5.29.2009

Day 9, part II of II, Canarsie Suite

Grabbed dinner with D&F, Dorte, and their friend Milan, then scooted away at 8:45 to see Canarsie Suite, at the Edge of Vaudeville, playing at Inspirace. The show is framed as a traveling vaudeville show by the sister act Gladys and Birdie LeRoy. Gladys wants nothing more than to look on the bright side, whereas Birdie feels suffocated and miserable. They both do their damnedest to keep the show on its axis for as long as they can, which means a series of skits, all of which are pretty funny. Both of the performers have mighty resumes - training at LeCoq, commedia. The schtick is that the LeRoy sisters aren't that great, but making a good performance of appearing to be a bad performer is a nasty trick that generally I'd go against. The line's too thin. They are firmly on the right side, and what makes it more impressive is that you have to think about it. Their dancing is always in sync on the numbers, they move together, but they're not crisp. Their characterizations, their gestures, are always tight. In a way, I think, they undersell themselves. It's a virtuosic performance that doesn't look like a virtuosic performance. Which is pretty brave on its merits, for that matter.

Off now for the last batch of cheesecakes. I don't need them, but I've got batter left over and it makes the Fringe staff happy, 'cause they're the ones who get to eat it. I think Fede (photographer) and Alberto (lighting supervisor) plowed through 6 or 7 yesterday afternoon in short order.

Day 9, part I of II, Decaf

Slow, rainy day, alternating between drizzling and pouring. I've got hardly any packing I can start on yet, the bulk of my stuff is all in the trunk, and strike becomes complicated in that I can't get to the theater on Sunday, don't get my trunk until Monday night, and I fly out on Tuesday. Don recommends trying to cab it back to the flat after the show tonight, before Crying Cherry.

I'm getting ahead of myself, but that's sort of indicative of what yesterday was like.

Walked to Žizkov in the afternoon and had tea with Leah (check out www.puppetsinprague.eu). Black tea, because that's what I drink mostly now. The second cup probably should have been herbal. I was still wound up by the time the show started. Don made it, after his own harrowing day the day before trying to show Robert Wilson's costume designer around (yes to theater people: that Robert Wilson, aka "Bob"). He came to see the show with Dorte, a friend of D&F's and who was the deus ex machina in the story "The Day Kurt Left His Passport in Prague When He Was In Augsburg and Was Supposed to Fly Out of Munich the Next Day."

Note to readers: Lisa didn't like this story very much, and I'm not sure if she does now, so if you're going to bring it up to her, make sure you include questions about her mother reading the story out loud to Homeland Security in Chicago. They love a good story.

Unsurprisingly, being a deus ex machina, Dorte is super nice.

Back to the show, and to me being wired. I asked Michelle about this quality of the performance, that my brain can race around thinking all kinds of things while I'm up there performing. She said that in her experience this is normalish in this kind of show. You can keep that awareness - but in a realistic drama, there are different psychological demands that occupy your head. My brain certainly rattled around during Who I Was Yesterday, but that wasn't exactly psychological realism, so I still don't have a bar to measure to.

Don's got some notes for me (which I'll get once he gets up, not everyone wakes up here at 5:30am, it's a habit now, I guess), but one thing he noted immediately last night was that the show was Slow. Which is funny, because the caffeine from the tea made me more wired than I normally am, and I felt like I was talking too fast, and deliberately slowed down. Chemicals = lack of perspective.

Also, all this self-awareness business is bad for performance without someone (hi Michelle!) to keep me in check - good thing D's here. My speech patterns aren't different enough between "me" and "Jen." Back to work.

House count: 9.

Day 8 - part III of III - In a Thousand Pieces

Finally got to see The Paper Birds' performance of In a Thousand Pieces. Here's their website: http://thepaperbirds.com/home.php

This show is being touted as the number one show to see at the Fringe this year. I was expecting, based on all the press, to see some really fantastic physical theater, which I didn't get, so some initial disappointment.

That said - this show was fucking amazing. I wish you could see it right now.

Raises a lot of questions for me. I'll get to that.

The show is about sexual enslavement - mostly of Eastern European women who are looking to emigrate and are promised (by whomever) a modeling career, or an education, or something. There are three British women who do this performance - they wear identical blue dresses, identical jackets, and carry varying luggage, old school suitcases, many others of which are placed around the space. Sometimes they move in concert, then one breaks off for a new action while the other two maintain the chorus (if you will) - or harmony/melody? Here's the thing - it's not that their physicality itself was so brilliant, they're not in Jonno Katz's league for sheer plasticity. What was amazing was their understanding of HOW to develop a physical language particular to this show that made sense. Do an action. Do it again. Keep doing it. It doesn't make sense right now, but they keep doing it. Eat an ice cream cone. Keep eating ice cream cones. Eat it innocently, famished-ly. Nothing else in your mind. It'll come back.

In addition to their simple blue costumes, they've got very simple granny-panties on - on top of their normal "show" underwear. This is relevant for the first moment when their "everygirl" is raped. The sound system plays her screams over and over and over and it just doesn't end. If one woman were on the ground, writhing around and trying to defend herself from an invisible attacker with these white panties that have fallen down around her ankles - becoming as much shackles on her legs as they indicate the lack of defense she has - if that happened and went on and on, it might get, I suspect, all good intentions aside, a little laughable. I'm not sure why there's a difference, theoretically, in my head, but all three of them were on the ground, bumping into each other, and that made "everygirl" seem more like "every girl" and they just wouldn't stop. They pushed this bit of staging far longer than I would have, far past uncomfortable, right into disgust and horror.

