Monthly Archives: June 2012

I went to Bratislava and all I got was this lousy potplant. Istropolitana Day 5, 6 & 7

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Someone said to us today, that when we returned to England we brought the weather with us. I think we didn’t just bring it, but we stole it. It was raining heavily last night and this morning in Bratislava, so it was a welcome surprise when we stepped off the plane into the English sun.

I’ve been a bit rubbish at keeping these posts up to date, due to a decided lack of time and sleep. So, this is my penultimate post about the Istropolitana Projekt 2012.

DAY FIVE

The morning after our show there was a short discussion with all the groups who had performed the day before. These were quite enlightening and when the right questions are asked can give a real insight to the performers and their training.

Our discussion went very easily and smoothly. We all assaulted the stage in one giant collective leaving the audience numbers smaller that ours. People were really appreciative of our work and I had fun in the discussion because of this.

After the discussion I went to watch two very shows. These were Super Market and the National Voodoo by Gardzienice and Grey Matter: A Play for Six Brains by the MA Students in Central. I’ll post the reviews I wrote of the shows at the end of this day.

I’m really glad I got to see these shows and meet these people. It was brilliant seeing Gardzienice, because we had studied them last year, and our program head at Rose Bruford used to be a key member of the company. I really loved seeing their work in action and it was great meeting them afterwards. The same is true for the central lot, who are really nice people. We also saw another show by the guys who did The Rich Man and Lazarus, and even though it wasn’t as good as Lazarus they still did the show well. This group became the highlight of the festival for me I think.

Reviews:

So these are my reviews…they’re very subjective. Please do tell me what you think of them, because I’m trying to practice my review writing a bit.

Supermarket and the National Voodoo

Supermarket and the National Voodoo was not exactly what I was expecting to see from the students of The Academy of Theatre Practices (APT) in Gardzienice. The show was a montage of extracts from the text Diary Kept Afterwards by Polish writer Andrzej Stasiuk, brought to life by the performers with a mix of text (spoken, sung and rapped), hip-hop beats and Oberek (a national dance). At the beginning, the co-ordinator of the Gardzienice centre Mariusz Gołaj introduces the piece stating that it is “not very theatrical” – Well, actually it is very theatrical – but, if it is not really a play, then the only thing I could describe it as, is a song. The rhythm of the piece is constantly fluid and the incredible sense of musicality that I would have expected from the APT students carries the audience through the piece. All text adds to the sense of this song in the way it flows, and through the intonation of the voice.

The sense of ensemble in the group is incredibly strong, and the performers are meticulous in their technical performance. The chorus of performers is always moving together as a single organism, yet one can notice every single performer and can focus on specific fragments of action in the whole.

Not speaking Polish I was unable to understand the specific context of the piece but was easily able to identify with the action. It was evident that the piece was highly political and strongly opinionated; a political cabaret of sorts. I wander then, if my view of the work would have been strongly altered if I had understood. Quite honestly, in this case I’m quite glad that this language barrier exists.

For me, as a visual and oral spectacle the piece was absolutely beautiful, and utterly compelling. The level of performance was exactly what I would hope for from someone coming from Gardzienice and the content was a pleasant subversion to what I expected.

Grey Matter: A Play for Six Brains

Grey Matter was mostly a theatrical experiment. The performers, students of the MA Advanced Theatre Practice course at Central School of Speech and Drama, are giving us a small insight to who they are. There are six spotlights, six paper bags and six performers. Each performer is represented by a certain spot. Whichever performer is in their spot, will reflect on what they might think if they were that person. For example, Jonny might say; “If I had the brain of Melanie, I would know what it’s like to have blond hair”. The performers all rotate at certain points making sure that every person has the opportunity to test the brain of each of the others. The show was very simple and minimal. The performers attempted not to allow emotions cross the face, however their voices were very much alive. With this sort of work there is a danger that the performers would not be able to grasp the audience and bring them into their world. This company did not suffer this problem and they drew us in very effectively, which considering the majority of the audience only spoke English as a second language is no small achievement in itself. The show was very humorous as we gained not only an insight into who each person was but also to how they think about each other. Someone described as a sort of ‘psychological striptease’ and I think that’s a good observation. As the play went on this striptease became more violent and we were taken to slightly darker place with the sort of things being said. After this the play was opened up to the audience and we were told what we might be thinking. This was a great idea and there were a few moments where thoughts were planted in us. However, it was often far too vague who they were addressing; “If I had the brain of the man in the second row…”.

I enjoy this type of work but I always want to take it out of the theatrical space. I think this piece would benefit from the sort of fluid audience you might find in the middle of an art gallery or something like that.

This was a nice start point for a theatrical experiment and offered a small insight to the world of these people, but it did at times feel a bit naïve, a bit too simplistic. I would have liked to see this work go deeper into the psychology of these six brains.

