Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Krakow Reports--Acting in a Theatre of War -- by Mick Collins, CM/Paris

[Here's the CM/P reportage from Poland—the whole story--or one particular end of the whole story of the Krakow production of 'Warsaw Rebuilds!', by Josh Crone, with it's curtain-raiser, 'Above and Below', by John Steppling.

I was in pretty bad shape—on most levels—when I arrived in Krakow, so some of my reactions can be assigned to leaving the comforts of the West, with its Club Med(ication) consciousness. But I would certainly never apologize for anything that I wrote about anything or any one--and stand behind the history and politics expressed below—even most of the characterizations—164% (nb: see below for significance of this figure).

I became so concerned that my friends would think I was trashing them, wantonly, that I changed all their names to initials—thought that might give it all a real EEuropean, even Kafkaesque flavor. But all the people involved in this production and these reports will know who they are and will always remain my very dear friends and, though some would heartily object to the term, my comrades.

It was funny how at the beginning of every show, The Internationale would be played. I wondered how many in the house knew what they were hearing—or even had an idle thought about it? But I always got a warm glow as I listened to this great anthem—and warmth was what I needed most, standing in my y-fronts in the frigid backstage of the Loch Camelot's cellar theatre in Old Town Krakow.

I was never really cold the whole time I was out there—though the last days the whole place was covered in snow. I had a big electric fire in my loft bedroom, a goose down comforter the size of a boa constrictor that had just swallowed a baby hippo, and always plenty of good chicken soup to fight off the chill. But the best warmth came from the care and concern of the good people who hosted me and always gently deferred to my aged opinions and served my every whim and wish. I tried not to abuse their generous hospitality—and I hope these reports will be seen, over all, as testiment to the goodness of people who find themselves in difficult, unto impossible political and moral situations. Of course, I know I'm being judgmental, but that's one of the happy perks of blogging during the Final Days.

I'd like to call it all an experiment in Acting in a Theatre of War. –mc]



Krakow Report 25 October 2005

Dear gang,

Another dark Tuesday, I'm afraid. S is trying to extort yet more money from these kids, the playwright and his girlfriend who are putting me up, and putting up with me, rather well. He says, what he said just 4 days ago, that he can't come to rehearsal unless somebody, he doesn't particularly care who, gives him some more money. Well, J, the playwright, thinks that perhaps we could just go on without S. After all, his name's on the poster by now, and if the show succeeds he's got all the reputation enhancement he might have hoped for in order to get him a job at the theatre school here. But he's playing havoc with the show's morale, and mine as well. I take it kind of personally, his constant jacking up of the production, since I came out here in answer to his call and his advice to me when I asked about where money might come from was that I should 'work for it'.

Then, as if that's not enough rain for one day, the Englishman playing the young man just phoned to say his father had died and he has to fly to England Thursday and is now looking for flights, so not to expect him at rehearsal. I was so discouraged I did the dishes. Then J asked me if the show had to be postponed one week would I be able to stay. What could I say? I came all the way out here—for no money—to DO this show. You know, the show must go on.

If S's constant need for rather large sums originates where I assume it does—where it always has originated, since I've known him—then I have to feel sorry for him—along with everyone else—and I feel grateful that I have, however temporarily, remove myself from that sort of compulsion. I'm not far enough removed to be smug—yet.

So I told J that my return ticket on the bus was open and that I thought my family would understand. I'm afraid my whole scene in Paris, job, bank, telephones, internet, will already have been ruined, so one more week will only be a hardship on Bettina and Max because she's working and he's going to school and will have to stay late in the garderie for one more week.

But none of this has been confirmed—that is to say, it is still not certain that the show, even with all the sponsorship, photos, publicity, and theatre booking that has already gone down, will ever open. But it's hard to imagine that 22-hr bus ride back to a ruined Paris without actually having performed the show I came out here to DO. More as it mishappens. –mc

PS-17.30: Well, S showed up long before the other actor—who was an
hour late and didn't say a word about it. The rehearsal, as usual, was fraught
with digressions from S (and me), but it went on—until J went off to
the American Embassy to look for money (sponsorship). Then more digressions until the late-actor just gave up and said she wanted to go home. The actor whose father died turns out not to be a problem—so no longer is a weeklong extension of my stay anticipated. But I lost my house keys and couldn't get down to the internet cafe here for about an hour. All's well that ends well, as Wild Bill would say—though S was heard cracking on the young woman for money yet again as they left me behind keyless. More as it rains in on us. –mc


Krakow Report 27 October 2005

Dear acrobats, clowns, jugglers and freaks,

The circus keeps pushing along through the dark Polish woods. The US embassy stiffed us—not giving out any grants at this time—check back later—like when the show's soundtrack CD goes platinum. The rehearsal yesterday was solid, much got done—some of it causing interesting outbreaks of tension between the writer and the director and the cast. But, I think, that always adds to the spirit of the show. Should the characters kiss here? How tender is this night? Well, if you know S, you know how much he likes tenderness and stage kisses—and I'm just a kinda S clone, so I had homeboy's back most of the afternoon. After all, he'd actually paid for coffee this day—from McDonald's, but still . . .

