Monday, 30 June 2008


So now on to some cool, quirky bits of Germany, now that I've probed the scary parts.

Everyone rides bikes in Germany, including a five year old kid we saw today.

There's a lake nearby our flat that looks like Lake Nockamixon in Bucks County, and it's got a landscape that is pretty reminiscent of BC as well. We went out to it with one of our flatmates, her girlfriend, and two of their friends, who were dating, and one was German while the other was Spanish, and our flatmate's girlfriend was Spanish. And we all went out to the lake to have a picnic. It was a thoroughly international picnic.

Everyone has a way of impersonating different languages with jibberish - if I were to try to imitate French without actually speaking any french words, I'd say something like:

Oh la la bou rapapla (phlegmy throat noise) toi.

I asked my German flatmates how they'd do that for English. They responded in two ways. First, to imitate American English, repeat the following phrase:

(said as nasally as possible)

"Rah rah rah rah rah."

To imitate British English, repeat the following phrase:

(as condescendingly as possible)

"Raw raw raw raw raw."

They asked what German sounded like, and my friend and I looked at each other for a split second, then said:


And our flatmate said "that's Arabic!"

Some interesting German words include:

Knoblauch: the word for garlic. It looks like it should be proncounced "Knob launch."

Schtammelbachspike: meaning "the warehouse by the shipping area" or something. It's the theatre were ShakespeaRE: 08 is taking place. It's just fun to say.

Also, the only serious German words I know come from action movies like The Bourne Identity and games like Call of Duty: Medal of Honor, so words like "Schnell!" and "Fruchen!" and "Polizei!" and "Nein!" So my flatmates and I tried putting them together in as many ways as possible. For instance:

Nein! Polizei!

Nein polizei! Fruchen schnell!

Nein fruchen polizei schnell.

And so on. Can you think of any?

Will write more later.

Sunday, 29 June 2008


And now I'm in Germany.

We caught an early bus to Germany, and I ran to the station with my one giant rolling piece of American Tourist luggage, having bought a small pink mobile for myself because that was the cheapest one they had, and wearing four layers of clothing so I didn't have to pack them, on no sleep because I had stayed up all night jetesoning clothes and blankets in order to keep under the weight limit.

I almost died of exhaustion lugging my overheating self through the hilly terrain of Exeter for the final time.

I left the way I arrived: exhausted, overpacked, and on a bus.

At Heathrow there was a baggage scale, and it turned out I was actually a few kilos over, so I just ended up carrying a lot of "reading material" with me onto the plane.

Even from the sky, Germany and England are uncannily similar. Where I am, at least, in the west of Germany, everything is flat, and it shows from the sky. As opposed to the random patchwork fields in England, Germany is a little more organized. It actually reminds me of the Midwest, and of Ohio, a lot.

The train system and the treatment of strangers reminds me of Switzerland, but less totalitarian (is it rude to make a joke in these parantheses? This is another such issue I've dealt with, when, if ever, it is right to mention the war).

Deciduous is a good word for Germany, Germany is very deciduous. Often people look at you as though they were frightened forest animals assessing whether you were vegetarian or not.

However, our hosts have been down right fantastic all around. I, for instance, live with a friend of mine and one of the actresses from Midsummer who plays Puck, in their flat which is one of the older buildings in Hildesheim, and filled with, as on of our hosts put it, "Hippies and Homosexuals." She said that like 5 times. There are fish painted o the wall and words like "We're just looking for ... the Everlasting Laugh." They know a bread maker who comes into town with organic bread, and then they actually sell his bread for him amongst their friends. So I'm living with organic bread dealers.

And intelligent ones at that. These guys speak English, German, Spanish, you name it, and there's very little in the way of "ownership," we all share our stuff, and I can't decide whether that's German hospitality or hippie hospitality.