DAY SIX

After watching the discussions I spoke to the Central and Gardzienice a bit. After this I went to see one of the more bizarre performances of the week: Endgame from The Higher School of Dramatic Arts of Malaga. The only way I can really describe this, is to say that if Tommy Wiseau was to direct a stage version of a Beckett play, it might be a little bit like this. The entire play really flew with some of Beckett’s ideas of the mundane, motionless existence of these characters. The acting was without a doubt, so terrible it was brilliant, and the actors didn’t seem to understand a single line they were saying. Strangely, the performers acted in English with Spanish subtitles projected on the certain behind. This also acted as an intentionally hilarious element of the plays dramaturgy. As the characters spoke the subtitles would jump across the wall, sometimes falling behind the actors performance and sometimes flying ahead. It’s also worth noting that the most convincing performance in the piece was that of the mother. I think it is testament to the work that she had only one scene and otherwise had to squat in a barrel for the entire piece. Another unexpected element of this performance was the audience’s reaction to it. Obviously people hated it, and with good cause. However, there was an absolute lack of respect for the show which actually made the whole thing that much more enjoyable, as people walked out slamming the door behind them, or wandering to the front of the stage to collect their bags, making a statement that they were leaving. This again called to mind The Room and I found myself wanting to get involved in the performance, calling to the actors or something.

After the show finished we all sighed deeply and left rather confused. The poor actors were only given one curtain call which I think is unheard of in Slovakia. Now I can’t quite explain why, but I felt very elated by the performance after having left. As if I’d just seen a really entertaining play, which I hadn’t. Another of us had an even stronger reaction, stating that he loved the show, but had no idea why. He knew it was bad, but genuinely loved it, stating that “That was Beckett!”

Now, I was kind of perplexed by this reaction, so I was really looking forward to seeing their discussion in the morning – But when I got there they didn’t turn up! They’d just gone home! I presume this is all part of their genius and I’m not convinced that every element of Endgame wasn’t designed meticulously to come off the way it did.

Not being able to bear another show straight after this, we ate and then went to an instillation that the puppetry group had created. It told the story of an old house and the people who had walked its stairs. The group used a number of ‘insubstantial objects’ that could easily be erased such as water, fire and shadow to create the piece. This worked really well with the building itself being mostly whitewashed walls and half remembered memories. The work was well executed and considering it was devised in only 10 days, it was very good.

We spent the evening drinking in KC Dunaj and three of us ended up going with our guides to the castle to watch the sun rise. When you’re up here looking down on Bratislava it is absolutely beautiful. The old buildings give the city a sort of fairy-tale feel and all the beer in my head made me feel quite affectionate towards the city.

DAY SEVEN

Today, our lovely guides took us to a wooded hill on the very outskirts of Bratislava. Here we  looked out over the hills and the city, drank shots of a strong Slovak spirit called Tatratea which I think we’re planning on polishing off tonight before our end of year ball at Rose Bruford. Later I tested another Slovakian spirit called Slivovica which I think is the sort of drink that is out to kill you, especially if you’re not much of a spirit drinker like me. Actually, I’ll write a bit about drinking in Slovakia later for those of you who are interested in such things.

Another thing we did on this hill was to go up into a cafe which is built in a TV and Radio tower (I think that’s what it was). Here you could look out over the entire city and surrounding countryside. What’s cool is that Bratislava is right on the border to Austria so we could see into there too. Actually, I remember on the second day here, we went up to the castle and I got all over excited about a Wind-farm I could see, but Zuzka told me, that was actually in Austria not Slovakia. Anyway, this was an absolutely beautiful view and another one of those moments in your life where you think “how much would I really be giving up if I did just ran away here…?”

Right then, drinks…

I’m not really a keen spirit drinker, instead I tend to like beer, and actually it’s become a bit of a personal thing, that I look forward to trying the beer of wherever I am going.

Zlaty-Bazant

A very easy, light beer. I think Zlaty-Bazant means Golden Pheasant and unsurprisingly has a picture of a golden Pheasant on the label. I quite enjoyed this beer, but the beautiful Zuzana informed me that it was in fact “a girl’s beer”. So, wanting to appear all manly and rugged in front of her, I decided not to drink any more of it.

Radegast

This beer is a little bit more manly I think. A bit more bitter and a little heavier. This was what was on tap in KC Dunaj and so it kind of became my default beer. It is very easy to drink and found myself downing pint after pint without too much consequence. A quick Wikipedia search will tell us that Radegast is the name of a god, and there is a Czeck saying: “Život je hořký: Bohudík” (Life is bitter: Thank God). I think there was also a character called Radegast in Lord of Rings, wasn’t there?

Pilsner-Urquell

Ah, we all know and love Pilsner – and if you don’t, you should. Pilsner-Urquell is the original Pilsner, and that means it’s the first ever pale lager. Find it. Drink it. Also, they have a great website!

Kelt

A dark, strong beer. It’s really good. Heavier that a lot of lagers. It’s brewed by Heineken now I think.

Staropramen

Staropramen own the second largest brewery in the Czech Republic apparently. It’s situated in Prague and Staropramen is their flagship product. It’s a nice, rich beer.