I'm still confining myself pretty much to the tram route, the #1 tram, between where I'm staying (Salwator), and the old city (internet cafe, theatre and Kebab joints). I had a feeling I'd spend the night home all alone last night, so I caught a Kebab AND a Sprite and a couple Mars bars for dinner (lunch and probably breakfast too). I can see if I were single—not even 25 years younger, but just without a home and family back in Paris to worry about—and I weren't such an inveterate socio/politico/historical compulsive complainer (I mean, I've found the GI bill students, the trust fund students, the Soros NGO students, I've even found the OTPOR: but where are THE LEFTIST STUDENTS—like the SDS, PLP, the Danny the Reds, the Red Brigadiers, the Direct Action Faction?)—then this would be a most excellent adventure—even with the politics as kinda lobotomized as they are here. Oh, by the way, just got the web site for the show:

www.butterflyeffects.pl

—check it out.

So J is out the door to deliver some more money to S—so he can go teach his class (and finally get paid) somewhere in the north by Warsaw.

—Saw a headline during my browsing through the internet on Polish history: Stalin Rebuilds Warsaw. Wonder what the expectations for 'Warsaw Rebuilds' will be?

J is quite concerned—not to say angry—about what S is doing to his play. Never having been much of a textualist, homeboy doesn't even carry a copy of the play into rehearsals. He is obviously trying to turn this thin and shallow little work into something from the darkest reaches of S-land—which, again, being a S clone, I don't find all that bad. The perversity of S's theatrical world has always been one of its great attractions. But when you ask this Marine what 'the sun also rises' refers to, he says the book of Ecclesiastes. As I've said: insipid and reactionary or not, I can't see my getting back on that 22 hour bus without having done this show.

And, as S has always done, my character is being made more and more squirrelly/interesting. More anon. –mc


Krakow Report 28 October 2005

Well, what are the chances? A second dead relative in the three-person cast? Again talks of pushing back the opening a week—but I have to be back in Paris to take care of Max the 24th and 25th—not to mention my crummy job! So, just more tension and bad feelings. And it's a beautiful day today, too. The young actress said her granny just died and she'll be back, 'optimistically', Tuesday. I love that! We open next Saturday and she 'might' be back Tuesday. Maybe she just wants to get away from S cracking on her for money.

So now we're down in this cave-bar where the bartender just gave us a couple cables to plug into the internet with—very savory, really. A capuccino and all the internet you can eat for I don't know what. But we had to meet the little actress whose granny just died—in Richmond, VA!—and who is flying off for wetfe. She was supposed to kick down some more money for the production. I was creeped by this meeting in the internet cave so I started to wander. When I'd wandered back to where J and the actress, E, were exchanging money, I saw her just bolt out of the bar with her violin case swinging. She didn't seem happy. But J was ok, so, I guess, I am too.

The actor returns from burying his father in England tomorrow or Sunday. If E gets back by Tuesday, we should be ok for Saturday's opening. Lots of tech to get down by then.

Guess I'd better send this and get out and about, see Krakow. Back at you guys directly. –mc



Krakow Report 29-30 October 2005

This is an attempt to reformulate the report I wrote last night and this morning, and then lost at the internet café in trying to send it out. So if it lacks the usual pop and spontaneity of these things, that’s why.

It never occurred to me that Halloween might have something to do with why these two young actors cut out of most of the last week of rehearsals. The eve of All Saints Day (the day of the dead) has always been a favorite celebration of kids and gays and all those who get off dressing up (so why not actors?). But it took me a long time to start suspecting that that might be the lure that hooked these two errant thesps into bailing on tech week and going off to bury their family members.

I’ve just never heard of actors behaving this way. In my experience actors and their families fully expect to place the show and the company above all other considerations. After all, didn’t Stanislavski create his ‘method’ to give the actor an itinerary, an emotional plan to follow in his characterization, just in case certain events—like the death of a loved one—should conspire to deprive the actor of the essential inspiration that fuels his performance.

And that plan is arrived at through rehearsals. These two kids seem content that they ‘have learned their lines’. Well, even in my dotage, I am happy to find that I, too, can still learn lines—I may not be able to remember, while making a sandwich, just what I’ve done with the mayonnaise jar, and then am very embarrassed when it’s pointed out that I’m holding it in my hand—but, as I learned long ago, knowing your lines isn’t worth shit if you don’t know your cues. And there really is no way to ‘memorize’ a show. Repetition (the French for ‘rehearsal’) is the only way I know to learn a show, to learn the geography and emotional micro-climates of a play.

These kids have bailed on the most important part of the rehearsal process—the tech work-thrus and dress run-thrus of that final hell-week are where the play is really discovered. And one of the great joys of theatre is that this final week of rehearsals is just the begining of the discovery process—it continues throughout the run of the show.

But all this talk of lack of commitment—combined with losing the original of this report—is just making my resentment of these kids more and more murderous. Otherwise, I feel good—I gave away the last of my detox medicine today and I’m just starting to find the fun in all this. I guess I used up all my dreads on imagined horrors, so now I have only faint and somewhat nostalgic memories of my Summer Stock nightmares (Lear?! I thought we were doing Richard II!) to push me alone through rehearsals.

S, the show’s ‘visiting’ director—that is to say, the show is occasionally visited by its director—decided that we should fire both these actors and I should do the show alone, with their lines recorded and played from the booth. But I told him if I was going to do a one-man show, I’d need a piano and harp accompaniment—and I’d also need to borrow some of Charles Pierce’s things.

