Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Life is not a wish-concert

That's what Tina said over roasted duck the other night in Düsseldorf. She was talking about her family and perhaps only because it's a common German saying was she also and inadvertently talking about music. Which is anyway why we were there. To see the musicians, and to start scheming up the music video I'll be working on with them over the next months.

The weather alternated between rain and sun and hail. Typical. We caught a view of the Rhine and walked through the old city, stopping at Füchschen for Altbier. C and I swapped stories about visiting large iron bridges and T stood on the steps of the big pink castle making proclamations to the empty park and there was no time to get a haircut.

Life isn't an all-request hour is Fred's translation, which probably gets closest in English to the feel of the saying. But I still preferred to think of it literally, imagining a concert of wishes - like a bouquet of roses or a herd of sheep - on the train ride home as I scribbled down impressions from the past two days. Thank you and danke schön once more to Düsseldorf for inspiring me and tiring me and messing up my head a little bit. In a good way.

Das leben ist kein Wunschkonzert. Das leben ist kein Strauss kein pride of lions. Kein bed of roses, no walk in the park. Dreh dich um. Dreh dich ab. I’m gonna kill you, man, bring dich um, bring you around to the concert of wishes playing at the Tonhalle. Hol mal deine neue Brille ab you can sing along vom Anfang an: ichwilldasichwilldasunddaswillichnicht. By heart we know it auswendig ich schwöre es dir.

A flock of birds, a crane. It’s time to repair die grosste Eisenbrücke Europas again. Schöneheitsmesse. A mess of beauty, a bounty. Flurry of electricity, cords color coded. Master the track. Leg es mal auf / fest. Sei tatowiert. Verdeckt. Versteckt. Bedeckt. Entdeckt. Entsetzt.

Achtung ich bin die Burgermeisterin. Achtung ich will etwas ansagen und alle mussen zu mir zuhören. Gefällt es dir mein Zuhause? The wood I’ve collected in my arms? The pink castle, the pond with a willow tree at the center? Good. I am looking for a window I can jump out of. Actually I am looking for two. And a rooftop, and the arms of two strong men to break my fall. Sie sollen mich verdecken können, mich verstecken können, so I can roll away and start running.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Custom-Made Wig

Usually in the theater, wigs are recycled from one production to the next, re-styled to fit the piece. They are made of real hair, which is incredibly expensive, and to make a wig is a labor intensive process, taking approximately 40 hours of work. Sometimes, like my afro from Hair, the wigs are even store-bought to shortcut this process. But my wig for the operetta that premieres tomorrow was made especially for me. It was made by Lena, who works in the Maske doing her apprenticeship at the theater. It was her first wig, and it fits like a glove.

First, she sewed together the netting for the frame. This had to be measured on my head a few times before it had any hair on it, in order to make it fit flat on my head.

The hairs were then sewn on individually - 20,000 knots, more or less. While being sewn, the wig stands on this metal contraption, and is stapled down to a wooden head to keep it from sliding around.

Once it was finished, it was styled into early 20th century waves.

Then I had another wig fitting, this time to show the finished product to the costume designer, who liked it but wanted the waves to be more exagerrated.

Before the show, my hair is coiled to fit under the wig. This process is called "schneckeln" in german - "to snail" the hair.

Then it's show time.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Revue Girl

And now this?!

It's been a crazy last six weeks. I've taught back-to-back intensive courses, traveled to Göttingen daily, graded a couple hundred essays, blah blah blah. I've also been in the heat of marathon training, so I've been grinding it out early and coming home zonked at the end of the day. Thursday was my last day of classes, and as I was saying goodbye to my students, I saw the light at the end of the tunnel - a weekend of grading (with Sunday off for a 10km road race down in Frankenberg) and I was in the clear until the second half of April.

The light at end of the tunnel was a train. Well, not exactly. As I opened the door to shoo away my class for the last time, in rushed the head of the university's language center. He wanted to talk to me right away. Gulp.

Turns out they wanted to interview me for a job. I was to prepare materials and come back the next day for several hours of interviews. I did. I got the job. The whole thing happened in under 24 hours. I'll be coordinating the Business English offerings at the language center, developing course materials, writing exams, scheduling. Half-time. Insurance. Pay bump. Entirely unexpected.

Needless to say, in the rush, I didn't get all that grading done. So after working all day Saturday and knowing I had a ton more work to do on Sunday, I had to give up making the race - which would have taken about 8 hours of my day. Bummed but undeterred, I spent Sunday morning grading exams and pushed away from my desk to get out into the drizzly early afternoon for a couple hours run over one of my regular long loops into the countryside.

On this run, I go east across the river, through newly-tilled fields (yesterday they were particularly fertilizer-ripe), then north along the river, across the state line from Hessen into Niedersachsen, through the village of Speakershausen, and then out onto the land jut at the bend in the river by Gut Kragenhof. It's there that I usually go north over a dam (back to the Kassel side of the river, although on the other side of the bend).