Tetratea

Tetratea is a really strong spirit. It’s apparently really versatile and can be drank in hot tea, with ice and in many other ways (we were drinking it neat). There are a whole bunch of different Tetratea products ranging from 32% alcohol all the way up to 72%. I think ours was 52% which is like the standard version. It’s sweet but hearty also, and it properly warms your bones. I’m going to try it in tea tonight. Literally can’t wait.

Slivovica

Like I said, this is the sort of drink that wants you dead. It’s a plum brandy and is categorized with Rakia, and actually I tend to like Rakia drinks (I remember vividly drinking raki mixed with water (which makes it go cloudy) in Turkey and really enjoying it). It’s very strong, dry and very tasty actually. I found it quite moreish. You should defiantly try it out.

Honerable mention – Some sort of honey whiskey. I’m not actually sure what this was, but I didn’t like it. Very sweet, far too sweet for me. However, it did come in beautifully decorated bottles. I should also mention Kofola which is a Solvakian soft drink and rival of Cola and Pepsi. It tastes kind of like Root Beer and has enough caffeine in to kill a small child.

And now on with the main story…

After all this we ventured back to KC Dunaj to drink and see the award ceremony of Istropolitana. Everyone was in good spirits and the whole thing was very enjoyable. People were really supportive of each other and the atmosphere was really nice.

We managed to bag two awards:

The Student Jury’s Best Production award – The trophy was a Bonzai tree, which someone told me is a sign for long lasting life. I thought this was kind of ironic seeing how hard the damn things are to keep alive. It’s a lovely little tree though and the perfect gift to give to our program head back at RB.

The Senior Jury’s Outstanding Achievement award – The trophy for this one is a statue of a Raven, which is the symbol of Matthias Corvinus, a Hungarian king who founded the first University in Bratislava, the ‘Universitas istropolitana’, in 1465.

Both awards come with a certificate with a picture a giant bloody, dead heart laying there, which is lovely. It’s very nice to win these awards, but even without them our time at Istroploitana has been wonderful.

And thus ends our Istropolitana chronicle. We continued to party until about 5am and then realized we’d better go back and pack as we were leaving at 7am. Not wanting to leave us our guides and the lovely Ludmilla decided to come with us, and so we turned up at our hotel with a small army of Slovakian women in trail. An hour later we were leaving.

Petra and Zuzka gave us some little heart necklaces to say goodbye and we gave them some flowers and a bottle of Pimms.

And that’s the end.

A huge thank you to everyone involved in the Istropolitana Projekt 2012 for such a wonderful and accommodating stay. Specifically, thanks to our guides; Petra, Zuzka, Alina and Tomas without whom we would have been lost and rowdy. I feel like I made some nice friends over this week. It was an absolute pleasure to be involved in Istropolitana 2012 and it saddens me that I won’t be involved next time.

I will upload one final post on Istropolitana in the next day or two with all our photos in. Also, I noticed I’ve had a lot of views from Slovakia – So hello my friends! Please do keep in touch.

 

Jack.

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Istropolitana Day 3 & 4

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I’m afraid this post might be a little messy as I’m writing it at 1am. Please do excuse me if it all seems a little rushed…it is.

We owe Istropolitana a huge thank you. The whole festival has been extremely well organized and we’ve been treated very well. The presence of our guides has been fantastic and they’ve made us feel very welcome. It has been a pleasure to take part in the festival.

Most of Day Three was spent rehearsing for our show. We were given rehearsal space in the theatre school for the day, without which we would have been in trouble. In the morning we met with our directors Teresa and Andrzej Wełmiński who we haven’t seen since the beginning of last term. It was lovely to see them and I really enjoyed rehearsing with them again. Due to the nature of the set and props this was the first time we’d actually rehearsed with a number of set pieces. The rehearsals were very productive but we uncovered a lot that needed work and I ended the rehearsals feeling rather apprehensive about the whole thing.

Day Four of course was the day of the performance. In the morning we arrived at the school nice and early to collect our stuff only to find that it had already been packed and transported to the theatre for us! And what a theatre! Considering the nature of the work we do at Rose Bruford, I have not performed on a raised stage for about 6 or 7 years. It was intimidating to say the least. The theatre was quite grand and very traditional, which was worrying given the style of our piece. To accommodate this new space we needed to rework a lot of the performance in a very short amount of time. Again I was really quite worried by the end of the rehearsals and felt as though the work was not ready to be shown. Having said that, it was getting there.

I think this is a good time for a quick shout out to our Stage Manager. Sarah has worked really quickly and efficiently, cutting new music on the go and really using the lights to transform the space into a less traditional, more suited atmosphere. Without her this entire thing would be impossible and without someone as incredibly compliant as Sarah the piece would not have run as smoothly or skilfully as it did. So, super special thanks!

Now before I go into the run itself, check this out.

Not only did we have a real stage to play on, we also had dressing rooms – WITH TV’S IN! And a shower, and a bed! All this combined with the fact we didn’t have to cart all our stuff through Bratislava the way we expected has spoiled us! We didn’t know what to do with such luxury; so we wept.