There's more to the show. They break up the terror with bits of goofy stage business. They did a lot of research for this performance, including a stint with the Goat Song Theater in Poland (why does no one mention "tragedy" in the same breath when I see that in print? hello? goat song? tragedy? anybody? Bueller? Forget it). They seem to have carried out a number of interviews as well, asking people in the UK what they think of (il)legal immigrants. The answers are played over the sound system and while one woman (playing everygirl) is downstage, the two others are upstage, lip-sync acting (a la Creature Comforts) to the voices - and this is both heart-breaking and funny at the same time, much as you'd suspect, as they satirize the easy opinions that otherwise privileged people have. "They should just get a real job. It's not that hard." "I work with Amnesty, and I don't really know anything about it." It's a relief to have stuff like this, of course.

Toward the end, one of the actresses begins doing math on the side of a suitcase. Everygirl is raped on her first day she's brought to a house, where she thinks she's going to be an underwear model. Then she's raped five more times. Then the numbers go up for the following week. Then she's moved to another city, where she's raped on average 8 times a day for 7 weeks, so 7 times 7 times eight is five hundred some. She flips the suitcase over - that's about 1500 rapes. About as much as she was paid for. One euro a rape. One pound ten. A dollar fifty. About the price of an ice cream cone.

They don't bow. They hold a tableau until everyone leaves, and they smartly plant a shill in the audience to let us know that that's what we should do.

If you were here and you didn't see this, I don't think I'd think very much of you afterwards.

Okay, so obviously, it affected me. Deeply personal, the actresses are themselves when they're not Everygirl, and their responses to what they don't know about their subject and about what they've chosen to do onstage forms a part of their text. Artistically, this is stunning work, and on that level, its effect is clear - it's inspirational. I want to be that good. I want to be that smart and that affecting and that fucking brave.

BUT. And I don't know the answer to this, it's just gnawing at me. What now? What do I do now, with this show, besides tell you about it? Yes, I can Get Involved. And I don't even have to get involved with the subject of sexual enslavement, I could tackle mines, or child abuse, or I could save the whales. There's so much that's WRONG, it doesn't take a lot of effort to find a cause to suppport, to believe in, to act on.

Neil Simon is easy. The answer to Neil Simon is entertainment. He's just trying to tell a funny story and take you away for a little while. Brecht wanted to change the world, but he still wanted to be in charge, so you have to take him with more than a grain of salt. What do you do with a play that is essentially an open wound, when they tell you over and over that that wound is invisible? You don't know where this girl is, where these girls are. They don't know. They just know that they're there.

What do you do? And if you don't do anything, what is the point?

I'm already inclined to question and have been struggling with what theater DOES anyway, but this performance really brings it into high relief.

Which is another reason why it was so great.

Day 8 - part II of III - La Ronde

I'm just going to say now that the dizziness didn't go away all night, not even when I lay down to go to sleep. My strategies for today: eat more, sleep more (i.e. take a nap today).

The next two shows were in the theater downstairs at na Pradle, so once done with clean up I can leave all of my stuff in the dressing room, buy my tickets, and head downstairs.

La Ronde is a play written in 1900 about sex and class. It was performed by a young Norwegian company who did the whole damn thing in English (curse those northern Europeans and their modern language training!!! Curses!!!). So that was impressive on a technical level. But the play itself? There wasn't enough of a focus on class, and even had there been, I'm not sure I would've escaped a "so what" in the end.

Plus I felt dizzy and crappy, and that sort of sucked.

Day 8 - part I of III - Decaf

Yesterday started off normal and got progressively odder. I made another batch of cheesecake (for yesterday and today; I've just finished today's batch for tomorrow. I look forward to never cooking cheesecake again). On six hours of sleep, didn't think I needed a nap, wasn't nearly as tired as I had been when I was jetlagged - so. Fine. Rain starts to pour down, but by the time I'm leaving for my now 5:45 curtain, it's mostly cleared up.

Metro, tram, get to the theater. In the wake of the rain and yesterday's cancellation of Red Peter, though, I figure it's best to ask the kids at the door. "Any tickets sold?" "Just two for Red Peter." "That means none for Decaffeinated Tragedy?" "Oh, ah, no, not yet."

Almost immediately I'm hit with a wave of dizziness, which I attribute to purely psychosomatic causes and simultaneously find deeply disappointing, because I didn't think I'd react like that to adverse news. I go and do my prep anyway, because who knows, and about 10 minutes before curtain some people trickle in. When Vilem, the board op and Fringe tech, comes in to tell me that we're ready, I let him know that I'm feeling dizzy still. Worst case scenario, as I haul this steamer trunk in, is that I fall over. But that doesn't happen, and the show goes fine. Vilem gives me a "dobry!" afterwards, which in Czech is the lexical equivalent of a thumbs-up. I should add that, when I serve coffee during the show, I make sure that Vilem gets a cup of espresso and cheesecake. Every day. End of the show, he comes in today and gives me a KILO of coffee beans, sealed. Super nice. Super, super nice.

I can't tell him - in Czech - that I don't drink leaded. I say it every day in English. I say thanks, I'm enthusiastic, because it was an incredibly nice thing to do. We're not tight or anything, but I like Vilem. Good guy.

House count: 10.

5.28.2009

Pictures

These are courtesy of the Fringe photography, Federica Anchieri, who sent them to me this morning.



Day 7, part I of I - Decaf

Today (yesterday, technically) was a bit of a dud. Got only about 4.5 hrs of sleep, up at 6am, and completely unable to take a nap. The British Ambassador is the official Fringe Sponsor, and hosted a garden party at the embassy yesterday afternoon, 12:30-2:00. I even brought not-jeans to wear. But I'd had 4.5 hrs of sleep, and I was going to HAVE to take a nap. Cut losses, skip reception with HM Ambassador, work on some writing, finally fall asleep, got a solid hour and half in before my alarm went of at 3pm. Oof.

Almost walk out the door without cheesecake, but I don't have the time to be dumb this time, not like the day before, so right, re-pack, re-check, all's well. To the theater, pack the trunk, even have time for dinner, and actually sit down to have it. Good good good.