Lately, I've been trying to make this run a bit longer, and with more hills, so yesterday I investigated the run out to the point, where I had seen (from the other side of the river) an isolated group of what I assumed were farm buildings. It was a nice rolling path: first woods, then opening out to fields, signs posted that this was a nature preserve. As I approached the buildings, I saw a large fenced area in front, and a couple large animals... horses? no. Llamas? Alpacas? no. (wishing I had my glasses). Closer still, and suddenly, an hour into a run on a rainy Sunday when I was supposed to be in another town racing, with all the crazy things that had happened to me in the last few weeks, on a thin strip of land I had run around, run near, but never run to, I found myself face to face with two bactrian camels.

(disclaimer: not the actual camels...)

That's the way it's been lately: Even when I'm trying to get away from it all, I'm usually headed straight into it.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Video from Tanzabend II

Here's a link to the regional paper's video feature on the new Tanzabend. It's in German, but those of you who don't understand can still see a lot of good dancing. It's three minutes of your life.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

private anarchy

I love this guy. I love him for his bike tricks and I especially love him today with the sun finally out and no hat on my head. He was spinning circles on the smooth stone plaza when I walked by with my head down all winter. And today as he twirled and fell over and over I loved him even more because he did it barechested, which in a small town like Kassel is itself an act of resistance.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Remix

It was his day off yesterday and Fred went to the record store. He came through the door giddy at five in the afternoon, shortly before I had to head back to the theater for the evening’s rehearsal. I had been wandering the apartment restlessly, riffs of operetta music in my head keeping me from sleeping. Did I want to hear what he’d got? ‘Course I did. I stretched out on the couch; he played me music.

It’s been like this since 1997, which is when we first moved in together. In St. Paul, in Brooklyn, in a beach house in South Carolina and an apartment in Paris, at our parents’ houses, while housesitting...and now in Germany. Me on the couch, him playing records. 1997 is also the year Usher came out with “You Make Me Wanna,” and I probably hadn’t heard it since then. Until yesterday. Fred brought home a remix, and when he put it on, familiar R&B lyrics slipped over a slowed down ragga beat. Nice. I walked to the theater, new old sounds in my ears.

To make a remix you take something that already exists and rip it apart, eliminate some things and keep others, add new elements and manipulate the rest. David Shields talks about the remix in his book Reality Hunger as one of the many ways musicians use existing material to create new sounds. They’ve been at it for decades – from Jamacain DJs manipulating American R&B in the 1950s, to dub reggae artists recording over pre-existing material in the 1960s, to sampling in hip-hop, and DJ mashups and the mixtape. It is our modern way of making, Shields suggests, and not just in music but also writing and visual art and graffiti and movies. Yes, authenticity, originality, and ownership are called into question, but artists have already answered with their work. “Who owns the music and the rest of our culture?” writes Shields, “We do. All of us. Though not all of us know it – yet.”

We're living the remix. You and me, some turntables, a pile of books and two cats. Another late night dinner, the coffee boiling again, we open and close windows, throw away stacks of old bills, you put on another record. We do all the same things differently or we do different things in the same ways. Some things we keep and some things we throw away and new things get added. New York City remix. Midwest remix. Now here.

Fred was surprised when I started singing along to the Usher track, when I jumped up and danced. How do you know this? he laughed. I had no idea, it was just there. A song I hadn’t heard in so long but could sing by heart when he played it.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The hardest part

Every morning I forget how it is.

I watch the smoke mount

in great strides above the city.

I belong to no one.

Then, I remember my shoes,

How I have to put them on,

How bending over to tie them up

I will look into the earth.

- Charles Simic

I geared up my work game and my training game in February, teaching all day every day, hitting the body of the training cycle before two half-marathons in April and a marathon May 16 (or, tenweeksandfivedaysfromthismorningat8am). Right now I’m traveling to Göttingen every day at 11 to teach a bunch of Economics majors how to write. This means I’m getting up early and throwing myself out the door for training (Fact: I'm writing this blog post in running tights). Fortunately, the light is returning to the north, and the sun’s been breaking through mornings, and with it a combination of amnesia and self-reflection. The hardest part is usually getting my shoes on.

Using the embarrassment of a shitty winter race to get me focused, I’ve been giving running the time it needs. Training’s been consistent and I am starting to relish rather than dread workouts. The old spring’s back in the legs, the easy runs are easy, the long runs have bite.

Yesterday I popped off a 30min tempo in the early sun, and for the rest of the day it buoyed me, the feeling of ripping, actually running. I’m going over my next races in my head as I run. For the first time since October I feel like I’m going to be able to really race again. It took awhile.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

catcher endproben

Thanks to my colleagues who've been snapping pictures, here's a glimpse of the last weeks of rehearsals for catcher before the premiere this Friday.