One of our hosts took us shopping, and I was looking around for peanut butter - she was talking with a friend of hers she met in the isles, and I kept asking her if she knew where it was and searching, before I gave up and went away. And as I did, this friend of hers just looked at me and said, with very pronounced Rs, "Peanut Butter." "Thanks," I said, since that was the most effective comeback I could think of without breaking down and punching the guy, and walked away. Aparently my host took him up one side and down the other.

We were getting on the bus to head to our performance space for the first time, and of course our first tactic to buy our ticket was "Sprakenzie English?" because we were told everyone spoke English. But of course, really, they don't. So this bus driver didn't. Somehow, we told him we wanted two tickets to the Bahnhof, and somehow we got them. As we were walking away, he turned to the person next to us and said, sighing "auslanders!"

Our piece, sadly, pales in comparison to the other German Music/Theatre pieces. We essentially watched their production of Midsummer, with a cast of 60, taking place in the top floor of an abandoned warehouse, with costumes made from duct tape and designer clothing ... There was cross dressing, there was dancing - the Pucks were played less as a character and more as a 20-person force of nature, each with his or her own crazy thing (this one girl went around with an electric drill, drilling into the concrete pillars and the floor, while our host carried a megaphone with the chorus of "Sweet Dreams are Made of This" programmed into it and turned it on at random points). Oboron wore a leather jacket and gold hot pants, and he kept biting cashews and spitting them on the ground. He sat in a little wooden treehouse, and for the first part of the show he was covered by this big gold foil thing. Throughout the show, he would point to the pucks, who would make their individual noises depending on which one he pointed to. When it came time for him to send out the potion, the pucks all pulled out condoms and swung them around like morning stars. Helena (Hermia? The ugly one) carried around ice cream coronets that she was always unwrapping and eating onstage (and of course they were melted so they deliberately got everywhere), while Demetrius had a hanky he wiped Hermia with that he kept stored in his underwear, and pulled out to dab his head. There was a rave on more than one occasion, one orgy, and a chest full of fake (hopefully) semen that one of the lovers had, and his/her partner (I leave it gender ambiguous because by that point they were swapping genders right and left) took a big index-finger wipe of it and licked it off.

Germans. In their defence, I can't speak German, so of course all I remember is the startling visuals.

One fantastic thing about the production was how they did Bottom's Transformation. The mechanicals were these little narrator girls, who came in from time to time smiling and looking freaky (cause they didn't keep the mechanical scenes), and they had finger puppets and stuff. Anyway, after the Pucks were told to find some crazy thing for Titania to sleep with, these girls had a scene. They were singing a German lullabye, when the Pucks came in and, of course, turned it into a dance party. Then they lead one of the little girls away from the rest (FREAKY PEDOPHILIA style) and shoved this giant duct-tape stack of boxes on her, with a mouth hole where she could hold a megaphone. So essentially Bottom as an ass was this giant walking cardboard pole with cute girly shoes, and he could only take small steps, and couldn't see, and then Titania wakes up and fawns over him, and he keeps trying to get away but he's a pile of boxes, so he can't. It was great.

Sexual tension abounds in our experience, as well, as girls here from Exeter have been followed home at night more than once, and I myself was traveling with a group of girls and one other guy, and we were followed by two guys. We kept our normal pace and didn't allow them to think they'd scared us. After a little while, they started playing music on their phone. I asked my host what the number for the police was, and opened my phone, and they left us alone.

We also happened to have arrived on the week when Germany is in the finals for soccer. The second night we were here, they played Turkey. There are a significant amount of Turks living in Germany as German citizens too, so tensions were very high. I went out that night with the other people on the program, staying in well lit areas and having dinner. On the way back, though, I had to walk half an hour through the streets from their flat to mine, with one map clutched to my side so no one would see it. I made it back fine, but I was always worried about the soccer fanatics.

And I talked to some other British students here, and they felt the same way, I talked to German students here for Pete's sake, and they felt the same: seeing these footballers was frighteningly like rallying the troops. Germany has only been able to show its flag without being afraid since 2006, and I suppose there's a surge of nationalism right now, but still. I suppose I know my liberal arts degree has been put to good use: I was able to instantly identify the fear I was feeling as the same fear I had felt when I saw Rhinoceros, and chose how to deal with it with the kind of wisdom of that play in mind.