Come back from dinner to an ill omen. The lights are on in the kavarna. Hmm. 7:30pm. Red Peter should be 15 minutes into the show. One of the young British volunteers explains that no one came - so they cancelled the show. "I think they were a bit relieved, actually." Um. Maybe.

So, sit in the kavarna, which I never get to do, and run lines.

Funny note about pre-show music. Here's my "playlist," such as it is, as I put together before opening last Friday upon being told that I really should have pre-show music. My apologies should I be violating any copyright here, but we are in a bar and in the States at least, folks pay a licensing fee. Let's just assume that the same thing happens in Prague, shall we?

On to the list:
Coldplay - Death and All His Friends
Blondie - Call Me
Annie Lennox - Ghosts in My Machine
Pony Up! - The Truth about Cats and Dogs (is that they die)
Thievery Corporation - The Heart's a Lonely Hunter
Coldplay - Life in Technicolor
David Byrne - Samara

This last song was filler, to bleed past the final couple of minutes so that if Vilem (my tech) started the music about 27 minutes before my curtain, he could turn it off on a quiet number (it's from the album THE FOREST, by the way, part of an operatic thing Byrne did about the epic of Gilgamesh). Apparently my music selection is a hit, because the staff has taken to putting my 29 minute CD on repeat. As I'm sitting and running lines, a number of Czechs - a couple of tech, a couple of patrons - all starting bopping around to Pony Up!.

Hilarious.

If you don't know the song, here's a youtube link for the video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZ5PRjVe3dw&feature=PlayList&p=0BB9A44C73DD35CC&playnext=1&playnext_from=PL&index=38

I worked with the director, Toben Seymour, on another puppet-y video, You Don't Know Her Name (by Maps). It's not as good as this one.

On with the show. I don't have to cancel, but I have a rollicking small house, and like the previous performance, wholly unresponsive. Not as hard tonight, though, as I just did what I concluded last night, and adjusted a couple line deliveries here and there. Two of the audience were from Red Peter, and those guys did me no favors. Gentlemen, you're in the light. I can see you looking at your program, I can see you not looking at me - a lot - and I can see you cleaning your glasses for the third time. It's okay that it's not your cup of tea. It doesn't have to be. But could you at least pretend to pay attention if you're going to be visible? I'm not asking for much beyond professional courtesy, here.

Jerkfaces.

House count: 7

Today I switch to afternoon slot, 17:45-18:45. Weather's markedly cooler. Cross yer fingers for better houses.

5.27.2009

Day 6 - P.S. Lit Crit

Phew. I did okay. Completely fair in all regards.

http://praguepost.com/night-and-day/stage/1364-the-prague-fringe-festival-day-5-may-26.html

Apparently he noticed some other lines I neglected to deliver. No wonder it went so quickly last night.

Day 6, part IV of IV - Kubrilesque

This is the late-night neo-burlesque homage to Stanley Kubrick, complete with a Dr. Strangelove striptease in a wheelchair.

It's as weird as you think. http://www.myspace.com/tangnightclub or www.kubrilesque.com

This got me thinking about neo-burlesque. Wondering, really. And this is not a criticism, I genuinely hadn't thought about it until I saw the show, and now I don't know the answer. What is the point of neo-burlesque?

Historically, there's reasons for burlesque - the dancehalls, the rules against explicit nudity in public - it's all tease, right? What's the tease now? Lap dances where you can't touch? We've exchanged visual tease for tactile, which is a lot farther along the continuum of tease. I'm not saying that there's no point to neo-burlesque, and I don't even know enough about it to suggest that it simply hasn't found its point yet (there's one such show coming to Moct on June 12, I think, incidentally). It almost felt like a new subset of dance - the aesthetics of bodies in motion, a subset in which the first image is the most variable because of the clothing, and the last image is inevitable, the almost naked female form.

And because this was a tribute to Kubrick, it raised different sets of questions. Was this just a gimmick for different costumes? If so, do you really need a gimmick? Can't you just do the different costumes? Kubrick made it seem campy - generally that they were following more of an arbitrary script - look, I'm the guy from Clockwork Orange! Except that I'm a hot woman! Which you can see now that I don't have any clothes on.

Is neo-burlesque supposed to be campy? Is it supposed to be titillating? What is it trying to do as a performance genre? What were they trying to do specifically?

Don't get me wrong, they were good. The performance was solid in that they did everything that they planned to do. I just didn't understand it. There was too much going on for me to let it wash over and just "be what it is" and not enough for me to figure out what "it" was.

And if I hear one more person here pronounce the word "jaundra" I'm going to punch someone.

Day 6, part III of IV, Decaf

Okay, so I did a couple of things after the show last night. First of all, when I was picking up my dishes, I didn't notice that 4 of my spoons weren't returned until I was washing up dishes in the back. Crap. Can't exactly go the kavárna staff and say "give me spoons!" But I was planning on buying more anyway, so, note to self: go to Tesco, buy more spoons. Also, I'm running low on AfriCafé, my best instant in the world. I brought extra, so I took the tin home to re-fill it. You can see where this is going.

Left D&F's in plenty of time yesterday, dropped off my excess of stuff at the theater, thought about lunch, remembered the spoons. Off to Tesco, which is just two tram stops away. No problem. Bit of street pizza to fortify me until lunch, which happened as soon as I got to Divadlo Inspirace for Backward Glance, and I catch a couple of shows. Good good good.

It's HOT - topped 30 degrees (the 80s, people, it's in the 80s) and SUNNY. And HUMID. And like any big city in that kind of weather, things get a little smelly. Mo(ve)ment ends at 7pm, I go up at 8:45, and Red Peter goes up at 7:15 - better start my preset now, get the water in the kettle, etc etc. Uh, where's my instant... crap. S'okay, I've got 105 minutes, I should be able to do this in 60. 'Course I'm running through worst case scenarios - what if the metro breaks, etc etc, but that doesn't happen and just as I get up to the door of the 5 story walk-up where D&F live, there's Don saying, "just got your text - can I help?" Good egg, that Don. He washes my new spoons, I change shirt for the second time that day, grab the instant, quick re-fill it, buzz out the door grabbing a borrowed umbrella. Storm front is moving in - today we're at 11 degrees (mid 50s). Big drop. But better, probably, for people to come and see theater.

