Mick Devine Euro Trek 2006 travel blog


It's true...I always suspected something amiss with the whole creation in six days concept. Not only is God slacking on Sunday, but no one can get in to the Estate. Sinners unite! We'll storm the gates with copies of South Park's Passion of the Jew and digitally-altered clips of Charlton Heston as Moses drowning in the Red Sea. If we storm on a Friday, the Catholics will have fish entrails hanging out of their mouths...oh, wait, we killed all the fish.

Actually, Heaven is a cafe, at least in Prishtina. I thought it might offer me an alternative to my typical haunts, but it really is closed today. I don't know if they offer irony courses in Islam or not.

Sigh. You get what you ask for, even if you haven't been consciously aware of what it was you were requesting. Every country I've worked in in Europe, with the exception of Finland, is a basket case. Poland is now run by two twins named Lech Dum and Jacek Dee, stoking economic and racist nationalism (is there any other kind, really?). Hungary's Prime Minister was caught on tape telling his party that the regime has done nothing but lie repeatedly about the economy over the past five years. Result: highest rate of debt to GDP in Europe, riots in the streets last month.

The Czech Republic doesn't even HAVE a government. Romania and Bulgaria are prepping for EU entry next year run by ex-communists and, in Bulgaria's case, a thinly-concealed mafia. Serbia doesn't undersand why everyone hates them and the War Crimes Tribunal continues to single them out...killing hundreds of thousands, the complicity of academics and other leaders, and the continued inability or unwillingness to apprehend two of the biggest war criminals of the past forty years would be a starting point.

The best run country I've worked in is Greece. Recently it revised its gross domestic product to include the black market economy. That raised the country's GDP by 25%!

Why the civics lesson? Because I'm in Kosova, or Kosovo, now run by UNMIK, KFOR and Albanian Serbs, or Kosovar Albanians, or five guys named Mo. Dysfunctionality is a way of life here. It's not an ideal environment for Type A behaviour or western expectations.

Don't get me wrong. Civil behaviour is seemingly fundamental here. The chaotic traffic never degenerates into violence as I've seen elsewhere (including Toronto, where as a bicycle courier I engaged in a war of attrition with cab drivers which cost me two bikes that resulted in twelve "accidents" over a one-year period). Traditional societies have their virtues: pregnant and elderly women are accorded right of way on the sidewalks, for instance; cars and pedestrians share the routes around the massive, Mars-crater-sized potholes without incident.

As a woman told me the other night, this is a culture where people have trouble saying an outright "no". Which reminds me of Romania, where the actors in Tirgoviste once told me, "everything is possible...just not today". Which in my particular set of circumstances means a series of promises that are continually broken. Every day this week rehearsals were disrupted: first by an alcoholic, despotic, withered crone directing a puppet show who stole the first part of my rehearsals; then by the "director" of Dodona, responsible for scheduling rehearsals, who wedged in rehearsals for two other shows into time we had been promised; and finally by actors, each of whom has a conflict which is not consistent with those of the others.

I never thought I'd miss having a stage manager (except MF, of course)...but the scheduling is basically impossible. On top of this Dodona has one technical guy for sound and lights. He's working on 3 shows next week, the week that I need to finalise the technical side of the show. We don't even get an evening rehearsal next week until the actual night we play.

I fought as many battles on this front this week as I could - and lost all of them. Those who know me realise that losing at anything - even once - produces in Michael a dark despondency marked by despair, overwhelming sensations of futility, questions to the Creator about why She bothered to make me if She wasn't going to let me do things my way, and tortured self-examination about why my ego is so freaking big that I can't just accept the natural incompetence of others without wishing for their demise in a tsunami of molten lava.

I tend to wear my emotions on my sleeve. It's a problem for my tailor.

The kicker is that the second, "official" opening was to be a week Monday, the 23rd. As Bozzi the observant Muslim revealed to me, that's Bajram, the first day after Ramadan. People will be doing things like eating and polishing their knees. No one will come. Jeton overlooked that. I'd tell him, but he's not here. He went to France on the excuse of a conference to see his girlfriend.

So the next week will be interesting. The actors will probably get somewhere close to where they need to go through the predictable (and unnecessary, in my view) panic that surges through the unprepared as tests, deadlines, and theatre openings approach. Edi will probably come through with all the costume, props and set solutions I have systematically come up with for him, but only at the last second, without enabling the actors to try things out without, say, stepping on a sword, impaling themselves on the coat racks placed at the edges of the stage, or setting fire to themselves with the six lanterns I've ordered to make-up for the lack of lighting instruments. The technician will get a complete set of written cues from me for both lighting and sound and will then completely ignore them, as always happens over here; these guys work by sight, which is great when you've actually SEEN something, but not so good when you're coming off three children's shows. I will work day and night rehearsing, in the sound recording studio, and setting light and sound levels, with catastrophe one obstacle away at every moment.

The only thing that really bugs me is that people outside the theatre think that this is always the way things work in theatre, a bunch of disorganised artistes who swill coffee and talk art and then get serious in the final week...not really responsible people, like those who work every day. Must be fun. Nothing's really on the line, right?

I remember directing a workshop at the National Arts Centre with a cast that included a high school student. One night towards the end of rehearsal his Dad showed up. You could tell he was the kid's Dad becase he wore one of those sweaters that Dads wear. And his arms were crossed in a manly way. His expression was that slightly furrowed try-not-to-show-I'm-worried-my-son-is-being-infected-by-the-gay-virus look that men often wear when they come in contact with theatre people. I think that's why they fall asleep when they are dragged to see shows, because you can't catch anything if your eyes are closed. Everyone knows that.

So he's standing there at one side, trying to be inconspicuous and chewing up all kinds of oxygen, so I amble over in my it's-okay-I'm-not-corrupting-your-son-at-least-not-in-the-way-you-think walk, and he greets me ever so politely, like those guys who greet landing Martians in the movies; you know, with a hint of nervousness but anxious to demonstrate cultural flexibility. He asks when we'll be finished, and before I can answer he rushes forth with a torrent of words on how he understands that artists are different and that we might be working all night, he just needs to know (presumably so he can come to terms with the transformation of his son's sexual identity)... and I tell him this is an Equity workplace, and that I'm required to let his son go home on schedule. And he gets this confused look on his face, because union rules aren't found in the same part of his cerebellum as "artistes".

All of which is to say that this is definitely not Kansas, Dorothy. Theere are no unions. The actors actually expect to work like idiots in the last week - they know how the culture works, so they haven't been surprised by all the obstacles. I say "work like idiots" because of course that's exactly what happens - everyone blunders around like a zombie, repeating lines or movement robotically, too tired to get to any deeper level of understanding than rote memory.

I feel like I've wandered into "Waiting For Guffman", which is probably the funniest movie about theatre I've ever seen...amateur theatre. ("Being Julia" might be the best film about pro theatre I've seen.) That would make me the upight failed Broadway director who wants to take the community play to Broadway. Oh goody, typecasting!

A wild ride. I have already held out the card of not allowing the show to open if I'm not satisfied. In essence that would simply mean it opens after I leave. It might be preferable to rehearse up until my final day rather than freak out all week. I will continue to hold his card.

It's happened before, in Romania. The lesson I learned there was to already have your ticket out of town...otherwise they figure you can just stay a week or two longer until things are swell. (The lesson I evidently didn't learn was not to direct two plays at once.)

I have a ticket. It cost me a wad. It says the 24 of 10. On that day all my cherished friends will discover the remnants of Michael's mind, scattered over the Balkans like ripped-up postcards floating on the wind. I asked for this. I'll love it, later.



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