Ruth’s happiness beneath his own worries, and when the new term began they were as unsure about their future as they had been before announcing their engagement. Reluctant to end it so soon, they resumed their semi-separate lives — Ruth in Malet Street, Larkin in Dixon Drive, where his self-pity soon erupted in a piece of free verse too rambling to call a poem, but too interesting for him to discard. He tore it out of his manuscript book but kept it among his other papers…

(16) Where they hung the jerk who invented work–
in the poems of Philip Larkin.

(17) Larkin is a rather unsavory man, to put it mildly–so unsavory that an English dept. grad student I ran into a few days ago told me that he uses Larkin’s essay, “On Jazz,” as an exemplar of how not to write jazz criticism, as well as how not to write, or think, period. (It’s apparently an extremely paternalistic and borderline racist text. I admit I have not yet read it, but I do trust this person’s assessment.)
As Motion says in the intro to the biography,

…each of us creates a highly personal version of his character to accompany his [Larkin’s] work.

which is, of course, true–I have the Larkin in my head, a very congenial man–and learning more about who he really was is slowly crushing the image of that congenial fellow. Larkin was no Cowper, I guess, is the best way to put it.

Reading the biography, however, is not crushing my affection for his poems, which cannot, I believe, be crushed, no matter how much I learn about his personality and politics. But I no longer wish, as I once did, that I had been able to meet him.

(18) I was watching the TMBG Birdhouse because I was watching the Pushing Daisies rendition of the same song, with Kristin Chenoweth and Ellen Greene, and I was watching that because I was watching “Suddenly Seymour” (one of the texts I teach in the musicals class) and got link-referred to Ellen Greene in another clip…
and there was a YT comments discussion about how Pushing Daisies had not been renewed but Scrubs had, et cetera, and they were bashing Scrubs, and I mistakenly believed at first that the commenting people were objecting to Scrubs‘s use of interpolated fantasy musical numbers, and perhaps even blaming Scrubs for popularizing a trend of such numbers (and for similar numbers appearing in PD) and I thought a larger point could be made about musical numbers in television shows, but then I realized it had nothing to do with that, but only to do with preferring one show over the other.

But I do think there is something to be said about fantasy musical numbers in television shows.

(19) Not to put too fine a point on it,
You’re the only bee in my bonnet–
Make a little birdhouse in your soul.

(20) Something also to be said about how, in the landscape of musical numbers within television shows (and films!), songs originated as “music” and songs originated as “theater” have equal currency. Everything’s available to be played in the jukebox, or performed by the TV show characters. This puts us in interesting mimetic situations, where lyrics that were never intended to be interpreted literally, or used to have a character achieve a dramatic objective, are suddenly implanted on characters…

Also something to be said about the ability to use voice-over in musical numbers in TV and film. My class found that very interesting.

(21) I’m your only friend,
I’m not your only friend,
but I’m your little glowing friend,
but really I’m not actually your friend,
but I am…

(22) Great example (in #21) of lyrics that have metrical features interposed by the music–features that the text alone, as lyrics, does not convey.
I also love the transfer of emphasis from one iteration to another of the phrase “only friend.” It’s a lot like that old drama exercise:
I love you.
I LOVE you.
I love YOU.

(23)…the canary by the outlet in the light switch
Who watches over you–
Make a little birdhouse in your soul.

(24) (pause)


(26) Should probably go to campus deal with laundry comment on twelve stories and four poems eat lunch return gear to DMC respond to some emails first.

(27) Also, this question of how to best punctuate page versions of lyrics that were clearly composed for oral performance and obviously just contain long strings of connected phrases.

(28) ..make a little birdhouse in your soul…