Anyway, back to the chaos.

Metro back to Malostranská, get out to the tram stop. Hey, there's the 22 just up the street. Timing couldn't be better. Wait. Why isn't the tram moving? Okay, so the metro worked, but the tram didn't. Nice. Fortunately, I'm only three stops away, and I make the hike and get to the theater thinking, well, this should do wonders for my energy for the show. Finish preset just as Red Peter has ended. Go over lines. Read about Sotomayor. Go over lines. Show time.

Steffen Silvis is in the audience tonight. Great.

Trick question: what's the difference between a quietly attentive audience and a dead house?

Right. Hard show. Wasn't sure how to play it, had nothing to react to - and it's more like a performed conversation (stylistically, at least, since I mostly don't ask for anyone's opinions), so feedback is sort of important. But, I figure, just let the show be the show. Of course I'm figuring this while I'm performing. Maybe that's why I dropped lines. Didn't go up, though, just dropped lines. I think it went fine, in the end.

Not great, not nearly as good as Monday, but okay.

House count: 11.

Day 6, part II of IV - Mo(ve)ment

I'd intended to see a show called HATFUL OF HOLLOW, but one of the actresses was in hospital yesterday. "but it's not serious." wtf?

okay, so what else is showing at 6pm...

conveniently, right in na Prádle in the theater proper is a multimedia painting-dance piece out of Denmark, Mo(ve)ment. Here's the website, with a short slide show showing images of the show in progress: http://www.bno-productions.nl/

This was disappointing. It's not that it was bad, it just wasn't good. It seemed to me that they had the idea to have the painter's work be captured by cameras and projected live against a screen, in front of which the dancer would perform. There's a lot of possibility there. Dramaturgically, they gave it a bit of shape - he (live and shadow) jockeys and plays with her paint brush and her pigments. But there wasn't much in the way of discovery of each other, of the discovery of the rules that have to live by. And it's clear that they gave themselves rules to live by. Even within that, they didn't really do very much that Bugs Bunny didn't do in the 70's. So - a letdown.

There's an irony that shows that are more ambitious suffer more - you want to applaud risk-taking, going outside of the mainstream, not doing just another scripted performance. More people should be doing that. But ambition results in a raised bar - if this is new stuff, it needs to be worked out better, more fully fleshed. Bummer, in this case.

Day 6, part I of IV - Backward Glance

I wasn't wowed by their poster image - here's their website:
http://www.multistorytheatre.co.uk/BG/index.htm

So honestly, that put me off a bit. They came to see DECAF, they were super nice, said that there were some similar elements, and I figured, professional courtesy at least, I'd check them out. Then I started hearing about the show, saw Silvis' review. Didn't change what I was doing, but certainly made me feel better about it.

Here's the odd thing about Silvis' review, given that he seems fairly well-informed generally, and it's odd about the Czech translation of their blurb, which omits the word "myth" in its entirety: this show is ALL Orpheus and Eurydice. And it's probably the best adaptation of that story I've ever encountered.

No names are mentioned - a female celebrity writer has just died, and her husband is being interrogated by three people: the police (maybe), a gossip columnist, and the dead woman's mother. Her husband is a writer too, of course. In this telling, Eurydice is a powerful writer in her own right, has her own voice, but Orpheus doesn't see her for who she wants to be. She's a little messed up, and she knows it, and she doesn't want to be. The cause of her death is never wholly determined - was it bees, was it spiked honey mead, was it a snake. How culpable was her husband, at least of neglect? The man plays just the writer, the woman plays the other four parts. The three that are not the dead woman could be the Furies/Fates, whom Orpheus would have made cry in the underworld (no crying in this show), but they do pursue him with a vengeance. At the end of the play, the reporter notes the crowd of gathering women outside, howling for the husband's head, arriving spontaneously via text, SMS, computers, to let each other know what's happening: the Bacchae as the court of public opinion.

Tight, non-linear script. Great re-telling of the story - here, Eurydice tricks Orpheus into looking back. She doesn't want to return to life. And solid, solid performances. Small house. Damn. That sucks, because they're really spectacular.

One change: too much projection. I'm not against multimedia the way Alvaro is, but I'm not sure how much it added. Good execution of a choice I wouldn't have made though. Silvis' review is on Day 2.

Day 6, More Extras

Here's Silvis's post from yesterday covering two days ago.

http://praguepost.com/night-and-day/stage/1363-the-prague-fringe-festival-day-4-may-25.html

he came to see DECAF last night, so the review should be up sometime today. urp.

prague.tv is also running reviews, and they quite liked KATATONIKA. I feel bad for them - they performed two days on, five days off, then they're up again for the last two days of the festival. the time off and the review is going to kill them. but I don't feel bad enough to go.

5.26.2009

Day 5 - Extra, Extra! Read all about it!

The Prague Post's blog of the Fringe just went online today. I sort of wish I hadn't read this before he came to Decaf, which he's seeing tonight.

Let's just say he's got opinions.

Day 1
http://www.praguepost.com/night-and-day/1360-the-prague-fringe-festival-day-1-may-22.html

Day 2
http://praguepost.com/night-and-day/stage/1361-the-prague-fringe-festival-day-2-may-23.html

Day 3
http://praguepost.com/night-and-day/stage/1362-the-prague-fringe-festival-day-3-may-24.html

Be sure to read the comments.