And I don't want to paint Germany as a bad place. I will want to go back. Hildesheim I think is a little xenophobic at times - I've mentioned how I get looks like I'm from Mars when I go most places, right?

But I recently had to be interviewed for an informational movie on Exeter, and in it they asked me about adjusting to England. And I said essentially, not in these words, that jerks are an international phenomenon, and you're going to get made fun of and harrassed and even attacked (first week of Ken-Ex it happened to Rob Galloway and Steve Bertozzi), but that when you interact with another culture and meet the people, that connection is worth whatever xenophobia you encoutner. And I'd say the same about Germany.

There is a beautiful, fairy tale quality to Germany, similar to England, that comes from that deciduous setting, and also the attitudes fo the people. It seems like, at least here in Hildesheim, there is a definite good and a definite bad, and people you meet are always looking out for the best way to tell the difference between the two, whether you're on the positive end of that or not.

Or maybe that's just an escapist way to rationalize the fact that I've been treated both amazingly and like crap.

The Eye of a Needle

Recently, gas prices have become so bad that airlines have changed their back policies, from allowing two bags to go from Europe to America, down to one. This posed a large problem for me, since I'd packed with two bags, counting on having that extra 23 kg of kapow to keep me going.

So I shipped. A lot. Mostly books. In fact, almost entirely books. 27 kg of books combined. Shoot me in the head.

But even then, and even with my vacu-suck package bags, I couldn't fit all my things into 23 kg. So I dumped. A lot. Mostly old clothes, but some significant things were left to be donated to charity. My fleece blanket, for one. I'll miss that.

I also left a number of books with people as gifts, like a book of Scottish fairy tales that I bought in Edinburgh. Giving away so many books was minorly frightening.

And all in all, this packing frenzy denied me the ability to say proper goodbyes to a lot of people in Exeter, which was no fun.


Condensing everything into one bag, going over and over again and again what was necessary in my life and what wasn't, was very cathardic. It was harrowingly rewarding, picking that little bit that really mattered, and although I miss the rest, learning to live without it.

I still don't know what to make of England being gone. I have one final visit back to Heathrow, and then I leave for good. But this is a large preview of life outside of England, being in Germany, I mean. More on that next.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

There the men are as mad as he

Today I got to play Hamlet, although only for a selection of scenes (Ghost Scene, Play-Within-a-Play, and Death-Scene, to be precise). I couldn't help but feel pretentious, as we hadn't had much time for rehearsal, and here I was, holding my moleskine notebook ("my tables"), in my black jeans, my inside-out black shirt and reddish leather shoes, trying to do it justice. I ended up looking at it a bit like Luke trying to get his X-Wing out in the swamps of Degobah (you know you're a nerd when...).

And now that it's done, I wonder what criteria I was assessed on, as this is Exeter Uni and they lean more towards theatre than drama. And as I've voiced far too many times before on this blog, that's not what I expected "British Acting" to be.

Apparently, though, I was wrong.

I met with a working dramaturg recently - he's 28 and about to have his first book published on Contemporary British Drama - and he said that a lot of theatre in England is strictly devised. In the South West most of the theatre takes place outside of theatres, either as site-specific or found-space pieces, or street theatre, etc., while in London there's been a big push towards "Event" theatre. He mentioned that dramaturgs in England are having a hard time, because a large demographic of English directors - the middle aged ones from the 70's - are extremely distrustful of someone else coming in to fiddle with their work, and it's only now that a new generation of directors is coming along that dramaturgs are beginning to get some leeway. These stubborn middle-aged directors follow a trend in the English theatre though, which I found completely baffling:

English dramatists are opposed to theory.

Oddly enough, drama theory is viewed as "Continental." (The American-British spectrum doesn't even enter into it.) And so dramaturgs have a hard time getting jobs. And that did a few things for me.