So, I’ll tell you very small bit about our show…Ok I lied, I’m not going to do any work at all. I’m just going to reproduce what we’ve written in the programme:

The spectacle has been created by a young company of third year BA (hons) European Theatre Arts students of Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance and directed by Teresa and Andrzej Wełmiński, visual artists and members of the internationally recognised Cricot2 Theatre of Tadeusz Kantor.

The performance was born from the selected texts and art works of Bruno Schulz, who was one of the most important and influential Polish authors of the 20th Century. Bruno Schulz’s stories present an extraordinary description of the lives of Polish Jews in a small city, as well as his own autobiography, all infused together in a dream-like poetry, where the lines between myth and reality are blurred. Schulz’s creation is an original phenomenon within the international literature world that has links with surrealism and psychoanalysis, as well as Franz Kafka’s modern Expressionism.

The methodology used within the devising process of the piece came from the practices of Kantor’s Cricot2 Theatre, in particular relying on the main ideology of autonomous theatre, where all participating dramaturgical elements are of equal value. As a result, the performance was created through strong musical, visual and artistic stimuli, which the performers freely and confidently juggle using various theatrical techniques and conventions. Within this spectacle various types of artists can be observed: the chorus, the orchestra, the narrator, the animators of objects (and space), the actors. All elements work together in close collaboration and closely inter-relate to create a grand unification.

Josef’s father is dead.

Josef is travelling to meet him.

His destination, the Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass, is a place of stillness and repose, where dusty memories are kicked up and new connections forged.  Long-ago friendships and forgotten fathers frequent the town.  Past times and lost events are routinely re encountered, made real, reinvented and re evaluated – and their resultant time lines recalculated.

And very few answers easily gotten.
In 1942, Bruno Schulz was shot dead by the Gestapo whilst buying a loaf of bread. 70 years later, in a year to celebrate his writing, a company of 50 performers brings to the stage a selection of extracts from his short stories in a performance heavily influenced by the methods of Polish experimental avant-gardist Tadeusz Kantor.

The show went very well. Much better than expected. Obviously it could be better. But we’re very pleased. The audience were incredibly kind applauding us at certain intervals during the performance (they especially liked a scene which involves a circle of animated wax figures) and giving us a standing ovation. This is absolutely unlike anything I have ever experienced before and the male contingency of us spent the next quarter hour running around the dressing room and flexing our muscles in the mirrors!

After all this was done we quickly took down the set and hit the club, which as I mentioned before, is right next to the theatre! Here we drank ourselves into a gentle stupor and exchanged words with many people. Including my twin and the students of the Gardzienice Academy of Theatre Practices.

Some of us seem to be benefiting from our show already too. Sarah was swiftly jumped on to help operate the technical side of a show tomorrow by Central School of Speech and Drama, and my good friend Lawrence was recruited to be the poster boy for Istropolitana 2014!

In the morning, we had to take our hangovers with us to a meeting in which we discussed the work and responded to certain questions. Again, people were very interested in us and seemed to enjoy our presence there. We also got our reviews in, which were very impressive!

We were granted one 4 stars, one 4 and a half, and one full 5 stars. The review was also very favourable and described one of my friends as a “sexy miss” which is excellent.

All in all a very successful venture. This sort of marks the end of my degree also! Even though I finished all the work a week ago, this was still sort of a continuation of it. But no more.

Done.

Dusted.

The end.

Silence for the Pidgin. Istropolitana Day One & Two

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Hello!

I’m afraid this post isn’t so pretty just yet! I do intend to decorate it but I haven’t uploaded any pictures yet, and I’m already behind as it is.

It’s pretty long – but it’s actually 2 posts in one.

DAY ONE

My first night in Bratislava is spent cowering from the thunder and lightning in a crowded hotel room. Eating a Chicken and Spinach pizza that tastes like bread and hastily gulping down a can of beer which I bought for a single Euro.

The events leading up to this are probably more interesting though:

We landed in Bratislava at about 8pm local time. We were greeted at the airport by three rather attractive young guides who announced that we would be getting a taxi to the registration office and then proceeded to take us on three different buses to get there. Once at the office (which holds an uncanny resemblance to a Student Union Bar) we were hastily attended to. We were made to sign things, red bands were put on our wrists, cameras flashed at us and we were given goodie bags.

Another bus journey and we were at the hotel where I hastily spilled the contents of my goodie bag onto the bed.

The contents of the bag are varied to say the least. Firstly, the things that make sense; A programme for the festival in both Slovakian and English (thank you very much). A postcard with the logo on (more on that in a sec), an A5 flyer, a map of Bratislava and a bigger poster which I can only pray is some sort of ironic joke. Other than this we were given a Fabel-Castell pencil, which is lovely. A rain poncho, lip balm, some sort of menthol nasal spray, baby wipes and a condom with the word “rock” printed on it. With the nasal spray and condom, I am lead to believe that this festival is going to be some kind of cocaine fueled sex binge with other theatre minded people. Now this sounds great in theory but I wander what is left for those of us who cannot morally take part in the sexfest. At least the baby wipes wont go to waste I guess…

So now  lets talk a little bit about the Istropolitana Projekt.