Day 4, part II of III – Decaf

A very, very weird performance tonight. Steve, who’s the director of the Fringe, came to see the show tonight at his mother’s urging (she saw it on Saturday, and flies to Prague from Scotland to help out with the running of Prague Fringe every year). There was a table at the back with about 8 maybe Filipino 20-somethings (it was dark and lights were mostly in my eyes – American accents?). Mostly ones and twos scattered beyond that. The Filipino kids were super lively, verging on inappropriately so, and that created a bit of an odd atmosphere. Afterwards at Divadlo Inspirace (next post), Steve told me that he’s barely seen anyone who looks like them in Prague ever, and all of a sudden here’s 8 of them at a table. The same thing happened last year, only the ethnicity was Pakistani. Odd. Anyway, to counter their rather aggressive energy were two young women sitting at a table in the front, one of whom was visibly crying (thankfully not audibly or anything dramatic) by the end. That alone kind of throws me, but coupled with the group in the back, I really didn’t know what to do or what to make of it.

No “whoos” tonight, but lots of applause – had to bow 3 times before they’d let me say “thank you, now go see more Fringey stuff.” So. Great response. Now, my habit has become that I leave the stage so that they can move about, and I go back to the dressing room where I wonder every night why I haven’t brought a bottle of water because I’m so freaking thirsty. Let a couple of minutes pass, head back out to the kavarna to pack up. For the first time, there was a LONG line at the women’s restroom, and there are the two women from the front and all of the women from the back, and it felt to me like we all felt kind of awkward around on another. So I smiled and left to do my pack and that was that.

And it all felt very, very weird.

House count 15.

Day 4, part III of III – Cactus

The second performance I almost blew. In this case, I misread the booklet and thought I could catch THE CRYING CHERRY, which is a promising looking goofy Dutch performance. But they’re in MY timeslot, so I don’t get to see them until my performance time changes at the end of the week. So I’m at A Studio Rubín, I’ve got 5 minutes and a beer before 10:30, when the show begins, and I realize my mistake. So I slam half the beer and head up the street where I’m in plenty of time to catch CACTUS. They didn’t open the doors exactly on time. I get to talk to Steve for a bit, and his mom again, finally they open up.

Divadlo Inspirace (Inspiration Theater) is behind St. Nicholas Chapel, just up the hill from Rubín (or Jo’s Bar and Garáž, if that’s your preferred landmark), and like practically all the theaters here, it’s underground. I’ll post more on this when I’m back home and can upload some photos of Divadlo na Pradle as an example. The upside of this is that even when it’s hot, like yesterday, high 70s for the Americans, nearly 30 for the rest of the world, going into the earth can be fairly pleasant. The downside of this is that when you stick a whole bunch of already warm people in a cool yet enclosed space, it gets humid quickly. And hot again.

And that’s us, nearly 40 of us, thankfully not crammed into the nice studio space at Inspirace, here to see Jonno Katz from Australia perform CACTUS. Structurally it’s very similar to mine – a number of stories that move in and out of each other. He’s got more stories, though, and no props (or coffee), it’s all physical performance. Similar to Dr. Brown, there’s a lot of clowning here. This guy is fantastic. The performance is a little bit about love and a little bit about death, but the theme and the text pales in comparison to his performance. By the end of the performance, as he’s about to die, his last request to for the audience to touch him (there’s been a lot of flirting with the audience the whole time – but he wants us to know that he’ll be seeing other audiences. And he thinks we should see other performances. That doesn’t make this awkward, does it?). To that end, he wants to stage dive. He actually manages to get a good number of people to push his body slowly around the space, yelling things like “help out the old people” as he goes. And even though we did all the work, he gets the applause by the time he’s back on stage, because he got us to do it after all.

Which sort of sums up the whole show in terms of interaction. Great great great.

Day 4, part I of III – Dr. Brown Behaves

Or Dr. Brown in “Behaves.” That part wasn’t clear – but since it was supposed to be surreal comedy, maybe that was the point. Honestly, a bit hard to tell. Dr. Brown Inc. is two guys, the first is presumably Dr. Brown, the second is his “technician” Brian, who also takes pictures, does improvisational comedy, and occasionally horns in on the action.

There was no plot, there wasn’t even any real action. These two are very, very good at playing not very good performers. They’ve given themselves all kinds of tics, verbal and physical. Their characters clearly like being in front of an audience, but the schtick is that they really don’t know what to do, so they just go through the motions. It’s a comedy of awkwardness, but it’s never mean at all.

Basically, it just wanders around. It’s very episodic, one bit doesn’t connect to another. The upside of this is that it allows them to fill as much or as little time as they want. The down side is that the performance is directionless. They ran the full 60 minutes, but it would’ve been great had they stopped at 40.

The performance space was at Kavárna 3+1, just a few minutes walk from Divadlo na Pradle, which is more or less Fringe Central – it’s the main box office, at any rate. They’re in a tiny room in the back, into which nearly 20 of us crammed ourselves. Super hot.

Seems kind of like they’ve found a good schtick for themselves, but also that they’re better performers than their material. No knowing if they’re wasting their talent, or if this is a good investment of resources – low budget, low impact, easy to produce performance that they can milk at a couple of Fringes. Might be the smartest guys here, when it comes to that.

5.25.2009

Day 3, part III of III - Decaf

And the audience drop off continues. As I'm getting prepped, a very nice young volunteer pokes her head in the dressing room to let me know - it's about 15 minutes from going up - that there's only 2 tickets sold. Do I still want to perform? If they've paid, I'll do the show. Okay, thanks!

Right.

When I finally start, there's more than 2, so that's good, and they all sat at the front, which is better. Still VERY small. I go up again on my lines. Psych! I was wrong. I did the whole thing text-correct, top to bottom. I just thought I screwed up. That's a thought process I hadn't expected.

Best show yet. Smallest house, count is 8.

I gather we can look forward to similar house sizes between now and the weekend, when it should pick up again.