But there’s not going to be much tech in this show, as we’re sharing the space with a half-dozen different Polish cabaret acts. And the idea of a four character show going up with three characters invisible (the dog, Graham, has been unseen all along) is just too far out even for minimalist me—so either the kids turn up when they say they’re going to—the English kid says he’ll now be back not Saturday (yesterday) but Tuesday night (leaving him just one full-cast rehearsal with S, who has to teach at the Natl Film School in Lodz {pro: Woodge, much to my surprise} Thursday and Friday), and E, who’s burying her granny in Richmond, VA, said she’ll be back Monday (tomorrow)—but given her usual loosely wrapped mental state, there’s no telling what a four-day trans-Atlantic aller/retour will do to the delicate balance that currently aligns her sketch-ball consciousness—either they come back and give their benighted, undercooked performances, or . . . or what? I’m just not getting on that 22 hour bus to Paris without doing a show in Krakow!

I can remember when I was in Margrit Roma’s New Shakespeare Co., doing Midsummer Night’s Dream in the parks of San Francisco and the Redwood forests of the North Coast—I was playing one of the quartet of young lovers, Lysander (‘A surfeit of life’s richest things the deepest loathing to the stomach brings.’), and the actress playing Helena, another young lover, didn’t turn up for the performance (Armstrong Grove, Guerneville, I believe), so we just all pretended she was there on stage with us and did the show without her. However, she had the decency and discretion never to return the company. And the audience, campers and bikers not particularly versed in the Bard, didn’t seem to miss old Helena one small bit—but then the show must have seemed in Polish to them.

I don’t know what to expect during the coming week—whatever it turns out to be, it better have a show at the end of it!—but I think the not knowing’s starting to be the most fun part of all this. Anyway, in the theatre is where I've chosen to live my life—so, let’s pull up our tights, grab our spears, and rock and roll. –mc


Krakow Report 3 November 2005, 9 :11 am

Well, they're back. And, I don't wanna say 'I told you so', but . . . : however they may have 'learned their lines', pouring over the script at 30,000 feet or in some out of the way cranny in their grieving households, they've no idea of their cues or of the shape and feel of the show. It was a tough one, yesterday's tech-, dress—or in my case, undress-rehearsal, as, yet again, S has my never-before quite so flaccid flesh on full display, wearing but y-fronts and a Guinea t-shirt for his curtain raiser, Above and Below. This is a two-pager about a man, disillusioned by the work-a-day world and venting his pickled spleen to a young, female avatar, as he sloshed down another Martini—or, maybe, in honor of Mickey Swenson, it's a Gib-Tini. Anyway, the theme is 'work kills you', and I find no disagreement with homeboy there. The rest of the evening, Warsaw Rebuilds, if the cues aren’t found and picked up, will take, literally, the rest of the evening.

And now, one of the actors is complaining about not being able to rehearse because he has to teach English classes—to paraphrase S’s petit overture, 'Teaching English kills you. Relentlessly, slowly and surely, it just kills you.'—but I think I'll let this youngster discover this, too, for himself.

Calls home reflect a kind of spreading ruination in Paris—like a flooded basement that is now seeping into the living room—and the feeling of impotence that grips me here in Poland is truly distracting—even sickening. But for Halloween, Bettina sent me pictures of Max in a very scary devil outfit that filled me with joy. He's so big and simply glows with his mother's beauty. As much as I miss them both, it made me very glad to see Max so healthy and happy—I guess a huge sack of bon-bons'll do that to a kid. (And this despite reports that he'd picked up some kind of nasty rash in Honfleur that might require medical intervention. –Though that rash would have been all too obvious in my curtain-raiser outfit—Max's very hiddy devil suit hid all very well.)

I've been forced into reading a good deal about Polish Communism and the general 20th Century history of this Catholic fortress against any rational socio-political order. It's breathtaking to see how feudalism's chief rampart against serf-revolutions continues to be unwholesome superstition. As Max in his red-haired devil mask, above the fur collar of his flight jacket, made me think of a tweaked-out Puritan minister, so do all these Poles, who cross themselves at every street corner and sit in rapt, gaping transcendence as the invisible trumpeter of Krakow blows . . . I-dunno-what-but-it-ain't-Hot-Lips-Paige's-Kiss-of-Fire, off the roof of the biggest cathedral in the town square—then suddenly stops in medias riff to duplicate the moment when a Tartar arrow pierced the throat of this ancient Polish early-warning system—they all remind me of Milton's 'hungry sheep (who) look up and are not fed.' And I guess some of them must have taken part in JP2's 1979 anticommunist Be-Ins. 'We Want God!', indeed.

But this feeling that if you join the cult all is understood, all is forgiven, has played hell with the art and literature scenes here, including, of course, the Theatre. A total absence of any historico-political rigor in creation or criticism (the favorite forms are fiction and poetry, where the writers can't really get it wrong, and any negative opinion is just another asshole's opinion) has left this culture like a piece of that meat the Tartars were so fond of noshing on: After slaughtering an animal (and this is the playwright's, J's story, really), they would prepare the meat by placing slabs of it between their horse and saddle and riding all day. The salt from the horse-sweat would cure the dead flesh and make it super-yummy. So has the fear of a wrathful, anti-communist (pro-business) god, reduced current Polish culture to under-done, sweaty-tasting meat.

Now it's speed-thrus followed by still more speed-thrus. Last minute cue-cramming. Kinda takes the fun out of discovery week—but, for me, there's still enough fun to keep turning up—like a turnip in the horse meat goolash that is Krakovian theatre.

Stay tuned for news of fresh disasters. –mc




Krakow Report 5 November 2005 (Opening Night)

So, at last it's come. It's come at last. The time we knew (hoped?) would come at last, has come, at last.