The imagery they’ve gone for this year is very dramatic indeed! A raw, bloody heart lies on a stage, above it scratchy red words proclaim “Naše Srdce Partrí Divadlu” – Our heart beats for Theatre!

It’s all very dramatic and I can only assume it’s meant in a “I would rip my still beating heart from my chest and hurl it at the stage in an act of unadulterated expression!” sort of way. This gruesome imagery follows us everywhere. On posters, on the T-shirts they’ve given us and yet another raw heart image (this one complete with veins and arteries) adorns the side of our goodie bags. Even our name tags have it on, and what’s more, they’ve been cleverly set out so that once your name is written, it forms the sentence “Jack’s heart beats for theatre.” The only thing that doesn’t have this image on is the aforementioned poster, which is on a whole other level of disturbing.

Here we have a couple sitting in a lovely green park. The girl, beautiful with strawberry coloured hair, laughs with joy as she feeds a quintet of cute, fluffy puppies. The man though, stared vacantly (or intently depending how you look at it) into the distance. Next to him is the now familiar slogan “my heart beats for theatre.”

Now I have a few possible interpretations for this. The first, and probably most sensible is that the puppies are cute and the girl pretty, but he doesn’t care because his “heart beats for theatre” alone.

My other readings are a bit deeper and uncover something far more sinister. Firstly, look at his face. There is guilt in those eyes – and see how his hands hang limply at his sides. I think it is possible he has just beaten one of those puppies to death and is now feeling the immense guilt that comes with such actions. Also, he’s probably a little worries about what will happen when his girlfriend finds Fido’s mangled corpse under the bed. But then I noticed something else…Now stay with me…he is sitting on some kind of post or rod. However, he is not sitting comfortably, rather he looks as though he has lowered himself onto said post. Then we have the text in the lower right hand corner: “Feel it in the flesh.” …so…is it possible that the look on his face is not guilt at all but a cross between shock and pleasure, combined with the creepy suspicion that he is not the man he though he was?

One final observation: Put into the context of Istropolitana and taking into consideration the rest of the bleeding heart imagery – it is more than likely that this woman is a psychopath feeding the hearts of theatre students to her dogs! One must then assume that these pups will grow to be ruthless man-eating hell-hounds with a particular taste for the beating hearts of the more theatrically inclined of us.

Be it sinister undertones or messages of sexual liberation I can only conclude that this poster was conceived in a moment of complete insanity or complete genius.

Anyway, that’s the first day done.

Onwards to tomorrow and the beginning of Istropolitana!

DAY TWO

I hate to revert to vague and slightly meaningless terms but today was an absolutely epic day…only way to describe it.

The first half of the day was spent following our lovely hostesses through the town looking at what a good friend of mine might describe as ‘cultural gash’. That is – castles, fountains and other sight see-y things, the best of which I will describe below.

Right first off, food. The only real reason anyone travels abroad. We have been graciously bestowed with food vouchers for our trip, about 7.40 Euros a day, which it turns out is a pretty fair amount here. And all communist jokes aside we’re all very grateful for it. In general we’ve been treated very well thus far and our guides are guiding us wonderfully. Anyway, we went to lunch in a restaurant which charged us only 3.50 Euros for a 3 course meal! I had the Shark which came in a source which kind of tasted like rice pudding, which is an odd combination but almost worked. The two guides (either side of me had a wonderful dish called Lievane which is like pancakes with berries. The guide on my right could not finish hers so I tried a bit…and by try a bit I mean that I finished it. Then the guide on my left could not finish hers so I did what any gentleman would do and scoffed that down as well. All in all a successful meal.

The most interesting things we saw I think were a flat-pack synagogue made of polystyrene and a statue of Schonne Nazi, who was apparently a very friendly German who was really nice to everyone. So they built a statue of him! Isn’t that great?! Also worth mentioning is a man who hushed us as we passed because he had found a pidgin that would eat food from his hand! Seriously though, Bratislava is a extremely beautiful city, the castles are wonderful and even the wide open streets can be quite breathtaking.

So after some more sightseeing we went to see the opening ceremony for Istropolitana. The ceremony was what you would expect from such an event. There were a few speeches, a few introductions and a few announcements. All this was held together by a trio of clowns (not of the red nose verity). Just as a quick side; have you read my about me page? Well, in it I mention that I seem to look like a lot of people. I now have someone else to add to the list. Apparently one of the clowns is my doppelgänger. I caught up with his later and got a picture, I’ll upload it later and you can tell me what you think.

During the ceremony we were introduced to the key philosophy for the Istropolitana Projekt which is to bring together different drama schools from around the world with different work methodologies together in a “international confrontation of their work, opinion and production.” The festival takes place every other year and this year we have 22 productions from 17 different countries.

There is also a competitive element to the festival and prizes are rewarded for the following:

Outstanding achievement.

Grand Prix of the festival (I don’t know what this means).

Best actress.

Best actor.

Best production.

Best review.

Best festival photograph.

Craziest production (I’m guessing they mean crazy as in wacky and quirky production, not biting -the-heads-off-birds crazy).