Day 3, part II of III, This Still Night

And the audience drop hits - there's less than 8 of us in the house. Argh. This is from a Toronto-based group, In the Name of Theatre Collective.

This is a hard play. It's conventional in the sense that it's linear narrative, psychological realism. It's unFringey, stereotypically, in that it's Grim. The main character is Ruth, who's got some kind of mental stability issues and has been living in a cabin/house outside of a small community in rural Ontario. She and her younger sister Hannah own the house after their father left it to them and not their mother when he died. Ruth hates her mother, Hannah doesn't, and the mother (not an onstage character) is dying. Hannah works at a factory and her hours have already been cut. Ruth doesn't do anything except manically (or OCD-ly) cut up newspapers and "scrapbook." The third character is Sally, with whom Ruth had been involved at one time. Ruth seems to lay all her issues at the feet of the prejudice against her and Sally. All of the action happens over a single day, when things go from bad (we have to sell the house) to worse (I can't stop myself from killing things).

The performances were all very good - Sally was outstanding. But it's a hard script to get into because Ruth, as the central character and center of the story, is not very likeable. It's true that all of these horrible things have happened, but she rants most of the time, is unwilling to listen to anyone except herself - she knows injustice, she's living with it, and she's not going to give it up. So - good performances in a flawed script?

Day 3, part I of III, Fringe Sunday

Again, breaking this by event so's to finesse skipping chunks.

Fringe Sunday is the first of its kind this year. It's a showcase of various performances, 5 minutes or so, from about half of the 34 participating companies this year. In years past, the showcase has kicked off the festival, this year it's happening on day 3. I'm not sure the rationale (or the logistical imperatives) behind the change. I elected not to perform - the impression I had from early correspondence was that people would be milling around during performances and that it could be loud. I didn't want to fight for attention during this, plus DECAF doesn't really lend itself to excerpted highlights. So I offered to show up with cheesecakes.

Turns out it wasn't much of a cocktail party atmosphere - it was a sit-down audience watching excerpt after excerpt. Not really conducive to passing out cheesecakes. And the bulk of the audience turned out to be other Fringe performers waiting their turn to do their bit. As one of the Dutch guys put it, "I thought this was going to be advertising, but it seems more like making us part of the whole fringe family." There are plusses to this - it was great to see bits and pieces of the other shows, but most of us are probably going to go and see each other's projects already.

Could be that Fringe Sunday happened on Day 3 because the weekend's over, and the organizers (the capable and helpful Steve, Carol, Giles, and Alberto are the ones I've met) are hoping to boost things going into the week. Unfortunately, even last night an attendance drop was pretty steep.

Don and I were supposed to connect to see CROSSED WIRES http://www.iristheatreco.org/), which he did end up seeing with Steffen Silvis, the about-to-leave drama critic for the Prague Post, but we didn't connect and I missed it. They're performing in A Studio Rubín, which is a great little underground hole. I loved going here in 2001, there was a (now gone) very fun, very young company that performed out of the space. It only seats about 30-35, and CW was a full house.

I connected with Don and Steffen for the next show, THIS STILL NIGHT, more in the next post.

Incidentally, here's the website for info on THE PEN AND THE SWORD, if you're interested in more about them: http://www.blacksnow.info/

5.24.2009

Blague blahs, May 23

Embarrasingly, I saw nothing yesteday. When I first got here, I outlined a fairly ambitious program of all of the Fringe shows I could catch, knowing that while it might be a little unrealistic, I could at least know which shows were and were not available to me.

A note about jetlag, because that's the core issue. I am happily jetlag free, thanks to chemicals. Tylenol PM at night, caffeine during the day. Also, the sun is very bright above my bed, so I wake up at the latest at 6:45am. The latest was this morning. The problem now is that I'm not getting to sleep until 1am, whether because of the caffeine I drank to stay awake during the day, or because I'm wound up from the performance. All of which to say, it's making me a bit of a loser at the moment.

I spent all afternoon yesterday making cheesecakes. I've got the show tonight, but this afternoon is the Fringe Sunday Showcase, at which I'm passing out lots and lots of cheesecakes. It's the best marketing plan I could come up with. I didn't want to fall asleep during a performance, so I didn't go to any. I got a coffee, a sandwich, and bought some decaf ground for me for the performance. But by then, too late. Up until 1 again. No coffee so far today, looking forward to a nap.

The show went a lot better last night, even though I went up on my lines again. On the plus side, it didn't happen at the telephone. I knew what was supposed to happen then. On the minus side, it happened at the OTHER place I always forget, the pregnancy bit. The irony of this only strikes me mid-performance, of course, when I realize where I am. What did Michelle say, again? Sheesh.

House count 22. I got a "whoo." So that was cool.

Trying to nap now, see more shows today.

5.23.2009

May 22, part III, premiere

Unsurprisingly, I was fairly wound up about this again - not quite the same stomach ache as last Friday, but very present. And nervy particulary given how futzy my tech was yesterday afternoon. I spent a lot of time going over notes in the afternoon and feeling generally out of sorts.

One of the "picks for the Fringe" is a performance called Hansel and Gretel, The End of the Fairy Tale." It sounds a lot like Decaf in many ways, using the fairy tale as a vehicle for a one-person show to mull over her family history. I'll never know for sure because she performs opposite me and is only here for the first three days of the Fringe. By the time I switch to late afternoon performances, she'll be gone. Anyway, she's Israeli, and she and her colleague/partner/friend/whoever were talking in the dressing room. Since we go up within 15 minutes of each other, we share the space. I'm assuming that whatever she was speaking was Hebrew, which I've never heard before. Couldn't wrap my head around it for a while. Too busy freaking out quietly in the corner with my script.

Don, František, their friend Milan, and Leah all made the show - nice to have some familiar faces. They accepted cheesecake, but their beers pretty much obviated any coffee.