The last three days have been a kind of condensed 'hell-week': Early calls, long rehearsals—always interrupted by one or the other actor having to go off to do something remunerative or turning up late because of a décalage horaire. The tech, which has been a kind of one-man band operation conducted by the always capable (Sempre Fi!) playwright, himself, has continued to break into rehearsal and give a fragmented feel to the whole run-thru process. Until yesterday, the actors had no sense of the line of the show—the scene to scene sequence.

Hence, I'm not as comfortable with tonight's opening as I'd like to be—and certainly can't go about forgetting all the intricate micro-direction, much of it conflicting, I've received, so as to be able to enter the stage tonight with my mind blank—rather than preoccupied with turning the scribbled-over pages of the text in search of my next speech.

But this is, after all Poland: where, I am told, can be found installations in the US's secret gulag. One's at Szymany. And a huge military base at Poznan, where the US and Poland service their forces currently involved in the occupation and destruction of Iraq and Afghanistan—just to name the most prominent deployments—also offers aid and comfort to the US/Russian/Israeli meta-group that carries on the real business of the day—drug trafficking secreted through private military chaos. [See the latest posting to the CM/P blog by Peter Dale Scott] Interestingly enough, Baghdad, which was, during Saddam’s rule, more or less drug-free, is now overrun with Afghan heroin. Ah, progress!—in the trillion-$-a-year illegal drug business (more'n the oil/gaz and auto industries combined—again, see elsewhere on this blog!).

And yet with all this duty Poland pays to Western Imperialism, there is nary a sign, a symbol or a flag, reflecting the US domination of this country. Walking the back streets yesterday, while on a break, vainly searching the facades of international hotels and travel agencies, I finally discovered an American flag, a really big one—it was out in front of the US consulate in Krakow, and you could almost see the whole banner through the police cordons and barricades that have been thrown up around this outpost of imperialism. –I just remembered that, the other day, we were taking pictures for the show in a cafe across the street from the consulate, and some Polish policemen asked us to cease and desist for security reasons. Nice, huh?

Even US soldiers I pass in the town square can be distinguished from their Polish (NATO) homologues by their uniforms' being totally unadorned by any identification with the land of the free—no stars'n stripes patch, no 'US Army' patch, zip-a-dee doodle. The sense of denial here in young, happenin' Krakow—denial of political history, denial of the frightening superstitions that found their new, forced serenity—is so thick you'd have trouble cutting it with a starship-full of Lucas' light sabers.

So on with the show—or what's left of it: We've lost the Internationale from the overture, and, in a vain attempt to make some sort of sense of the politics of the piece—it continues to be two anticommunists arguing about . . . just how miserable is the working class—‘Warsaw Rebuilds' has gone from a substantial hour and a half to just under fifty minutes. The curtain raiser, S's ‘Above and Below’ (written to lure me from Paris to Poland), as well as all the sound of music, traffic and barking dogs, should bring the whole evening to just over an hour.

But, at least, I won't have to face that 22-hour bus trip home—and the bus leaves a day later than I'd anticipated—without actually having done this play in Krakow. –mc


Krakow Report 7 November 2005 9:11 am

'Warsaw Rebuilds', opened on Saturday and even had a second performance on Sunday, with one of five more reprises expected this Wednesday—so it's all good in the Krakow-hood. Not so, back home in Paris. I feel like a major putz for having said all I said about leaving (or coming back to) a 'ruined Paris'. My own self-importance, my miserable fear of financial misery, seems to have sprung to life in the form of a major campaign event kicking off the 2007 presidential run of French Interior Minister (and US neo-clone) Nicolas Sarkozy. Not having a car myself, I can't say the loss of 1000 cars from the impossibly clotted Parisienne circulation struck me as such a bad thing; but when Bettina, during her opening night 'merde' call, told me that she saw eight burned-out cars around Max's school, and that the rioters, who'd just torched the city hall in Bagnolet, the encampment next to our own (Lilas), were due to do some belated trick 'r treating on our very own rue Marcelle, I'm afraid that first performance of the play was more than a little distracted and even fraught with a most pathological form of homesickness.

Besides the riots, there was my gouty foot, the throbbing pain from which just exhausted me during the Bataan Death March of two—count 'em, two—run-thrus in the late afternoon before we opened. This punishment tour was ordered by our sometime-director because the show had made significant, if mostly remedial, progress in his absence the prior two days. So his directorial imperatives, as on the money as they might have been, were presented to a weary cast and crew with all the diplomatic subtlety of Sarkozy's calling for the 'cleaning out' of the immigrant 'rabble' and Muslim 'thugs' in the banlieue of northern Paris. Yet, unlike the riots, the whole contretemps between the aging-hipster director and the young neo-con trained killer of a playwright was more amusing than disturbing to the actors' flagging concentration, and the two plays went off like a couple games of 52 pick-up: all the cards got put back in the decks, though not necessarily in any predetermined order.

There was one particular gaff opening night that allowed me to seem not only quite fast on my gouty-geezer's feet, but also to inject the evening with a sense of popular history and philosophy that I had felt all along was sorely wanting in the young Marine's fairly reactionary piece: Expecting to receive a cue something in the order of 'being a 'Revolutionary' is not so much like being a 'Fascist' as it is like 'being a 'Terrorist'', which was to launch me into a brief philological riff on the distinction between those often confused terms; I was surprised, though not at all unhappy, to hear the young Brit say, in place of 'Terrorist', 'more like being a Communist'. This was the perfect set up for one of my favorite subjects: the mutual exclusivity of Fascism and Communism, which, since Hannah Arendt, have all too often been consider two sides of the same debased coin, Totalitarianism.

