Sunday, 30 November 2008

Looks like Christmas came early

That's right, a post from me.

I'm glad to see the German contingent in this blog is strengthening by the day.

So Advent is upon us already. How, by the way? How is it basically December already?
It also signals the beginning of the end for my stay here, as I now only have two and a half weeks left. Still, that means holiday soon, for you too. I love it here and I think I will be sad to leave, though not sad to go home. It will feel very strange I think. I have a very real life here now and it feels like it, I feel very comfortable in the city and with the German way of life. They have that famous continental relaxed nature and commmunicate a lot with each other...they just have that extra streak of German efficience.

I can also relate to everything Dominic's said about stuff here, especially public transport. I've been catch 10 or more trams a week for nearly three months now and I've seen a conductor on the tram....twice. The funny thing about the pedestrian crossing thing is that they think that in England we're really disciplined about it - i.e. staying on the pavement until it goes green - and are actually trying to emulate us. As for the audiences, crazy? Very. Standiing ovations appear to be a national pastime. The funniest moment, albeit with mostly children in the audience, was after one of the morning performances of 'Emil und die Detektive', where the actor playing Herr Grundeis, the baddy, got roundly booed, very very loudly. This was of course a positive thing because he'd played his character so well, not because he was awful, of that I can assure you.

Incidentally I had a very interesting encounter when I went to have my hair cut. The families ever more suprisingly influential links, mean that the kids get free haircuts at one of the classiest coiffeurs (if only I could double italic that word) in Düsseldorf. I'd actually got my hair cut one day before I left England, planning to not have to go again until I got back. However, for the sake of the family photos at next week's family Christmas gathering, the mother of my guest family asked me if I'd mind. I wasn't really bothered so they made an appointment. Unfortunately, work meant that we couldn't make it and as the next one, despite wandering around and shopping a fair bit, still wasn't for ages, one of them agreed to just trim off my fringe quickly. I then spent five minutes in the hands of a very flamboyant Italian man, who apparently has lived in Germany for over thirty years and still speaks it nearly as badly as me. It appeared that as long as he could still do the hand gesture (you know the Italian one), language for him wasn't an issue. The aforementioned family links have also allowed me to meet a world-renowned mime artist - his stage name is Nemo - which is pretty safe. We are planning to have him round one afternoon before I go, so he can give me a crash course in mime and 'find some hidden treasures'. I'm in suspense already.

Anyway, yes, theatre, let's go. We had an international dance festival a couple of weeks ago. This included performers coming from all over the place - Spain, France, Israel, China and even Wuppertal which is a monster twenty minutes away. What was excellent for me was that alllllllllll these people and of course the large contingent of German technicians etc. spoke English to communicate with each other. Very safe. I got a peek at a couple of rehearsals which was cool. The chinese company had some rather mental video effects and some wonderful singing, the Germans had some very interesting modern ensemble dance, and the Spanish had some pretty incredible acrobatic-y dance moves.

I've also managed to watch a couple of other rehearsals. 'Treulose' by Ingmar Bergmann, which is a tragic love story really. The staging was very minimalistic and all white with just three chairs and a few props. It worked very well I thought, and the actors successfully brought out the emotion of the piece, though of course I couldn't understand all of it. The other was a play called 'Fulle des Wohllauts' by Thomas Mann, a one-man play, which here incidentally is played by an actor also with the surname Mann - Dieter Mann. It's a very intellectual piece, I suppose it has to be to be an hour and a half long monologue. It's in a sort of palatial living room and the staging is centred around an old record player in the middle of the stage, as the story is about the life of a composer. To be honest, I couldn't understand most of it, though the acting was clear, it was more of a sort of lecture than a real play.

I also managed to have a brief look at a rehearsal for 'Der gute Mensch von Sezuan' (The Good Person Of Sezuan) by Bertolt Brecht, which premieres next Saturday. Having studied Brecht at school last year and having seen a company actually perform a version of this play, it is actually something like familiar territory for me, which is here, naturally, a seldom occurrence. It was a bit strange, as normally you can just quietly slip into rehearsals unnoticed. However, this time the lights in the auditorium stayed on so everyone could see me. This confused me to start with before I remembered it was a Brecht piece - lights staying on in the auditorium was one of his theatrical techniques. Luckily, when asked who I was by multiple actors/stage technicians, the words work experiencer with the lighting team seemed to hold the magic key and I could stay. They've got some way out staging, literally. there are white lanes designating streets, and there's one long one that goes from downstage centre right to the back of the auditorium. They also use the different moveable podiums that stretch across the stage to create different levels, like stairs. It is performed in a typically Brechtian style, that is, quite strangely, with from what I saw, hats being important symbols of status, depending on what sort you had. The play centres around Shen Te, who is good but very poor, and because she is good all the time, can not run her business efficiently. She thus creates an alter ego, Shui Ta, posing as her cousin. He is a ruthless businessman, and although she doesn't like using him, she has to to survive. With some incompetent gods, water-sellers, hairdressers and unrequited love thrown in, it really asks the question, can a person really be good, and in fact what does being good actually mean?

I've also put up Christmas tree lights. It's fun. It's also quite cool to be able to say that I've done it for a professional theatre.

Wow this is long. The Christmas Markets are now open, so Düsseldorf in the evening is now a riot of light, colour and people. Seriously, it's like a musical festival how packed the city centre is, it's mental. Saw the Emil crew do a few songs on the Christmas Market stage outside the theatre yesterday evening, as I'd gone into town to have a look round. As Christmas Markets are something we don't really do in England, just wandering round is delightful. Though I do wish that for all their organisational skills, they could sort out how to queue. The old adage that no one queues better than the English (the old joke is that the English can form a queue of one) appears to stand up. They just can't do it.

The plan is to go and see the Brecht play the day before I come back, in which case I will report then. However, it might be that I actually go back to England that day, as my school has its presentation evening and I've won a Drama prize :). In any case I will try and get a look at a full run and report, along with whatever else is going on. My experience with lighting is of course now much developed and it is only really the language barrier that holds me back. However, that is also improving as was the plan and I can successfully navigate myself through most situations.

We've also had SNOW!
Keep Smiling

P.S. As come the photos.
You can see the photos from the Sezuan rehearsal here.

Annnnnnnnnnnnnnnnd you can see the photos from my city wanderings here. This includes videos of the Emil cast singing a few songs and some MENTAL if a little sideways Christmas tree lights.

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