The show itself went fine. I would like to say "without a hitch," but that's not true. About halfway through, I completely lost my place. No idea where I was. So I jumped, very clearly, to the section about coffee. That's a nice and precise break. I was about halfway through "acidity" when I realized I'd forgotten the telephone card. The first thing I thought was to wonder whether or not I needed it, or could I go on. Then I thought, no I should put it in, I need to look at the telephone at the end. Then I thought, where do I put it in? I know, I'll add it after I finish Flavor. Okay, what comes after Flavor? I have to know so that I don't lose my place again. Okay, got it, I can do this.

It was at this point only that I remembered Michelle telling me, you always forget two places. If you go up, just jump to the telephone.

Duh.

My apologies to my director.

There is No Way I could have kept spouting lines and had a completely separate thought process going on had I not been teaching for the past 5 years. Students seem to think they blend into a mass. But, I have to say, 5 years of inattention has prepared me relatively well for choking during a performance. So, to all those slackers: many thanks!

Both Don and Leah had some good feedback - from where I perform, there's a staircase up to the upper area where the bar is. I kept up a decent patter during the coffee serving, but the show REALLY dragged with the cheesecake. I'll have to do some work on this. Also, I just didn't have good energy for the first chunk of the performance. This will sound familiar to Michelle. Leah said, "At a certain point it just took off." "About 15 minutes in?" "Yeah." Hmm. I think I've had that note before.

Encounters after the show. One guy liked my pre-show music and wanted to know who I'd selected. Hilarious. Of course I could barely remember at that point. He got very excited when I said "band" but heard "Ben Folds." Nope, sorry, he's not in the line-up. Had a brief conversation with a very nice woman from the Dutch Fringe that I'm hoping to follow up on, and in a grand turn of bizarre-ity, a guy from Carroll University in Waukesha, Giovan (?) introduced himself to me. That was weird. Nice guy. Only in Prague.

The single best part of the evening, before the show the kavárna staff agreed to let me wash my dishes in the back. I packed my gear up, took the dirty dishes back, left them for later, and went to join everyone for some beer. So thirsty. Plus I haven't bought decaf yet, so I drank leaded during the show. Wound up and thirsty. And we're busy not being busy, when the guy from the kavárna appears with all of my dishes, all washed, all dry. But I didn't mean for you to do that, I was going to come back and wash them. I know, but we re-thought about it.

How cool is that?

House count 26.

May 22, part II, Red Peter

Another not-typical Fringe show, from what I hear. Here's the company website, the MOVIE link apparently has a promo trailer of the piece if you want to check it out.

http://web.mac.com/simianfeatures/iWeb/Site/Welcome.html

This is an adaptation of a Kafka short story, "Report to the Academy," about a monkey, Red Peter, who has essentially become human. It's a very quiet, very philosophical performance, with some outstanding physical acting - one-man show, incidentally.

They also perform in the kavárna. I almost blew The Pen and the Sword before I realized it wasn't in the kavárna, but the theater. This was my performance space as well. Funny thing neither Gordon (this actor) or I had considered - you can smoke in coffeeshops and bars here. Mostly no one smoked during mine, but that's fine because they smoked enough during Red Peter for both shows. Holy crap.

May 22, pt. 1, The Pen and the Sword

No nap yesterday, although today it's almost certain. At least I'm not hungover.

I'm breaking yesterday into separate posts so that I can write at least briefly about the shows I saw, starting with The Pen and the Sword, a six-person piece (England, USA) about a British cartoonist who's had a fatwa placed on his head for one of his political cartoons. The theme is all about civil society, responsibility, and they try to mitigate that dramatically through farce and satire. The main character (played by the author, I think) goes through a series of episodes encountering various people, including a phone operator from Sheboygan Falls, WI, who's taken a job outsourced from England for the Emergency Help line, a cop, his dad, his U.S. agent, and his friend who converted to the Religion In Question.

They're playing in the proper theater space at Divadlo na Prádle, which is below the kavárna. I'll try to remember to get a picture of the sign outside the kavárna doors that show the height of the Vltava waters when it flooded back in the 90s. Which is to say, the theater proper was probably almost entirely submerged.

Anyhow - their timing was a bit off, the lines were good but they would've been funnier if the cues had come faster, and there were some odd choices of black (or blue) outs between some scenes. It's hard to come down on this too hard, though, especially given my perf last night, which was far from tight. That'll be part III.

It wasn't knock-you-down funny, but that's not what they were going for. The humor was really there to get their message across. James, our hero, has as his major conflict the choice to retract his cartoon and apologize, or not. Smartly, they didn't give an answer. They set up all of the conflicts in progressively silly ways, and leave the audience with him prepared to make his decision without telling us what he'll do.

Good house, too, probably close to 40 people, maybe more? Giles, the TD for the Fringe, told me after my show last night that they've had a very strong opening. This is particularly good as the Festival was turned down for a major grant from the city earlier this year.

Here's their website: http://www.blacksnow.info/

5.22.2009

Tech blague

Not an unmitigated disaster by any means, learned a lot, that's all to the good, but lost my place on more than one occasion. Left my text with the stage tech, Vilem, and am printing off a new one so that I can go over it and over it and over it this afternoon. Adjusted how I'm putting things on the set, opening up sightlines. Giles, the TD for the festival, recommends some music for pre-show. On CD.

Right. How'm I going to do that this afternoon? Time to find out.

5.21.2009

Day late, koruna short

I ended up working on revising my text until nearly 2pm yesterday. Couldn't nap, so got back to work dealing with memorizing the revisions. Around 4pm started putting my new trunk together, figuring out the new pack, doing something approximating a rehearsal in the living room. Don came back close to 7pm, by which point I was nearly done with my rehearsal, so I turned to cheesecake making. On that front, I'm at least prepared for today prop-wise. Frantisek got home close to 8, dinner all around, and then the three of us loaded the trunk into F's car and he drove me to the theater to drop it off.