So I very quickly, if not all that sensibly or sequentially, said something like: 'You can't just lump these things together in your morally equivocating mind. Communist—these words mean things—Communists are essentially anti-Fascist, and Fascists are essentially anti-Communist. . . .' I've received much praise for this almost reflexive recovery, though none of these props seemed conscious of any sense of rediscovered historical or philosophical truth in my instant axiom. Well, . . . this is, after all, post-history and fully-hysterical Poland, the home of Christian anti-Communist 'black sites' (the secret anti-terrorist prisons [it is 'anti-Terrorist', right?] in the CIA's Goolash Archipelago) and massive NATO bases currently serving as aerial burial grounds for a flock of useless, irreparable F16s, duty for abandoning the Warsaw Pact for the Atlantic Alliance, and as transit hubs for the Meta-Group's trillion dollar a year drug traffic—while 30% to 40% of Poles, especially in the countryside, are unemployed and have to scavenger slag heaps for food to feed their pale, frail children, and coal to cook and warm their flimsy and frigid homes—and while we in Krakow enjoy 75 cent an hour internet cafes (24/7), Starbucks, McDos and English-language theatre.

—Late breaking: The reason the director couldn't make second night was that he was out of town visiting a group of Czech border guards that breed and train police guard dogs. This group, as a retainer for our erstwhile director's filming of a documentary on their work, gave Herr S one of their puppies, a young and comely bitch. Frau S, at the arrival of yet another beast to her household, pulled one of those 'the dog or me! You pick em—you flatulent old fuck!.' So, I've gotta get this report off to the cafe to get back here to greet the new dogski that's probably going to be bunking with me, I guess, like S’s late bulldog, (Boston) Blackie—what won't I do for theatre? Well, it is getting cold in Krakow, but still . . . –mc



Krakow Report 14 November 2005 9:11 am

Krak'ho'—I was going to file this report yesterday, Sunday the 13th (one too many Sundays in Poland), and it was going to be all about how 'Warsaw Rebuilds!' would never make it into the 'fun zone' because of all the troubles we've had getting everyone together for rehearsals--especially tech rehearsals—and the impossibly long intervals between shows (3 and 4 days between some performances!); but, for whatever reasons (primarily my usual lethargy over writing), I didn't. And, for once, this was a good thing. Because last night's show was actually kinda fun, well inside the zone—and the last three shows, Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday, promise to be the same. We've even gotten some good reviews—I think they're good, they're in Polish. (nb: This turned out to be one review by a friend of the writer, and it never made it into print.)

So despite the play's ahistorical, even anti-historical flavor—and its lip-synched (more like lickspittle) anti-communist politics, mostly unspoken because they're so unspeakable—after all, no one in the show's entourage has mentioned (and I had to read it in Le Monde) that Poland just installed a coalition government made up of two parties from the 'extreme Right', the ultra-Catholic League of Polish Families and the 'populist' Samoobrona (Self-Defense) Party, which threaten its young EU membership—despite all these less than scintillating seasonings, the play's turning out to be a pretty savory dish to perform.

And my attentions have also been distracted by certain geopolitical affairs that seem to impact Poland tangentially. Besides the 'Goolash Archepelago' of Rummy's 'black sites', there's the ubiquitous campaign to demonize Muslims and especially so-called Islamic fundamentalists, as either, for the Right, a murderous and expansionist lot of religious imperialists whose overriding passion is infanticide (i.e., Arab Terrorism), or, for the Limp-dick Left, as the hapless victims of unrehabilitated Stalinist genocidaires like Slobodan Milosevic or Saddam Hussien or Juvenal Habyarimana.

These two spells were cast my way at the internet café by two very dear friends: one's email was a report from Spain, from some sour-cream-filled nut bar named Rodriguez, about how all the Jews from all over Europe, along with their life- and Art- and Beauty- and Peace-affirming culture were liquidated down the road here at Auschwitz (you could almost hear his farts of relief at shaking off the onus of the Spanish Inquisition)—and that their places in European society were taken by the aforementioned murderous Muslims and their kebab-affirming culture (a few sandwich stands being the only signs of Muslim, mainly Turkic, influence in Poland today). And one should recall that rather than accepting Arab guest workers as much of the rest of the EU has done since the Sixties, Poland actually sent workers to Iraq and Iran—and that all military and drug-transit installations in Western, Central and Eastern Europe, the ME and Central Asia, are Judeo-Christian (NATO) rather than Islamic.

From the Left, and supposedly the crême de la crême of the intellectual Left, comes the ceaseless repetition, so unsupported by any real evidence that it can only be called an outright propaganda gaz bag, that the Bosnian Muslims, Alija Izedbegovic's jihadist legions that, between 1992 and 1995, turned BiH, that little arms and arts manufacturing gold mine, into a mini-Afghanistan, were the 'main victims of atrocities and massacres committed in Bosnia'. The inescapable implication of this ahistorical bullshit notion is that the main perpetrators of atrocities and massacres against the Muslims were Milosevic, Karadzic, Mladic and the rest of the yet unrepentant or unarrested Serbs. One really has to wonder what is in it (besides money, prestige and the codependent affections of other historical quislings) for these 'intellectual giants' to so sell-out their critical heritage for a mess of book deals. It's as if these gutless moral midgets don't dare treat the real historical record—my favorite acid test is, of course Rwanda, where none dares speak a single word of the US/UK/Israeli organized, armed and instigated genocide of 6 million+ in Central Africa and Eastern Congo—for fear that their editors will crank up their Thorazine dosages and take it out of the royalty checks.