We also learnt a nice bit of trivia. The phrase “Break a Leg” apparently comes from a German phrase about neck and leg fractures. This in tern was nicked from a Yiddish phrase which sounds the same but means something quite different: Happiness and Blessings – isn’t that nice!

The ceremony lead straight into the first show Bodies and Souls from the University of Saint Denis in France (I’ll review the show later).

After this was the Istropolitana parade. This mostly consisted of us walking down a street making a lot of noise and flinging fliers at the locals who didn’t have the foggiest what was going on and certainly didn’t approve. At certain intervals we would stop to watch short dance/contact scenes which were quite brilliant in a profoundly nonsensical way. They were all themes around the idea of 2 people fighting for the affections of another and featured lifts galore and contact moves. The best of these was undoubtedly the first in which a sexually confused man could not choose between his sweet, doting boyfriend and a fiery mistress. The whole thing was fantastically silly and the performers hammed it up beautifully leaving our manly man sobbing in a heap at the end.

After this we were herded to another group of people who lead us dancing to the outside stage and began the performance The Comedy of the rich man and Lazerus. Again, I’ll review this later but as a sneak peak – it was ace.

Final stop off was a big party in a club right next to the theatre we’ll be performing in tomorrow – handy, no?

The club was excellent – my personal highlight was a female rapper who was wearing some kind of swimsuit made out of ribbons and lime green hot-pants. Quite brilliant really.

And get this: Beer as 3.10 Euros. You keep your cup and they’ll refill it for 1.10 Euro. Then at the end of the night, return the cup and get a Euro back! That’s like 10 Cents for a pint! This country is excellent.

After a quick company meeting (in the club) with out tutor from Rose Bruford, to arrange rehearsal times tomorrow, we returned to the party…to network of course!

I ended Day Two slightly drunk and developing an addiction to Nasal Spray but so far all is good at Istropolitana.

We’re performing our show Pages from the Book of… tomorrow at 21.00. I’ll let you know how it goes. Wish us happiness and blessings!

Jack

The Age of Genius

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Finally back on track! So, I was going to make a hilarious joke about getting ready to ”embark and go’ on my journey to Bratislava. However, due to my slow typing I am now already in Bratislava drinking beer and eating pizza. But why am I in Bratislava? Myself and my 50 letters comrades are performing as part of the Istropolitana projekt 2012. “Oh, how interesting Jack!” I hear you cry, “Please tell me more.” Well….if you insist.

Earlier this year we devised a show called Pages from the book of… as part of our curriculum at Rose Bruford College. The show is based on the life and work of Polish-Jewish writer Bruno Schulz, and was created using the theatrical works of Tadeusz Kantor. But actually, I’m not going to talk about that right now. For now, I’m going to try to contextualize the whole thing for you a bit by giving you a very brief introduction to Bruno Schulz. Later in the week I’ll tell you a little more about our show and of course all about the Istropolitana festival. So keep checking back.

The ‘Age of genius’ is what Bruno Schulz describes as the period of youth in which people are at their most joyful and are full of artistic vision. For Bruno, his age of genius ended when he was 22 with the death of his father. But Bruno’s artistic vision didn’t falter at this point – It may have changed and took on a somewhat darker, more ironic tone, but then this should be expected seeing some of the things that defined his upbringing.

Bruno Schulz was a Polish-Jewish writer and artist. His work is known across Europe and he’s often cited as one of the greatest writers in recent history…or more accurately, he could (or should) have been one of the greatest writers in recent history were it not for his tragic death which cut his artistic career short. But we’ll get to the morbid bits later!

Bruno Schulz was born in 1892 in a Polish town called Drohovich, which is now part of Western Ukraine. According to records he was a very  sickly child. His bad health followed him throughout his entire life and later he developed serious problems with his heart and weak lungs. It is possible that these health issues were hereditary, as his father also suffered from serious health problems leading to the cancer that killed him. Their illnesses combined made life in the Schulz house quite a depressing affair. Unfortunately, things would only get worse for the Schulz family.

Often subjected to anti-Semitic attitudes Bruno grew up a very quiet and shy person and this didn’t seem to change throughout his life. If we look at some of his self-portraits we can see that he often paints himself in a rather negative or some say masochistic manner. I’ve read that another possible reason for this could be that he was subjected to ‘punishment’ from his nurse when left alone with her, but let’s not consider this is a sure fact.

A self portrait

In general, living was not especially easy for poor Bruno and his family. As well as these more domestic problems. The ever-present spectre of ill-health had terrible repercussions for the family (Bruno’s brother in law committed suicide rather gruesomely after being diagnosed with a terminal illness). Of course, there was also the issue of politics in turn of the century Poland. Many of this being due to discriminatory behavior aimed towards those of Jewish heritage. Apparently, in 1911 Bruno witnessed a political rally outside of his home in the square in Drohovich. In this rally Bruno saw one of his friends murdered. It’s possible that this scene made it into some of his stories in the form of the unidentified military squadron which make their way through the village square in Sanatorium under the sign of the hourglass.