It's a wee bit heavy. Which will work with the new entrance, and with a couple of selective changes in lines at the top. The kavárna was open last night, and the "stage" was set up, bigger than I reported the other day now, and 20cm tall. Lots of people all around. The dressing room - my storage - was locked, but fortunately a red-rimmed young tech opened it up. Is that dope I smell? Nice to meet you.

While we were gone, Don was going over my variant text. It's going to need more work. I'm only conversationally fluent - I've never been a good writer. More memorizing before Sunday.

So D&F come through in spades.

Tech is slated for 9am-1pm today, though I've been warned that the kavárna tends to open a little late every day. After my pre-set and figuring out where everything is (i.e. water, mainly), that probably means I start at 10 or so. Do a run or two, come back via the Tesco so that I can buy more groceries (eggs and cream cheese), shower, then back to see the first couple of shows before mine. Research. And professional courtesy.

Trying to psychologically prepare for small to insignificant houses.

Blague pt. I for today

I'm writing on a Czech keyboard, which means things have a different position on them. For example if I were to write this same sentence, especially if I were using numbers like 5, 6, or 7, it would read like this.

Iům writing on a Cyech kezboard, which means things have a different position on them. For example if I were to write this same sentence, especiallz if I were using numbers like ř, ž, or ý, it would read like this.

Not a huge deal, but it wears on the fingers and the brain.

Finally finished re-drafting the text. It's 2pm. I have yet to begin re-rehearsing it and figuring out my new trunk pack and making the cheesecake. No time tomorrow - tech is 9am-1pm, and it's the opening of the festival. Lots to do.

5.20.2009

Prague + Blog = Blague

So far today I've found the space, bought a SIM card for a local phone, and groceries so that I can do a test run of a batch of cheesecakes this afternoon.

I should be out at Silvie's right now to look at her steamer trunk, but jet lag just started kicking my ass about 15 minutes ago and I'm feeling on the dead side.

The space. The coffeeshop (kavárna) at Divadlo na Prádle. It has stairs. The performance "space" is a couple of platforms, 2m x 4m I'd guess. There's a flight of 4-5 stairs going from the dressing room area down to the main floor where the performance space is. If Silvie's trunk is too heavy for me to lift on my own, with all of my props and such inside, it'll be time for plan C.

I love a good contingency plan. Not sure what the plan is, it's more of a hypothetical love than an actual one.

5.19.2009

Not Prague but MIlwaukee

If you're in Milwaukee this weekend, check out this show. Sure to be interesting, one way or another.

DALI'S LIQUID LADIES the DIY touring show from Minneapolis' Bedlam
Theatre is coming to Stonefly Brewery (735 E Center St) on Sunday May 24th.

REVIEWS:
"The cumulative effect is ecstatic and wrenching, a phantasmagoria of desire
distilled to unnerving honesty. As the Liquid Ladies ask, “What do you dream
of when no-body’s looking?” "
-Carl Atiya Swanson, Cake in 15,
http://www.cakein15.com/2009/04/21/come-to-dadadalis-liquid-ladies-at-bedlam/

"Liquid Ladies is a tremendously enjoyable romp, but impressively, Reich
manages to actually engage the premise of surrealism generally and Dalí‘s
pavilion specifically. If we acknowledge that we like looking at naked
ladies, is that a profound insight into the psyche or is it just stating a
fact that’s plainly obvious to everyone from Dalí‘s mermaids to the models
for less pretentious peepshows?"
-Jay Gabler, TC Daily Planet
http://www.tcdailyplanet.net/article/2009/04/18/theater-bedlams-dali-dada-da-da-i-zimbrabim-ta-ta-ta-te-te-te-obi-obi-da-da-da-da

ALSO APPEARING: Milwaukee's own carnival and cabaret groups: DEAD MAN'S
CARNIVAL and EAT THE MYSTERY!

Details: Sunday May 24th, 9PM, $7.
Stonefly Brewing Company, 735 E Center St in Riverwest.
Dali's Liquid Ladies - see attached press kit or
http://www.bedlamtheatre.org/display.php?info=DALI_On_Tour
Dead Man's Carnival - http://www.myspace.com/karnalville
Eat the Mystery - http://www.myspace.com/eatthemystery
--

5.18.2009

The best disinfectant is sunshine. How much is performance worth?

I'm following something that Ben Turk does on his blog regarding Insurgent, and that's posting gross income/revenue of projects. Don't how frequently I'll continue doing this beyond Decaffeinated Tragedy, but then I'm not sure the frequency of future productions, so there.

I received $521 from the benefit performances at Moct on Friday and Saturday. $45 of that was t-shirt sales.

On Friday, people gave money or they didn't. But I knew practically everyone there. Thanks for packing the house, by the way. On Saturday, there were a number of people I didn't know, and Grace was asked no less than five times what the suggested donation was. Michelle told her to say there was NO suggested donation, pay what you want, what you can, whatever. Seriously.

The interesting thing about this for me was collecting the money and counting it later. There were several bundles of five one dollar bills. Obviously, a bunch of people dropped 20s and 10s and 5s (and some cool folks wrote me a nice check!), but there were all these $5 contributions, in denominations of one.

I'm not insulted by this, that's not why I'm bringing it up. I do think it's incredibly interesting that a number of people felt that $5 is a good price for performance.

I kind of like pay-what-you-can. Whatever the next show is, maybe it'll always be that way. Assuming I'm by myself, or working with other people who also don't intend to make money through performance.

Updates from Prague, or "Pre-travel Milwaukee"

The animals know something's up. The Dog hates the suitcases, and the packing. She sat at the bottom of the stairs yesterday and refused to come up while I was jigsaw-puzzling the show into two suitcases and one duffel bag (the spelling doesn't look right to me, either, but then spell check says that "doesn't" is bad, too). Almost certain to be overweight on at least one piece of luggage. Currently trying to imagine how much of the show I can leave behind in Prague.