She Walks in Poland, on Theater Tour
Originally published at Curious Territory by Hannah Kauffmann, a member of Albuquerque-based theater company Tricklock. The company toured the play Finger Mouth in Poland in July. We also recently interviewed Hannah about theater grants and how the heck they made it to Poland in the first place.
August 1, 2014
SZŁA (She Walked)
She has been walking for three weeks. What was this plan, this, “Oh, I’m gone for thirty days, that’s at least, five, six posts?” She forgot. She’s been busy.
Enough of that overused third person!
Tour. I fucking love it!
I have one week left in Poland: 19 days down. 7 to go. It is a beautiful day in Krakow, slightly overcast but not quite bordering on rain, just enough to drop the temperature a few degrees and change the color of the light in the city center. Our apartment, our mini-home since Saturday, has giant European windows that open fully like doors and we take turns sitting in them in the mornings, drinking coffee, reading the news. In the evenings we leave them open and play long games of Dixit and Cataan, drinking beers from the Zabka across the street and smoking cigarettes on our tiny balcony. A difficult life.
We left Albuquerque on July 14th, a Monday, after just 8 days of rehearsal and two performances of a show we hadn’t visited in 18 months. Finger Mouth is a show I’m immensely proud of—the shadow work, the writing, the high style. It’s a short (55 minutes), incredibly fun performance. This is the the most prop-heavy show I’ve ever toured–the shadow puppets mean that not only did we need to bring all of our original props (no way to find/recreate them on tour), but also our own shadow box, a setup of two deconstructable seven foot poles with bases, supports, the fabric that forms the screen, all of our own custom-built lighting equipment, an overhead projector, and one very precisely sized, heavy as shit, beautiful, collapsible table sturdy enough to hold the full weight of myself and Nando. With our own personal bags full enough to keep us in relatively clean clothes for a month, we are not traveling lightly.
First stop: Brooklyn. Tricklock, SOMEHOW, had never played New York before. Our two nights at the Standard Toykraft in Brooklyn were fabulous. Hot as shit, like so hot that during sleepytime dance Juli and I left full body sweatprints on the floor, but absolutely fabulous. A New Mexico reunion of sorts, too—so many Albuquerque/UNM transplants live in the city now, including a remarkable number of people I went to high school with, and since I missed/deliberately didn’t attend my high school reunion last fall, it was nice to catch up. Hey guys! Good to see you!
From Brooklyn, we hopped the red-eye to Berlin, where we spent one very jet-lagged day wandering the city, picking up train tickets, visiting the Berlin Wall Memorial, eating Italian food (I know), and having a few drinks in the hotel bar. It was my first time in Germany—a new passport stamp! One day I’ll return and see the city properly.
There is something remarkable about performing in front of an audience in a language that is not native to them.
The next day, our six-person/fourteen pieces of luggage crew boarded a train to Szczecin, Poland. Szczecin is fucking beautiful. The history of the city is so long and varied that I would sound like an asshole if I tried to tell it to you, so I will tell you that in the last eighty years, it has been in the country of Russia, the country of Germany, and became a Polish city after World War II. There has been a lot of destruction and a lot of rebuilding. Our playing space in Szczecin is called Trafo. It’s a modern art museum, and when we see it, we’re amazed. A giant, giant white room, warehouse-esque. Exposed ceiling beams and industrial staircases and giant glass panels on the floor. We load in and set up so our backstage space, where all the puppets come to life, is over one of these glass panels.
I realize that I’ve had 157 shots of vodka and I still can’t say “Szczecin.”
We know a few people in Szczecin, from Teatr Kana, but they are all on holiday. The show has been publicized, lightly, by the space, but we’re expecting low turnout and set up about fifteen seats. Fifteen is a fine number, we think! Ten minutes before the show, Juli, Nando, Drew, and I are backstage, warmed up, a little nervous, ready to go. We open house. Five minutes later, Hubert (Hubert! My Polish love!), our tour manager who has visited Albuquerque many times with our friends Teatr Figur Krakow, sticks his head into the dressing room. “Who has seen Alex?” he asks in a voice very carefully designed to let us know this is only a casual question. There is no need for alarm. We haven’t seen Alex. He disappears. From our corner vantage point, we see more chairs being brought into the space. Then some more chairs. A third round of extra chairs. It is well after showtime. We witness a conversation happening in the area where chairs appear. It seems to be about how there are no more chairs. Alex appears. “Guys, I’m going to have to seat some people on the sides of the space—they”ll be able to see backstage, so, ah, don’t dick around back there during the show.” Like we would (we would) (we do) (always). I realize that with the size of the room, the need to seat people in the wings means it’s fucking packed. The curtain speech starts. We take our places behind the screen. I wonder if everyone in the wings can see me sweating all over this glass-panel floor. I try not to imagine slipping in my own sweat in the middle of the show and cracking my head open. Gross. I try not to giggle and giggle anyway. Everyone backstage looks at me funny.
The show is fantastic. 80 people, I think. Maybe 89? There is something remarkable about performing in front of an audience in a language that is not native to them. You’re forced to slow down, think about your words, invest deeply in how to make your story clear Clear CLEAR. You push lines and jokes you haven’t found quite as important before. It becomes a new show. For us, it was fucking FUN. After we struck our set (which took an hour the first time and now takes about 22 minutes), we present Lucia, the curator of the space, with gifts as thank yous. Our gifts generally include something from us, some Tricklock t-shirts and stickers, and a bottle of tequila. When she saw the tequila, she said “Ohhhhhhhh no. You must help me with this.” So in a way, what happened next was completely our fault. She tells us to finish up and meet her and the other staff of the space on the roof. Should have known.