Of course this wasn’t the last time Bruno would come into contact with violent military behavior. Now, actually that was me trying to avoid the morbid bits…and unfortunately there’s more to come, but again we’ll put this off for a bit shall we?

Photo time

Now lets talk a little bit about his writing. Of Bruno’s, two books survive. Cinnamon Shops (also known as The Street of Crocodiles) and The Sanatorium under the sign of the hourglass. Both books are collections of stories of various lengths. These stories are all linked closely to his real life and could be described as a series of dreams and memories in which he mixes fact with fiction in order to reminisce on his family and upbringing. Bruno’s world is a mythic one. A place where people may transform into different beings, be in two places at once, where objects may attain life, and, the absurd is a reality. For Bruno, Myth was the root of all creation – in an essay called The Mythicisation of Reality he wrote that “there is not one grain among our ideas that has not risen from mythology, that is not a mythology once transformed, mutilated and re-moulded.” To him, using words in any manner was like using fragments of mythology and stories to piece together something new, or as he writes; “we are building, like barbarians, our homes from fragments of the sculptures and statues of the gods.”

Myth then becomes an important part of Bruno’s writing, and one could see his stories as the myth of his family; twisted, transformed, re-evaluated and reinvented by the ancient words that Bruno used to sculpt his masterpiece. This becomes especially noticeable when we consider the treatment of Bruno’s father in his fiction. One can clearly see that Bruno was deeply affected by the death of his father when reading his work. Often in his stories, his father will die or transform into creatures and yet reappear later in another story. Many people have stated that throughout his writing Bruno wished to revive the spirit of his father, so that his existence would continue on in some way. Interestingly, his mother didn’t gain the same treatment, and does not have a fictional counterpart in Bruno’s stories. I don’t know why. This idea of reviving and reliving is very important in the work and reading Schulz is like journeying into his (and by extension our own) ‘age of genius’. As the closing lines of The Book from Sanitarium state;

“Have we prepared are reader to some extent for the things that are to follow? Might we now hazard a journey into our age of genius?…Then, in God’s name, Let’s embark and go!”

Cover art for Sanitarium under the sign of the hourglass

Bruno’s writing is without a doubt wonderful. It’s poetic, touching, humorous and chilling all at once. If his writing was the only thing we had left of Schulz it would be more than enough to be thankful for. However, Bruno also left a large number of etchings and sketches behind.

His method of drawing was quite complicated: Firstly he would cover a sheet of glass in black gum or pigment and scratch his images into the surface with a nail. After this, he would place photosensitive paper on them and develop them in the sun. The method is called cliche verre and I think you can emulate it with OHP paper and a computer scanner nowadays, if you wanted to give it a go!

The art of Bruno Schulz is very bleak and quite morbid at times. His art is full of erotic and sadomasochistic images with a focus on the concept of ‘Woman as Goddess’. In his images men gather on all fours, gawking and panting as they look up at woman, the object of their admiration and lust.

Do you understand the terrible cynicism of this symbol on a woman’s foot?

Another common thing, found in a lot of Schulz’s drawings, is the imagery of fellow Jews. In 1941 after Drohovich was occupied by Nazi forces. Bruno was put under protection by a Gestapo sergeant called Felix Landau, who was in charge of organising labour for the Jewish population of Drohovich. Landau, admiring his work, put Bruno to work decorating his child’s nursery walls with drawings, and later the walls of a riding school. Into these images, Bruno inserted images of himself, his father and other Jews. For example, in a piece depicting Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs he painted many of the characters with the faces of his Jewish companions, and he lent his own face to the witch (a possible comment about the witch hunts that were being conducted against the Jews).

Apparently, Landau was a madman. He used to enjoy tormenting and killing Jews and apparently walked around with his weapons drawn ready to inflict random acts of violence. I read somewhere that he used to sit on his balcony and randomly shoot Jews as they passed. In 1942 he murdered a Jewish Dentist who happened to be under the protection of another Gestapo officer called Karl Günter. According to legend, Günter then personally sought out Bruno and put two bullets in his head saying to Landau afterwards; “You killed my Jew, so I have killed yours”. This shocking and tragic story may or may not be factual, and it is possible this did not happen at all. However, what is fact, is that Schulz was shot dead in the ghetto in Drohovich. And just like that, Bruno’s life and art ended.

Even though the exact details of his death are questionable, I think it is quite fitting that such a story has arisen, giving his demise a certain legendary or mythic quality.


Portrait by Drew Christie.

Well, this concludes my short and by no means exhaustive introduction to Schulz. Obviously, I urge you to buy and read his books, but if you’re a cheapskate you can read a translation of his fiction for free on Schulzian.net. Also, much of Bruno’s art is available on the website The Art of Bruno Schulz.

You should also check out the wonderful stop-motion film about Schulz, made by the Quay Brothers, available here and here.

Check back later in the week for info about our show, and about my experience in the Istropolitana festival.

Jack.

The Uprising Begins!

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Well, I’ve only just started and already I’m breaking with my original plan. Like I said in Blog time! I was going to kick off with a post about Bruno Schulz and I still plan to do this, but first, I’m going to take a moment to talk about Disney XD’s new show TRON Uprising.

