Sheesh. It’s been three days of teaching, and we’ve given no posts! Liza again. We’ve been exhausted from the six hours of mystery that unfold with our students in the Artpolis office, and consumed by strange and exciting Kosovar goings-on, like the weekend Polip International Poetry Festival, the confusing process of securing students, working the guest-teaching circuit, and staying out of crime scenes. Yes, our partner was robbed last night, luckily losing only a laptop from a burglar who was scared off by the office alarm. CSI came to dust for prints and examine the footprints on the carpet (the cleaning lady was there just yesterday, go figure they had to come track mud all over before we could enjoy the freshly vacuumed floor), and we were relegate behind a velvet curtain on the Artpolis stage working through mime exercises - not our morning plan, but we’re learning that “plan” in our current life situation means only “that which most definitely will not happen (but probably for the better).”
Things happen here really quickly. By that, I mean that we passed through a period of seemingly just waiting around, making phone calls and drinking macchiatos during which things were brewing under the surface that will magically appear at the last minute. We thought we had no students on Wednesday of last week and had way too many applicants on Thursday. Meanwhile, we taught a two-hour workshop to second year theatre students at the Faculty of Arts thanks to Agon (who kindly acted as our translator for the whole eclectic thing); we have some hilarious film footage of the event, in which one girl looks like she’s trying to climb out the window during one of our physical energy-building exercises.
Friday, we woke up super-early (pre-coffee, even) to be ready to brave the terrible traffic out of town. We had scheduled a workshop in Llaple Selo with the Geto Theatre crew, but when we arrived, we were met by just one girl who said that the young guy who had the keys to the space last was in Serbia for the day, and everyone who would have been able to do the workshop was in class or working for the Red Cross. Okay. A bit disheartening, but this happens.
We ended up just talking through what our plans for the workshop were, making sure to mention our Serbian connections (thanks, Danica, MOCT, and Dah Teatar) and ensure that we wanted to find a way for the Llaple Selo group to participate. I was worried that having only Albanian partners would be problematic for the other ethnic/language groups participating, but that seemed less of a concern that simply free time. It seems that two weeks - every day - is an incredibly long time for a workshop here (Though there has been some touchy political action occurring that might be gumming up the works. The President just left office when his coalition lost party and new elections are to occur at the beginning of November. Also, there was a lot of outrage over Serbian soccer fans burning Albanian flags in Italy at a soccer match. How much something like that affects a multi-ethnic project with Kosovar Serbian youth - and their willingness/ability to come alone into the capital - is hard to gauge). The student said she would try to get people to our full-group pre-project meeting on Sunday, but couldn’t guarantee who would come.
After leaving Laplje Selo, we headed to Plemetina to another Balkan Sunflowers office (this one works with the Roma community) to teach a workshop and meet with interested applicants, passing one of the country’s largest coal plants on the way (and I mean literally driving so close to the massive thing that we could touch it if we wanted to). Kefu and Driton, our contacts in Plemetina, met us at the crosswalk near the National Theatre, and we sped out of the city, singing along to Albanian rap. Kefu - a great provocatur and street artist working all across the Balkans (he’s the Kosovar Bob Marley, said Driton) - teased us about American politics the whole way, while Driton talked about the work he’s been doing working on campaigns to reduce prejudice against the Roma in France (also a musician, one of his songs was chosen to promote a Europe-wide campaign).
(pre-workshop in Balkan Sunflowers) (Kefu and Richard, arguing about drum and bass)
The Balkan Sunflowers office was small but warm (hot, with their space heater, actually), and we had a hilarious workshop with two guys, Jimmy (after Jimmy Hendrix) and Ardurr, in the center’s preschool classroom. They said if we could find a way for them to get to the workshop, Jimmy, Ardurr and another guy (maybe two) would definitely come.
So Sunday rolled around and we weren’t exactly sure who would come or what would happen. It turned out that we had about seven signed up for the morning session and nine for the afternoon session - sixteen, exactly what we’d hoped for. Huh. And with some switches, drops, and adds (today we got a ballerina), we’re at around twenty.
The groups have both been fantastic, and in different ways. The first group - now with five participants - is all Albanian-speaking (not what we were exactly thinking, but it’s how it turned out, no problem) and is made up of two students from the Youth Network, two students from the Interactive School, and a friend of one of the Youth Network folks. Two of the guys in the group are from the Fushe Kosova Ashkali community, and the rest from the Prishtina/Lipje area. We spent the first two days of the workshop introducing the groups (morning and afternoon) to physical training (in which balance has been a strong physical metaphor), character development, and some basic acrobatics; today after the CSI team left, we delved more into character using the eclectic costumes we bought in Milwaukee. It’s been fun and funny and they keep surprising us.
The second group - today with thirteen and three observers - is mixed between Serbian (the kids from Laplje Selo came!), Albanian, and Roma (the guys from Plemetina speak Serbian, too) and is more the place for experimenting with non-verbal performance. I think neither Richard nor I fully realized the difficulty of trying to work with a multi-lingual group on group-building, actor/performer training, and performance structuring. The group-building has been surprisingly easy: the physical work is easy for everyone to latch on to and follow, even though most of the group is made up of non-trained performers who run for cigarettes in the breaks. The more technical training - acro and actor training - has been a huge challenge because not everyone understands any of the languages spoken in the room. In planning out our sessions, we’ve taken to trying to explain an exercise in Chinese or grammelot to the other person to see if it’s going to be too wordy to work with the group. That being said, we’ve made it through some pretty challenging terrain and come out well on the other side. Some of the group’s gotten really good at trips and slips, we have some solid bases for partner acro, and we’ve created our own vocabulary and soundscape for body leads and isolation work. We’ll be going deeper into the group training as we continue forwards into performance structuring, using balance, weight sharing, physical dialogue of impulse and response, and images from dreams to sculpt the final piece.
It’s been a bit chaotic and we’ve passed through a series of misunderstandings, but it’s exciting. It’s rewarding to see the kids working together, it’s inspiring to see how Artpolis is doing a huge amount of vital work in youth art/leadership training for youth all across the country, and we’ve been having fun making silly connections with our landlord as we clean the spools we acquired from the cable (?) factory (more on that later). Tomorrow, the spools; Friday, a conference of sorts; Saturday, who knows. It’s best not to make too many plans.