I’m going to call these next two weeks “The weeks of catching up on as much sleep as I can, although this could be determined by the loudness of the hammering next door”.
Overall, other than a rather…strange…incident on Monday in which I walked into my premiere (junior) class only to be greeted with a broken-English version of ‘Happy Birthday’ (no idea where they got this idea, or why…also, my birthday’s in November), the beginning of the week was relatively quiet. This may, however, have something to do with the fact that I purposely planned a very low-key week for my students, what with the holidays coming up.
Moving on to Thursday:
- I never saw a show at the Cité U theatre when I was a resident there, though this would be very much in keeping with this strange thing I do of not frequenting places that are insanely close to where I live. Maybe it’s my affinity for walks, but I always preferred venturing out a bit to a destination. But I digress…
- In keeping with the whole ‘international’ vibe of the place, this particular play was produced by the New York City-based Nature Theatre of Oaklahoma, an independent company primarily focused on producing experimental work. (Though…is it really still that experimental if everything is kept frontal? Then again, this is a touring production, and budgets and constraints have to be respected). The basic premise – at least in the first thirty minutes – was an incredibly stylized scene set in a saloon, employing many of the codes and mannerisms associated with Hollywood’s vision of the Old West. Characters would stare one another – and at times, the audience – down, burst into violent fights seemingly at random, spit tobacco into a spittoon, all while musing over the nature of happiness, and the conditions that may have to be in place to attain it.
- I’ll be honest, I was a bit skeptical about this show during the opening act, mostly because, given how stylized it was, things moved very slowly, deliberately, and my energy level was not at a point where keeping up for two more hours would be a real possibility. Then the rest of the show happened.
- At around the 30-minute walk, the actor playing the bartender, who, up until that point had remained silent, called his brawling customers to attention and pulled out a screenplay he had been working on. This, he said, was his masterpiece, and he would very much like to get some feedback on it. The next hour and twenty minutes (oh yes) essentially consisted of him monologuing, telling the story of a troupe of dancers (who ‘coincidentally’ shared the same names as the performers on stage…who were also collectively part of a dance troupe back in Ljubljana) who went off to Irak to settle the conflict between the insurgents and UN/US soldiers through dance and performance. Needless to say, it did not end well for them, but the level of absolute absurdity being displayed on stage made me almost forget how close to falling asleep I was during the first part of the show.
- After the performance ended, there was a talkback with the directors and the cast organized by the professor of the seminar I am taking this term. A couple of take-aways from this: first, none of the actors performing that evening had actually ever spoken on stage prior to doing this show. They were all dancers, and thus more accustomed to using their bodies to communicate with their audiences. As the directors specified, though, part of what they seek to do with their theatre is find moments of tension and discontinuity (the deeply existential text coupled with the Old West aesthetic and gestures in the first part of the performance is a reflection of this as well), so for them it was a deliberate choice to take this element of performance entirely unfamiliar with their actors and make them not only confront it but work to become more comfortable with it.
- Second, and also related to the notion of speech and performance, none of these actors were native English speakers (I picked up on this almost immediately when they started speaking – the show was entirely in English, by the way – but on the metro ride back afterwards, some of my fellow classmates pointed out that it took them a bit to pick up on that. Accents, markers of foreign/otherness, are funny that way). When asked about the experience of premiering the show in New York, one of the performers mentioned she felt a bit strange at first doing so because – to an American audience – these people on stage were not only co-opting – or ‘stealing’, as she said later – their language, they were playing with it, breaking it down, bending its codes. Quite frankly, given the current sociopolitical climate in the United States, a play performed in English by non-English speakers could not be more perfect or timely.
Friday was rather quiet – a much-needed moment of decompressing before the holidays really set in.
- The photo at the top of this post is taken from the museum portion of L’Aérosol, a repurposed space in the upper part of the 18th now dedicated not only to the preservation (or rather ‘museumification’) of notable street art/artists, but also to the ever-constant creation of new works on the outside of the building. I had been wanting to check this place out for a while, and was finally able to coordinate a time with a friend of mine to do so.
- According to their website, once nicer/warmer weather finally sets in, the outdoor area around the building hosts food trucks, performances, workshops and more for the community and visitors. There’s a lot that can and should be said about the process of taking works/artists that were formerly subversive and, in a way, ‘legitimizing’ them by displaying their works in an organized fashion in an incredibly codified space (and thus layering on to said works the same codification that they were actively created in opposition to), but when the only other option is another abandoned building right next to the Peripherique, a museum and art space is not the worst of things that could happen, particularly when, other than the actual museum which costs 5 euros to visit, the space remains open and easily accessible.
- Then it was off to le 104 for a quick coffee (as well as to watch a guy juggle clubs for a good 45 minutes) before walking down to République to meet some other friends for, yes, another coffee. I don’t think my caffeine intake has been that ridiculous in a while.
- This morning signaled the arrival of my sister from New Orleans, and the official start of my semi-vacation (punctuated of course by periodic moments of working because not only do I have some exams to grade, I’ve got a bibliography to organize)! We celebrated her arrival in style with brunch at Holybelly (thank goodness she arrived insanely early so we could get there before the crowds truly descended on the place).
- The rest of the day was mostly filled with walking around/attempting to stave off her jet-lag. As far as touristy things go, we did manage to fit in a stroll through Père Lachaise which was pretty nice, given the sunny (yet still cold) weather we’ve been having lately. Now, if only it were sunny and warm…