I have been waiting for this show for a little while now without any real excitement. I wanted to see it simply because, I like cartoons, and I like Tron. In fact, I’m part of the minority that actually liked TRON Legacy.

Anyway, I just managed to catch the first two episodes of TRON Uprising so wanted to share my thoughts.

Firstly lets talk about the story, I’m not going to bother giving any background and just talk about the immediate story. Uprising takes place when CLU 2 (from TRON Legacy) tries to invade Argon city and a young engineer program Beck decides to masquerade as Tron and fight back.

 The shows story holds the rebellious feel of the original firmly in its palm. The first episode begins with quite a statement as Clu rides into town and literally drops a big statue of himself in the middle of a playing field. It’s all very Stalin-esque. From here, Beck takes on the TRON mantle and blows up said statue in an act of defiance, which attracts the attention of baddies and a certain titular program, who decides to take Beck as his little Jedi Padawan. Ben and Luke are not the only parallels here though – it also brought to mind the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Terry McGinnis in Batman Beyond. And actually TRON Uprising is not a hundred miles from Batman Beyond in terms of tone, which to me can only be a good thing. Anyway, from here we are treated to a lot of revolutionary speak. I especially enjoyed the use of the phrase “Actions have consequences. But so does inaction”.

 

The Light-Cycles are AWESOOOOOME!

The characters seem good, and I think they will prove to be more complex than simply faces for the show. I’m especially interested in femme-fatale Paige and her relationship with Beck. The writers have hinted that she has a dark past and I’m looking forward to seeing it.

One thing I must say though, the women in the show seemed to be shot kind of…strangely. Lots of arse-shots. The baddies are all sultry and seductive and even nice girl Mara is subjected to that pesky male gaze. It’s not overly distracting, but very noticeable. I’m not trying to say anything by mentioning this…just noticed it is all.

 

“Oh Noes…You caught me in the middle of bending over!”

 In terms of style, this show is AWESOME! I really thought watching the previews this was going to be a love song to Legacy, but actually it’s not. Yes, a lot of Legacy’s style is carried across, but there is a much stronger sense of the original TRON than I was expecting, with some wonderful little nods such as the inclusion of a retro Light-Cycle and Bit, from the scene with the original Clu. The scene where the programs are in holding cells waiting to join the games was super reminiscent of some scenes in TRON.

 All the glowing lights and stuff are treated masterfully and look beautiful. In general the backgrounds of the show are wonderfully designed and rendered.

The style of the characters is strange though, everything’s very long and gangly and I must admit I laughed at the length of TRON’s head. Very funny.

This does take a little while to get used to and I wasn’t overly convinced by it to begin with. However, once the characters start jumping, rolling and running you see why the animators made this choice, the long limbs and sheer length of the bodies really do lend themselves to the action.

And that’s another thing. The action is excellent. Very smooth and fast. I think if the show retains this quality of action scenes then we’re in for something very special indeed.

Just a quick side note in relation to the action – I like the way death is dealt with in these two episodes. Like in Legacy when programs are ‘de-rezzed’ they explode into a bunch of pixels. Considering TRON will always be a bit about programs beating each other up in cool ways in the games, it’d be easy to treat this as merely an effect. But in TRON Uprising the consequences of this are felt. When a character is de-rezzed they die, not merely vanish in a puff of pixels, and we feel it. I think this was felt the most in episode two during the games. Firstly, the terror of the programs before entering the ring was well handled, the line “have you ever seen someone get de-rezzed? It’s disgusting!” helped lend the situation a bit of gravity and when that speaker was killed his scream and slow motion de-rezz was a little eye-opening, if not shocking.

BAM!

The first episode Beck’s Beginning is a bit…well, mental. I was convinced I was going to have a seizure whilst watching it due to all the quick cuts and fast paced story telling. I did quite enjoy the episode but it was fast. Very fast. In 30 minutes we have invasions, acts of rebellion, new antagonists introduced, new heros introduced, light-cycle battles, light-disk battles, kidnappings, rescues, twists, turns and plots-a-plenty…sigh…

I remember thinking ‘well, I wanted to like that but I do hope they lay off the cocaine for further episodes’. I have since learnt that this episode was aired as 10 microsegments online! So that explains the speed of it all. And just as I wished, the second episode is a little more chilled out, but no less action packed.

In general TRON Uprising seems good. It’s mature and relatively dark. The action is great, and I’m hoping the characterization proves to be as well thought out as I think it will. The music is good and takes its cues from Daft Punk’s score for Legacy. I should also mention the voice acting. It’s good. And TRON is voiced by none over than BRUCE BOXLEITNER! The origional TRON! Also, Elijah Wood is Beck…But BRUCE BOXLEITNER! Quite honestly, there are some slight bugs with the story, either being a bit simple at times or not wholly making sense, but hopefully it’ll straighten out in no time. And even with inconsistencies in the story, the show’s visuals more than make up for it at this early stage. These episodes were a really great start to the show, and if the quality keeps up, I’ll be a fan.

Check out the trailer!

Jack.