And I was also distracted this Polish Independence Weekend, by the ICDSM conference in Belgrade that I was forced to miss (yet again) because of personal commitments. I did redact their 6-page Opening Statement, but despite a lot of last minute work on this, I have no idea if it made it onto the conference floor.

And then there was the situation back home in Paris: the riots quieted down a bit—I guess the Russian/Israeli mafia finally got the 'quality drugs' into the banlieue from Afghanistan, and the kids were finally able to cop a decent nod. But my family, Bettina and Max, have been having a bit of a rough go without me—and not at all because of all the new Hot Wheels in town. I'm only afraid that once I'm back, I won't be able to make things much easier. It's tough to face up to being 61 and having the most beautiful family in the world and not knowing what you ever did to deserve such a blessing or how you ever expected to maintain such a scene with a life as feckless, narcissistic and unremunerative as mine.

But, three more shows, another 22-hour bus trip, and I guess I'll find out. You have not heard the last of me. –mc



Krakow Report 17 November 2005—a time of great sadness

There is no aid or comfort in delusion, no safety in willful ignorance—and partial compromises with the historical record, like telling yourself the Soviets didn't really liberate EEurope from the Nazis, or that despite US/UK/Israeli/NATO brutality, Saddam and Milosevic and Kim Jong Il and Habyarimana were, themselves, brutes supported by peoples even less human than their leaders and, therefore, well deserving of extermination, quickly become full 'compromissions' that get you a little pregnant or give you a minor dose of the clap or an ever-so slight jones. When your nose is opened, when the neo-carnies put their mark on your back, you go directly onto that 6.6 second express elevator to the Thermite pits of molten steel, and the only question is how many will you take down with you, how many lives will be ruined along with yours.

Of current interest here at the Loch Camelot cafe/theatre, where WR! is staggering through its final two shows this weekend, is whether rehearsals are conducted in preparation for performances or vice versa. Catching up on lost rehearsal time is like catching up on lost sleep: just can't be done. And because of the tortured and self-indulgent negligence that afflicted its rehearsal process, this show has slipped into a kind of S'nM phase where inexperienced actors have come to depend on an only slightly more experienced writer/sub-director/producer/tech-operator and marketing-manager to punish them (like a mean old music teacher with ruler in hand) into a false sense of security about how they look out there in One. This kind of unwholesome theatricality has had all kinds of unwholesome repercussion in that most unreal world where 'real life' is lived here in Krakow, this giant Cathedral complex with adjoining Kebab stands and 24-hour internet cafes—a sorta off-campus Sorosian Galleria (1 in 8 Krakovians is a student).

While the actors, two or three hours before curtain—and ten or so hours into severe alcohol depravation from the previous night's cast party that wrapped in the wee small hours—willingly, even eagerly, submit to micro rehearsals at the whim of the genius of the evening, who seems intent on turning his play into his personal PlayStation, with constant adjustments of stage moments to fit his computerized light and sound patterns; the ordinary existence we all try to inhabit here becomes more and more chaotic and unmanageable, love and caring become suspect, work is degraded then discounted, and a kind of theatrical 9/11 begins to spread its destruction from house to house in Krakow—like 'Willy Pete' through Falluja. –Too many metaphors for one sentence, right?

What I'm trying to say here is only that at some point (usually pretty early in a short run like ours, if not directly after opening night) the auteurs must give the play over to the actors to perform. Certainly, adjustments can and should be made. But moment to moment changes, back and forth and back again, only serve to plunge the actors (and their performances) into a nightmare world of doubt and personal recrimination—they are encouraged from the beginning to internalize the play, then they are tortured with the uncertainty of ever understanding what it is they are expected to do. And so off-stage relationships are dissolved and replaced by impossible, DOA couplings founded on mutually re-enforced delusions of bourgeois mediocrity. To paraphrase a line oft heard around this production: These kids don't seem to know any better and they just don't care to find out.

But this 'Don't Know, Don't Care', attitude is not unique to WR! or Poland—though I have found it painfully characteristic of both. It has become all the fashion among the Zmaggots and CounterPunch drunks in the latest brouhaha over Bosnia revisionism. Used to be that one's position on Yugoslavia best identified one's credibility—intellectual, political, historical, even moral. Anyone who could find Bill Clinton superior in any way—but smarm, maybe—to GWB was obviously too dizzy from stepping over NYTimes op/ed pieces and smelling Bill's melodious, self-congratulatory farts to be taken seriously. But few intellects have been able to resist, much less survive the Clinton/Bush campaign of demonization directed against President Milosevic and the Serbs. After Roy Gutman, Ed Vulliamy, Penny Marshall (not Garry's sister 'Laverne', but the ITN hack who created the poster art for the New Serb Holocaust of the Bosnian Muslims) received prizes for their spurious reportage of 'Serb atrocities and massacres', the best the 'critical' Left could come up with was Chomsky and Diana Johnstone—neither of whom has ever recognized the injustices (including Cruise missiles directed into their residences) visited on President Milosevic and his whole family: Prof Chomsky chief objection to the practice of Military Humanism in the Balkans was that NATO was only slightly more brutal than the Serbs they were liquidating, and Diana actually supported the G17 in its USAID/CIA/Soros-backed putsch in Serbia 2000; and both continue to turn a blind eye to the enormous historical corrections being made every day by a severely health-challenged President Milosevic at The Hague. Why does all this simpering Liberal concern for torture never travel from Abu Ghraib and Gitmo into the very civilized confines of that old Nazi lock-up at Scheveningen where representatives of the Serb and Yugoslav people are regularly dogged to an untimely death?

