SLOVENIA – October 17, 2010
Sitting in my hotel room looking out at Ljubljana, a church steeple in the distance. It is Sunday, our last day here, and the church bells have been ringing all day.
We arrived (Maya Deren, Julia Child and I) 4 days ago on Oct 13th after a very long flight via Paris to perform at the annual City of Women Festival. We were immediately ushered into the hotel restaurant for an interview with Iva Kosmos from the daily paper Dnevnik. After the long interview (we talked very slowly due to extreme fatigue) we ate a heavy dinner of pasta and gnocchi with cream sauce and went off to bed. Day 2 would be our street theatre workshop. We were picked up at 9am and taken to the venue for the workshop – a compound of mismatched buildings peppered with colorful graffiti and sculptures. Our venue used to be a horse stable and it reminded me very much of our venue in Poland. Inside we found a make shift stage, sofas and chairs, Christmas lights hanging from everywhere and the all-important bar where coffee was already brewing. The workshop was supposed to begin at 10am but everyone trickled in late – I always forget how much NYers are slaves to being on time but there is no where else in the world that we have been to were things actually begin on schedule.
By 10:30AM 20 women artists have assembled and Julia immediately puts them through the comedic paces of our “name game”. Each person has to say their name using movement but when it’s Masha’s turn she pauses for what seems like an awful long time and then confesses that her focus is a bit off because she had just smoked a joint. I can’t stop laughing and neither can anyone.
After the warm-ups we have a group brain storming session about the issues they face as young Slovenian women. This lasted well over an hour. Our group of artists/activists is extremely talkative and they bring up many of the issues we hear all over the world such as pay equity, apathy and sexism in art.
It’s time for a cigarette break (everyone smokes here) and after everyone has a chance to get some air we resume the workshop by breaking into 4 groups addressing: Art in education, Animal rights, Food and Apathy. Each group got to work on designing a slogan and a street theatre action that would then be performed on Three Bridges (the main square of Ljubljana) later that afternoon. Maya is filming every single brainstorm, collaboration, and rehearsal while Julia and I float among the groups first passing out props and suggesting ways to smooth out the rough spots of each performance.
We break for an hour and head over to Three Bridges but stop off for a full fat cappuccino – no skinny lattes to-go here. As we arrive at Three Bridges we can see that the performances are already underway. Each group had come up with some very clever visual performances. One group tied themselves to a large statue of the national poet in the middle of the square wearing shirts that spelled out KNOW! (the K was in Red and the other letters in black so that it read KNOW NOW.) This was a plea for access to more contemporary art. Another group asked people to write suggestions to the city mayor on the T-Shirts they were wearing. Another group distributed pieces of fruit with sayings on them indicating just how far the piece of fruit had traveled to get to Slovenia. The last group held a sign that said “Be kind to animals, try it here” and enlisted the help of Bukowski, Masha’s gentle and friendly Dalmatian dog.
After about 20 minutes the performances came to a natural end and we gathered in the middle of Three Bridges for a debriefing session where we chatted about how satisfying and surprisingly fun the street theatre experience was. Everyone commented about how easy it was to directly engage the public in considering their issue and hearing what they had to say about it. In friendly and relaxed Slovenia it will be easy to continue the street theatre performance tradition in the days and months in between each City of Women Festival.
We had a rehearsal planned that evening for our performance of “If You Can Stand the Heat: The History of Women and Food” and after two hours we were ready to drop. We grabbed some fast food….hot dogs, French fries and a veggie burger (a veggie burger here is a giant, (and I mean giant) bun with lettuce, tomato and mayo) Bread is big in Slovenia. So after filling up on Slovene junk food we are ready for bed.
Friday we had scheduled a 12 hour rehearsal in our venue. This is because our performance is collaboration with a local actress and we only have one day to work out what we will do for that part of the show. We’ve already been in touch via email and have decided that the biggest female foodie in Slovenia is Sister Vendelina – a nun who wrote cookbooks featuring classic local recipes. So a Sister Vendelina section is a must. We were not picked up at the hotel at 10 am and so had to arrange for a cab to Cankarjev dom, our venue. When we arrive realize we are playing the Broadway stage of Ljubljana.