First, it put Exeter Drama in perspective (if that's the culture they're playing towards, then it's not the University's fault that I get weird looks when I mention structure).

Second, it aligned a number of pieces of information that I'd heard from some post-grad students, like the fact that since Universities are publically funded, their curriculums (insofar as they are limited by their funding) are determined by the English Government. One of the post-grads chalked this up to the more leftist groups in power, who he said "found text-based theatre to be too high-brow," insisting on more of a people's theatre of clowns and street performers. So of course a publically funded University would be heavy on devising - it requires minimal sets, costumes and space, with no books outside of some about the process of devising, and no royalties. Which is less out of the Government's pocket.

Third, it made me happy to live in a country where there were privately funded Universities, and that was a first.

Fourth, it made me question British theatre, if that's truly the state of it. If it's truly more theatre than drama not just in Exeter but all of England, how are you supposed to handle things like Hamlet, which are symphonies of Action and conflict, and, even more so, are your native masterpieces? I'm sure if I looked further into the state of the British Theatre, outside of a coffee with a dramaturg (informative though it was), I'd be able to answer these questions.

But fifth and finally, it made me try to take the long view. Everyone's always saying that they're worried about the state of the theatre, just as an institution. This dramaturg's concerns were that virtually all the other art forms had been blown into the stratosphere - if you look at sculpture, painting, or music, for example, there's plenty more advancement on the avante-garde levels than in theatre, if only because realistic drama is still one of the more common things seen in theatres. And he was calling for a kind of blasting-off of theatre, of learning when you've created a strong enough story to stop and have some clowns come in and play.

And yet you get a writer like Martin McDonough, who built his career on the sheer strength of his stories (and punching Sean Connery in the face, of course), who left writing for theatre so that he could write and direct movies, because he claimed that in movies they've retained a knowledge of storytelling, and the theatre has lost that.

That would be scann'd. It seems like the problem in the theatre can't be cause-and-effect narratives constricting artists' creativity as a whole if the theatre has lost its inherent ability to tell stories.

But now, actually, I need to stop this, because it's getting late. Needless to say I'm a little perplexed by theatre, at the moment.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

A Nose Towards Belvadere

Forgive me for waxing pastoral...again...

When I wake up there is a white castle on the horizon that I can see from my room - whenever it's sunny out, and that's now more often than you'd think (for England), you can see the sunrise/zenith/sunset playing on the battlements. It's small, it's probably just a decorative castle, but it is distinctly white.

A while ago Ken and I found pictures of this castle in the Exeter St. David's train station, and it's called Belvadere Castle - it's an Exeter attraction. We've been meaning to adventure there for a while. We even went with a friend, packed a picnic lunch, and tried to walk there... but we only made it as far as the taxi station, because we didn't know how to get there... (in that case, we just had a picnic by the River Exe).

I was talking to my mom today, because I was beleagured with final-week-in-Exeter business, and dreading my 10-Days-in-Germany-Obligation before finally getting home, and she said that whenever you're on the road to do a job and you realize you've done the last necessary thing, there's always a rush of joy at the thought of taking that very first step, and pointing your nose home. And it always makes you feel better.

I can't stop pointing my nose at Belvadere though, and all the things in England that I just don't have time to do. Glastonbury! I never went to Glastonbury, and there's even the huge concert there every year. Or Cornwall - Penzance! - or anywhere further north than Bristol for that matter (in England, that is). I did go to Torquay, randomly, so that's that. I've never been to Wales... but ...

I'm looking forward to pointing my nose home though.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Hit it, Carol King!

Friday night, Exeter Soul Choir had its first concert - it was organized at the beginning of the semester by one of my friends from Music and Theatre, and they got their act together and performed in the chapel, which was built to have amazing acoustics.

The chapel is also staged in the traverse, so the audience sits on either side of a long isle, and at one end is the entrance, and the other is the sanctuary. So when you're sitting there, you can watch what's happening in the sanctuary, or you could watch the people across from you.