I am greeted by an American voice, which says, “Hey, cool show. We’re from New Mexico.” Bizarre.
The outer circle is one third soda water, one third 7-up, and one third coke. The inner circle, Lucia tells us, is walnut vodka. The first time. Four minutes later, those shot glasses are filled with Gorzka, a sweet, vaguely orangey/nutmeggy flavored vodka. Four minutes later, they are filled with Zubrowka, a delicious bison-grass vodka. These are NOT the kind of shots you say no to. They are ceremonial. They are thank you’s. We all stand to toast each time. Twenty minutes later, Nando has taken a shot with no hands while our new Polish friends chanted DRINK DRINK DRINK! at him. The Patron is opened. The next shots are whatever is closest to one of our hosts when the unspoken, predetermined amount of time has passed for more drinks to be acceptable. I am deeply regretting not eating dinner before the show. Oh, well. These Polish Ritz crackers will do. Karolina, another curator, turns on hidden speakers. Nando is an excellent dancer. I look out from the roof over the river. Our hotel is about eight blocks away. I see it. I wonder briefly about the logistics of carrying 300lbs of baggage back to it later. Who cares? Karolina sits down next to me and hands me the skinniest cigarette I’ve ever seen. I wonder when I can move to Szczecin. I realize that I’ve had 157 shots of vodka and I still can’t say “Szczecin.” We have the next day off.
In Poland, gas station hot dogs are delicious! They look like this:
Another train, this time to Warsaw. We have a compartment. There are eight seats in a compartment and we are seven people with twenty bags. We think we have all eight seats. We do not. We have seven and a charming old Polish man who speaks no English and refuses my offer of peanuts has the eighth. Out bag of poles takes up the entire floor of the compartment. We pantomime to him what they are. He nods, understands. I catch him occasionally glancing over Juli’s shoulder as she reads American Gods. When we exit the train, in Warsaw, he helps hand the luggage out the window to unload. He waves a very enthusiastic goodbye as he pulls away in a compartment all by himself.
In Warsaw, we have a room at the performance space, Teatr Druga Strefa (rough translation: The Second Zone). How convenient! In Warsaw, we have ONE room at the performance space. Maybe less convenient. Seven people. One bed. I set up a blanket nest on the concrete floor and sleep surprisingly comfortably. Warsaw is, in Hubert’s words, the “Crapital of Poland.” He is not a fan. I admit it is a busier city than I prefer, but I enjoy it. We take the train into the center to see a show. We explore. Shop. Eat. Day 2 we perform our own show. Quick load in, set up, showers for everyone, showtime. We open house. I can hear people in the lobby, what sounds like lots of them, but no one enters for a long, long time. Finally Alex sticks his head backstage. There are quite a few people there, and they are all waiting for one man to show up and then they will enter the theater together. Juli and I laugh about this for a long time. Who is this man?? I don’t ever find out.
After the show, which goes wonderfully—this space has absolutely zero windows, so no light bleed anywhere—I leave the space and am greeted by an American voice, which startles the shit out of me. It says, “Hey, cool show. We’re from New Mexico.” Bizarre. The crowd stays for a while. We talk. New friends everywhere! More performers! New folks for Revolutions next year! Someone goes on a beer run. Remembering Szczecin, I eat a sandwich. Wise owl, I tell myself. Much later, someone yells at us to come into the theater so we can have a “Theatre Jam.” I have no idea what this means. I go in and someone is lying on the floor, sort of reciting a monologue. There is a girl sitting on our table, organizing our programs in a very precise, performance arty-way. A man goes backstage and circles back completely naked. Another circle. This time he’s wearing socks. Another circle. Underwear. Another circle, pants. He completes the reverse, completely unacknowledged striptease. The party ends pretty much right then. I wish for another sandwich.
Another train, Krakow. This time our compartment comrade is a younger Polish man. He tolerates us. I bet we are annoyyyyyyying.
Our space in Krakow (our last performance of Finger Mouth) is called Teatr Barakah. It is in Kazimierz, the old Jewish district, and it is a building that used to be a bathhouse. The walls in the playing space are still half tile, teal and off-white, with occasional tiles depicting old women carrying buckets of water. It’s lovely, the staff is lovely, and our show is sold out. For a few awesome and overwhelming minutes, we consider adding a second show half an hour after the first ends. Instead, we cram everyone into the space. In front of the puppet screen (we need seven feet backstage for lighting), we have about four feet of playing space. It is packed. I could easily drip sweat on an audience member. I’m pretty sure I do at multiple points. Barakah has an incredible bar you need cross through to reach the theater, and we spend our post-show time there, sharing a few beers and stories with audience members, talking about show inspiration and our creative process, and promising to have drinks with them this week. Remembering Szczecin and Warsaw, I eat and also decide to not just drink like that’s the reason I’m on tour. Lessons! We head back to the apartment. We celebrate. Sleep.
Tour Part I: Finger Mouth is over.
Tour Part II: Doing My Best To Get Fat In Krakow still to come.
All photos courtesy of Hannah Kauffmann.
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