A full staff of non-English speaking technicians greets us in the middle of the fancy, turntable-equipped stage. The head techie is an English speaking woman – Karmen Klucar who comments on our intense schedule. The sound system is unbelievable….totally ear blowing and the head set mikes are the best we’ve had. The lighting guy sets some looks for us and we are assigned a stage manager – Ursku. They hang an opera glass drape for our back drop and our images are rear projected so that they fill the tremendous stage. This is intense and we begin to feel a bit of pressure. Julia suggests we use the turntable but I nix that because I think we have no time to spend learning how. Our fears are quashed by the arrival of our local Guerrilla Girl On Tour, Gorka Berden, an upbeat and shining faced gem of an actress who’s just returned from a year of study in Paris. We decide that Gorka must be including in not only the Sister Vendelina section, but in some of the rest of the show. Working for hours with few breaks (ahem, now we understand why Equity has all those rules) we work out the transitions and incorporate Gorka as a full fledged GGOT. We end at 9PM…almost 11 hours of rehearsal.
At one point during the day we set out to grab some coffee, Starbucks style. But alas, when we asked the local barista for “to-go” cups she nearly has a coronary. This is when we learned that there is no coffee “to-go” in Slovenia. There is especially no tea “to-go” in Slovenia. We have insulted the entire country by even asking! Being the bold New Yorkers that we are we insist ,especially after seeing several paper “to- go” cups behind the coffee maker. We pay double to make up for insulting the barista and head back to the theatre with our hot paper cups brimming with full fat cappuccinos and hot tea.
Saturday we begin tech at 10am with the crew. The PowerPoint does not work on the theatre’s computer. I had just purchased a new Mac book Pro (No Macs in Slovenia either) so we use my new computer to run the show. Maya runs around like crazy shooting video with her flip cam and snapping still shots with her camera. She takes pictures almost as fast as she can post them on our facebook and blog pages. We break for lunch about ¾ the way through the tech. Feeling the pressure of an international gig in a huge theatre makes for a quiet and concentrated lunch. Not to mention the jet lag. We do a dress rehearsal at 3PM that goes OK…not horrible but not perfect, just the way it should be. We have about 2 hours to go…Julia falls asleep on the stage. Maya posts more video to all our social media pages and I walk the halls of the huge theatre to relax.
Curtain time! We have about 200 people out there and they are in a great mood. (I can always tell the mood of the crowd from our first sound cue – if they laugh at that then it will be a good show). The laughter starts slowly and gradually builds into occasional bursts of guffawing. Shows outside of the US are always a challenge when you are doing comedy because you don’t know if it is going to translate. Foreign audiences are much more restrained about being verbal but getting our audiences to talk to us is part of our shtick and Julia and I relax into a groove and hit all our timing. There’s a good ebb and flow to this show and the audience is with us. The only time we hit a wall was when we asked the audience to announce shows by women artists that are coming up. There were several in the City of Women line up the very next evening but not one person wanted to speak up. Next time we’ll know to plant someone out there. For that one brief moment we looked for Masha in the crowd because we know she’ll have something to say but we can’t spot her.
We end the show with pies in the face – hilarious to Gorka but I think the audience thought we were assaulting each other! Note to self – pies in the face are fun but do not translate well in the Balkans. The entire audience stays for the Q and A – also a first. We get many thoughtful questions about the differences in audiences between US and Europe. Wow! The Q and A lasts about 15 minutes. Maya has streamed it all live for the first time in GGOT history. We exit stage left feeling successful at having brought our brand of comedy to a new audience. I am grateful, happy, relieved. We celebrate at our favorite restaurant, Campo, near our hotel and hit the City of Women after party. A disco dancing sweat filled space where we dance until 2am
At the dance party we hear from one of our workshop women, Phaedra, who says our venue was all wrong. We were in too traditional a space. Mara, City of Women director, says about our show “Yes! I got it. Ha! Ha! ”. The online viewers say that we were having a ball.
And so it ‘s back to Sunday, our day off. Raining. Our plans to take a bus trip to a lake in the Alps are squashed by the rain and our exhaustion. Tomorrow we leave at the crack of dawn (4AM) for the airport and on to Hungary. We rest all day and that evening go to see another show in the festival. It’s a very dark piece about the strict role of women as mothers and homemakers. It seems this is the traditional Slovenia way for women…work very hard, at least 14 hours a day; be extremely thin; be quiet; don’t really speak your mind or if you do make sure it’s implied, not out there. Guess we were quite a different kind of POV.
Love from Ljubljana - Aphra Behn