And I took a big advantage of this. Soul music is great, all well and good, but it's not exactly... the most British thing ever. And we were in an Anglican chapel - these are the people who made fun of the Methodists for getting to into their worship (which is sort of the spirit of Soul Choir. No grudges of course, because it looks like the Anglicans and Methodists in England might reunite after all...). And it was just strange, because here is this amazing choir, downright knock-your-socks-off amazing, singing songs like "Itty Bitty Pretty One" and dancing and clapping, or "Oh Happy Day" and going full out Gospel, or "Man in the Mirror," or "I Feel The Earth Move," or "Zero to Hero" - in which they outright acted the muscles and the oogling comments. So there's this crazy choir, and then us, the audience. We were partially drama students who were totally into it, but there was just as many brothers and parents who were slouching and looking bored. I almost got the impression there were people scowling, but maybe I was on crack.

And so much of soul music involves audience participation, clapping and all, and we were just the WHITEST crowd - and by WHITEST I mean boring and out of beat and lame, not necessarily entirely caucasian. We never sang along if we were asked, and when we were asked to clap we only did so for a little while. Everyone loved it, as far as I can tell, but it just seemed like the whole point of Soul was sidestepped by manners. I wanted to stand up with my hand high in the air and start clapping and, like, do call and response or something. Just to shake things up.

At the end everyone raved about it, people shouted for an encore (which we got), but it was like watching Chekhov in an elementary school, or Footloose done by the RSC ... they were doing this fantastic stuff, and here we were in the audience, potato-faced just staring at the choir, who were clapping and dancing and having a great time. It was a kind of exercise in incongruity.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Worst Terrorist Ever

Also the worst blogging ever, I forgot to report on a key event in Exeter history.

Exeter has a shopping mall, newly built, called Princesshay. It's in the town center, and loaded up with tons of designer shops and restaurants, from Next and Apple to Nandos (YUM) and Giraffe's.

Probably about two weeks ago, Princesshay had a bomb planted in it - specifically in Giraffe's. Specifically, in the bathroom. And it went off - it wasn't a big bomb, it was a nail bomb, and supposed to take out someone as they sat down.

The story is that it blew up in the terrorist's face, and they've since apprehended him. Apparently everyone was sitting in Giraffe's, and then there was a sound and the lights flickered a bit. And then, after they figured out what happened, they shut down the entire city center and sent the bomb squads in. Good to see everything working properly, but kind of off putting.

What kind of moronic terrorist would bomb EXETER? There's nothing IN Exeter! I don't find myself terrorized in the slightest.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Devon's a Prison?

I've been roped into doing a number of things in the start of my "summer break" here in Exeter.

I'm playing Hortensio/Sophocles, or "The Best Friend" character, in an MFA Staging Shakespeare director's final project: "The Taming of the Tamer ... Tamed." It's a splicing of scenes from The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare, and The Tamer Tamed, a play by someone named Fletcher (he has a first name, I don't know it) which was written as a kind of sequel, but much later. They're spliced so as to try to form one complete story between the two of them.

Because I was busily involved in my Music and Theatre piece - setting "Shall I Compare Thee..." to music in a variety of different devised-theatre ways, I missed the first week of rehearsal. When I did show up, they were already on their feet, and the cast was mostly American MFA Staging Shakespeare actors. So, professional actors who came here to study Shakespeare.

Needless to say, little old me, who hadn't acted in 6 months, was completely blown out of the water and brought to contrition. And I loved it. And I continue to.

A guy from "The Taming of the Tamer...Tamed" asked me to help him out with HIS final MFA Staging Shakespeare project, a 50's-style radio play presentation of Hamlet and Titus Andronicus as a "cultural hour" for a cold-war audience, until the acting turns real. It's odd. But interesting. I've never done radio drama before, and even though it's actually live, it's fun to at least touch on it. Radio drama still happens here in England. I think it's largely unheard of in the States. I wish there was more of it.