The burning e-question being asked by reactionaries of every political salon (from Nazis to Trokzis) is did these Amerikan 'intellos', with their ever-so effete takes on the Paris riots (for a good analysis of the banlieue blues see my old pal Michel Collon’s 10 Questions), really deny the Srebrenica 'massacre' (here the quotation marks are to indicate that all the evidence would lead any self-respecting and self-critical public thinker to conclude there was NO MASSACRE OF INNOCENT NON-COMBATTANTS @ SREBRENICA). Some manish bihac at The faux Left Guardian contends that both Chomsky and Johnstone have repeatedly shown themselves to be deniers of the Bosnian Muslim Genocide; while these two Left anti-communists contend they never said any such thing, and that they are agreed that the Muslims were the main victims of (Serb) atrocities and massacres in Bosnia. (nb: The Guardian has since apologized for its interview and removed it from their web site.) —Gee, I wonder what the hundreds of innocent non-combatant Yugoslav victims, whose lives were terminated with extreme prejudice in 1993-94 by the BiH Army’s serial slaughterer Naser Oric, would think of this—or the tens of thousands of Muslims who found refuge from Imperialist violence being inflicted on all the people of Bosnia and Kosovo in Milosevic's own multi-cultural Serbia?

And then there's the next eccentric-KoolAid acid test—the geopolitical equivalent of the GRE: Where do they stand on the Rwandan Genocide? I used to call Rwanda, Yugoslavia in Spades—until I realized it wasn't really funny—so now I refer to that particular targeted nation as Yugoslavia in No Trump—but that's little better as nobody plays Bridge anymore, right. Even those who have weighed in more heavily than the two above-mentioned on Yugoslavia, thoughtful writers like Michael Parenti (To Kill A Nation) and Ed Herman (The Srebrenica Study Group), both of whom expressed to me, personally, an interest in finding out what really went on in Central Africa ca 1994, have been totally (to my knowledge) MIA on any English-language analysis of this predominantly French-language concern. So what's up with this highly selective (safe?) historical criticism? Who are these writers writing for? Who do these thinkers think they are?

I know here in Krakow all we're doing seems to be to the end of adding to the luxurious serenity of this over-privileged youth that finds its studies subsidized by that 30% of its countrymen who are unemployed and living off slag heaps. It just would not do to bring up history in a Krakow theatre or living room, no matter what language you brought it up in. But I guess we all work for those who pay us, and the bosses must be pleased or we'll all end up dining out in decommissioned coal mines and drinking dioxin-flavored water.

So no matter how disturbing unto disgusting it may seem—no matter how hard it is to see good people with little power cast into a valley of tears by their 'immediate superiors'—I guess the show must go on. –mc


Krakow Report 20 November 2005--Closing Night

BEFORE THE SHOW:

So, here we are: Closing night. Last show goes on in about 4 hours. And I'm alone at the pad with the baby Czech guard dog, whose shits keep better time than my Swatch. And they're easier to find in the morning when I get up, too: always in the same two spots on the kitchen floor.

I was told that after tonight's show there'll be a little gathering at a karaoke bar—but karaoke reminds me of Mike Farkash, a dear, departed friend and fellow denizen of the zero-sum theatre, and I'm sad enough about Mike's passing without trying to sing in a South Korean accent.

It seems to me that English-language theatre in Poland doesn't stand much of a chance. And it may just be dead everywhere else, too: the story money today goes toward the mythological life-support of the moribund and murderous Wasting Class. Krakow is bourgeois to an obsessive/compulsive degree, and its so-called artists and intellectuals seem to be completely unaware of the fact that the owning and financial elite ceased to be the principality of true artists with Proust and Mann, whose self-criticism thoroughly ravaged that decadent and disease-ridden class—Poles and the ex-pats who lurk here seem to prefer the politico/historical obscurity of Joyce and Beckett to anything moderately resembling a critical analysis of History—but I've never before seen such an unseemly rush on the few pitiful openings for the positions of house nigger, court jester, or Gitmo guard, as I have in my short sejour in Poland. Pound for Pound—and Eliot for Robert Graves and Derrida for Heidegger—Krakow seems lost in a Weimar nostalgia without memory. Has no one here heard of Paul Nizan?

Our own play, WR!, is full of disdain for working people—except when bemoaning their decline and eventual demise as the result of work-related pathologies—and members of the cast and crew have even been heard to say that what someone does to reproduce his or her life is unimportant, realistically or artistically, and that people don't need to work, to have jobs, to live. This lot is the most toxic sort of trust-fund hippies—or loveys, as teabags refer to them. I'm going to leave this place the way I came in, alone on an overnight bus with a bunch of homemade sandwiches and a head-full of dread. Quite happy to get out, but not at all sure what awaits me in Paris.

And for all the jokes I made about having a rehearsal on the Monday after closing: it looks like we're actually supposed to run the show one more time before I leave so that it can be taped. I can't pinpoint when the power drinking first began to afflict our little theatre community, but I'll bet a carton to a pack it was the same time the show and the scene here started going sideways. But, hey, I didn't drink, so I'm all right, Jack.


RIGHT BEFORE THE SHOW:

So, at twenty to seven, the word comes down that we're to run the show for lines and tech cues. I couldn't handle this. I suggested that closing night might be a good time to run the show 'fresh', without trying to retrace the imagined footsteps of the perfect performance before giving what is, inevitably, an imperfect one. Spontaneity. That's the ticket! Like Sincerity, once he learns how to fake that, the actor's got this acting thing licked. So everybody grumbled and asked what they should do for the hour and a half before the final curtain went up, and, like, they'd've stayed home and watched TV had they known there wouldn't be a rehearsal—and I got all passive/aggressive with them, saying that I'd go with the group conscience and that it was just a suggestion to do the show without a run-thru (just consider last night's show and the several run-thrus that preceded it as sufficient prep for tonight)—but in the end the two kids ran their scenes without me, and I returned to my by-now familiar isolation and started what seemed to be a long evening of feeling bad.

AFTER THE SHOW:

Yeah, well. During the curtain call, we three stood on stage, holding hands, for a full ten seconds before the audience started clapping—weakly. Like they didn't know what to do. Fuck this town in its Catholic, anti-communist ass! –And feed 'em fish!

I had to get home to feed the dog. No karaoke for me. And all kinds of emotional baggage landed in the dressing room after the show: theatre has always been a refuge for the sexually ambiguous and morally damaged, but—goddamit, Emmet!—this show should be used to train people how not to waste their lives in the feckless pursuit of false history, political apologias for feudalism, and moronic poetry and delusional fiction. Someone should break down the differences between 'Philosophy' and 'Sophistry' for these kids.

I'd do it, but I've got a 23-hour bus to catch. . . . And I guess there may be one more of these reports yet to file. –mc



Krakow Report 25 November 2005—The End

It's been exactly one month since I filed the first of these Reports--25 October to 25 November. I'm not a numerologist or anything, but after the 25-hour bus trip back to Paris on the 22nd of November, my 61st birthday, the six weeks of doing WR! seem even less real than they did immediately after closing night—or after the next day's long taping of the show. (See, if you add up all the numbers in those last two sentences, it comes to exactly 164! Is that creepy or what?) But that's the way all these excellent adventures end up—the unreality of my geezer's memory (like the unreliability of the memory on my cell phone camera which refuses to display any of the photos I took in Poland) has degraded these events into a series of mere 'mayonnaise moments'.

The trip home was essentially sleepless—thanks to German and Polish (NATO) military interventions to confirm that all of us bus passengers were within our rights to make this arduous journey from the New EEurope to the Wild Old West, and that none of us was cutting into their action by smuggling something of real value—like Afghan heroin, coltan, or an electric kettle from Tesco's. God! There is just a plague of these (mostly French) grandes surfaces, huge department stores, interspersed with bunker-like small manufacturing plants, all along the major highways. And more cars and service stations than any once-rational socio/economic order could support. But, these days, rationality and ratios are the concerns only of 12 year old Polish math students.

And the difference in prices between Paris and Poland was enough to make me really nostalgic for the land of Catholic anti-communist sausage eaters; for what it cost me at my local boulangerie to buy a pain raisin, I could've had a half dozen of those very tasty cherry and cream-filled turnovers I'd gotten hooked on in Krakow. But Paris is still Paris—and I can't see any signs of the devastation wrought by the riots—my family is more or less in tact—though some were happier to see me than others. I just figured the riots, like the to-do over the 'foulard', the curious vandalizing (Swastikas tagged by Muslims or Skinheads or Zionist provocateurs?) of synagogues and Jewish cemeteries and the immediately debunked 'anti-semitic attack on the D train' earlier this year, are more of the Machiavellian machinations of Eliot Abram's State Department Office of International Religious Freedom and the Betar. It's all about replacing secularism with petty sectarianism, so as more easily to divert folks from considering their real enemy, the real sources of their dehumanization and eventual liquidation. Poland seems already well off into the twilight sleep of Catholic unconsciousness.

At first, the ruination I'd expected in my personal scene here in Paris seemed to have been postponed—I was able to buy metro tickets with my bank card. But after a closer look, the whole cabal of bankers and tax men were lurking just inside my mailbox, with their grubby, twitching fingers extended, only waiting for me to unpack. A few English teaching gigs have cropped up, but certainly not enough to feed the poodle—I continue to be offered English teaching jobs in Poland, but can't imagine teaching someone English without having any knowledge or sense of their mother tongue. Certainly plenty of people I know do just that, but I really don't know how.

I will miss everyone in Krakow very much—esp those I've written most harshly about--they were, all of them, at the bus station to send me off: no one knowing it was my birthday (save Steppling, maybe), but all treating me with the kind of exuberant, generous affection that one rarely receives even on special days. (Though it might've been, 'How can we miss you if you won't go away?', huh.) The bus was an hour and a half late leaving Krakow—which would have been bad enough, but no one—NO ONE!—not a single official at the well-out-of-the-way Krakow bus station even knew if there WAS a bus to Paris, or whether it might have already left and should be turned back, or, when and if it showed up, just where on this multi-level complex it would land and load—and just about the whole WR! company was there to calm me, help me schlep my bags from waiting-place to waiting-place (all agreed this kind of chaos was perfectly normal for traveling in Poland), and feed me bon bons and mandarin oranges and various yummy foody substances (and I finally finished Karina's savory sandwiches two days after landing back home—these sandos made my bus-time pass more lightly than a whole jar of xanax).

They are, and will always be, my very dear friends, and I will miss them much more than I'll miss their city or its political culture—and much more than they'll ever know. Next time I'll bring Max with me—and we'll do the whole thing up to the max. –mc

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