Music and Theatre is taking our final, mentioned above, to Germany at the beginning of July, as I've mentioned before. However, it's with half the people, and the comments we got back on it don't really make any of us feel like we should be presenting this piece at a scholarly conference. Hopefully, though, we'll get everything together and it'll be great.

HOWEVER, these three large pulls on my life have taught me a few things:

For one, the Music and Theatre presentation really makes me wonder about theatre outside of America. Is this what there is, not "British Drama," there's no Laurence Olivier and no intensely crafted acting - is it all just devised theatre? Because I haven't encountered much theatre at Exeter that ISN'T devised. Am I wrong to hate devised theatre? Because I really do. Not unconditionally, of course, but I really just hate it. And I don't know what I'm doing with it, and I wonder (although I've done no research into it and am utterly ignorant of what is so often reverantly reffered to as "the devising process") does anyone REALLY know what they're doing when devising? What's the state of devised theatre in America? Cause it seems to me like it's just a cheap way to get people to act, which can be taken different ways. Either it's good, because it allows people to experience theatre no matter what. Yes, that's cool, I love that part! But the other hand is this: devising theatre is what a department does when it can't pay for actual plays ... or doesn't want to. And in that, I find it a misleading financial tactic. Am I an ignorant prig, or am I actually having an honest reaction?

Secondly, the reason that I bring up financial issues is that I really want to know what the state of British drama education is. Because we're force fed this idea of British Training being the upmost state of acting perfection. It's like a club card you can wave around to get into V.I.P. rooms, a silver bullet to shoot through auditions with. People will FIGHT over you if you have British training, or at least, that's the impression I had.

I've found no "British Training" here at Exeter, and the thing that bothers me, is that there are post-grad students, who are mostly from North America, who have similar thoughts. They're largely up in arms because they feel as though they've been asked to pay three times as much as a British student, and they haven't recieved any professional skills. One that I talked to even thought he'd gotten worse over his time in Exeter. There is the perception that they have been duped into a money-making scheme by the department. And so the question is, do I really want to continue to have anything to do with, or defend, a department that is charged with that kind of conduct? I've stuck up for Exeter drama pretty decently out of the three Kenyon-Exeter drama students, though I haven't gone further above some level of ambivalence. Has my confidence been completely misplaced, even on an ethical level?

I just thought I should write about that. I missed my chance to tell Exeter exactly what I thought of them because I was blindsided by the feedback session - and clammed up. I still wonder whether it's just the fact that I'm American that's somehow coloring my vision, but I don't think so. And so, in part, I'm writing to other Americans who might be thinking of going to Exeter drama (even though I'm pretty sure none of them read this blog):

I have had a lacking experience with Exeter Drama. I find faults in how I've been treated by the administration. There are some good classes and plenty of good students, but the good classes are the theoretical ones, where there're books to use in your defense. Other than that there are few rules, few agreed-on concepts, few life-lessons that can be articulated, and little "technique" that you learn in any of the dramatic fields. Or at least, I haven't found any. But there are professionals who share my opinion.

And now I'm stuck until the very end of my time in England - Europe even - involved in a project I would rather just abandon, frankly. I'll do it, but I can't seem to find much fun in it, because I have no idea how to make it work. I think they've pushed through a system that states no requirements, teaches no methods, but still finds a way to grade, even though it's not always clear how to make what we're supposed to make. And so how can we fix something we don't know how we broke?

And I'm tired of defending Exeter Drama when it's treated me like this, when it's incensed its post-graduate students, and when it's keeping me, in part, from going and enjoying my summer. I signed on to Hildesheim thinking it would be a great experience. But I want out, and I know I can't get out. Either that, or I want to know how to fix this, but I don't think anyone will teach me. So I'm going to try to figure it out, but I don't know how well that will work. If anyone has any suggestions, feel free to drop a line.

** Sorry to sound really pessimistic, and, dare I say, emo. But I just finally sort of concluded what I thought about Exeter Drama, and I wanted to get the word out. Question me, encourage me, suggest things to me, or wait for another - brighter - post. But thank you for continuing with the blog so far. **