Why Bulgaria?!

For the last few months I have been working on getting funding for a project based on Bulgarian author Aleko Konstantinov the author of To Chicago and Back which is a travelogue based on his 1893 trip to the Chicago World’s fair.  He was assassinated by a pistol shot to the heart years later in 1897 and his pierced heart is exhibited today in his house in Svishtov.  

it really is fucking strange.  you ask me “Why Bulgaria?”  and all I can do talk half-stupidly about “signs.”  Just a feeling stemming from lots of little moments and coincidences that lead me to believe that I am somehow working on the right project at the right time of my life.   

For example, I need help from a woman who received this same travel grant to Bulgaria that I am applying for.  What did she research with her grant?  the life and work of Mikhail Bulgakov, author of “The Master and Margarita” which is a book recently given to me by my good friend The Political Scientist. 

In researching theaters in Bulgaria, I come across a site created by a fellow playwright, a Bulgarian playwright, and in reading his first play I find a reference to the role of performers in society and as a social lubricant, laxative, and anesthetic spoken by a young Harry Houdini who quotes a passage concerning the circus from the book “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” also given to me by my same dear friend, The Political Scientist! 

So, there is no rationalism in this.  It is not Bulgaria itself so much as a sticky little mess of a life that sits like a clump of damp lint with little charges of energy zipping around inside of it, bouncing off the static charges caused by its own internal frictions. 

There is no Bulgaria, nor is there any choice.

Acrobat entering from the ceiling of the Toyota Pavilion at the Aichi Expo in 2005

Hello From The Toyota Pavilion

Since starting this contract, things have been very stressful and very busy.  Two fellow artists (of an original 5!) were fired the day before the premiere, and a technician who we suspected of sabotaging the other artists’ reputations was supposed to come on as a substitute.  However, at the last minute she did not take the job leaving us to cover the show load at three, which nearly killed us. We’re trying to get the other two artists rehired, though one of them might not be available any longer. 

The show itself is very fun, however, and being back in japan is something I have been dreaming of for the last 12 years!  I feel very much at home here, and very peaceful.  As if I am in my own skin.  I still do miss the more European style of life that I have grown accustomed to over the last four years, but the staff is European, so when i need a good fix of coffee, crepes, or a night of chatting about life, I can always find a way. 

It is weird, having lived in the US, European, and Japanese lifestyles so long, I really feel like I am missing something no matter which I am living in currently.  The positive side is that I feel at home with people from all over the world and that I almost always have something in common with anyone I meet, and in this business, you meet a lot of people.  In this project alone, I think I have met 50 people over the last months. 

One of the best things I have been able to do in Japan has been to meet up with the Senseis, family friends from my childhood.  They showed The Contortionist and myself around Tokyo over the course of a week, and reminded me of how wonderful they were to me and my family as a child.  I hope to make it back up to Tokyo to see them again, and also to invite them to Nagoya to enjoy the Expo.

Writing, Bulgaria, and Aleko

I try to write without editing, without formatting, and without editing, just to keep everything as raw as possible.  as if you were to tear the brain out of my head and smash it against the wall at just that moment… that is what I want the writing to resemble.

Just a snapshot of who I am and what I am thinking for 30 minutes or 1,000 words at a time.

I’m not thinking about an audience or a reader, so people may enjoy the writings or they may not.  I rarely go back to look at them, but I hope that just having written them keeps emotions at my fingertips for when I am in the process of creating a new show.

That is why I do it.

I am hoping that the first real step in the Bulgaria/travel project will come out of me tomorrow; the proposal.  Once I have that written, I hope to send it in and have the grant by February.

I am still waiting and holding my breath.

As for Aichi, well I really enjoy the Expo and the people here.  I love meeting new people who come from places that I have never been and who think in ways completely different from me.

In the same way that having a lot of seemingly random connections in our brains helps our mind function better, having a lot of random connections in our relationships with people helps our society and our personality function better.  Try to be a sticky person.

My mother is a blind lover and my father is a blind worker.  Both are following their own shadows and memories of their dreams, and are being led in wide, sweeping circles through a grey desert of moon-dust.

Me, I am eyes-wide-open but with no arms or legs; and I question my ability to understand any of what I am seeing.

I continue my attempts to wrap my brain around an entire country that I have never visited and around an author whose works I cannot even read!

I have ordered a translation of “To Chicago and Back,” but it is lost in the mail.  I have also ordered the English translation of “To Sofia and Back,” which is a book written by an English author about life in the Balkans immediately after the velvet revolution (also lost in the mail).

I am also looking for the perfect review of Bulgarian history over the last 150 years… I am looking to put all of the huge changes in history into some sort of context for myself.  The history of Bulgaria seems so turbulent with revolution after movement after war, on and on…  I want to study this idea of change as a constant.  What is travel, after all, other than adapting to, accepting, and initiating change in everything that makes up your surroundings.  It teaches a sort of self-reliance, and encourages introspection.  This is my approach to understanding Aleko and his country’s history (at least for now).

I’m also interviewing a lot of Bulgarians, artists, Bulgarian artists, people who have fallen in love with Bulgaria…  all in the hopes that I can present Bulgaria and Aleko Konstantinov as subjects of inspiration that can somehow transcend walls between cultures… If I can accomplish that; then I think I have a good chance of receiving this travel grant, and that will have me spending the spring of 2006 in Sofia.


Absinthe Makes The Heart Grow Fonder

The challenge for me is to get back to the writing end of things; I love the physical side and all of that, but I have let the writing side of me die a little bit; so this next project is going to have a lot to do with writing because it is based on the life and work of a writer.  He was also a world traveler, so there will be a lot of travel involved.  Being in Japan for this part of the project is great, really inspiring.  I am learning a lot more about race and culture and where I fit in all of it.  It is never as simple as we once thought.

As for money, well, you never know.

It is a totally fucked up way to try and do this, but I figure, if this is the way I like making shows and I like the shows that come out of it, and if we were able to make enough money to have a nice Christmas and New Years, then maybe there is a way to pull this kind of production off as a living, particularly after getting the money from this Expo project, and hopefully getting a few grants.

I have some people interested in this thing, I think, and not the sort of people you would normally associate with a theater-circus-dance show; professors from the US and the UK and Bulgaria, a Bulgarian playwright, a bagpipe player, an artist from Lithuania…

It is crazy, and with all these ideas flying around, I am getting some good inspiration.

I am drinking a lot and partying a lot and writing a lot and training only basics, strength and flexibility and a little bit of movement on my own, like what we did with The Actor.

I have really started enjoying absinthe and i am reading all the fucking time; circus school made me forget how that feels… to absorb all this knowledge and disagree with it or challenge it or just get pissed off by it; it feels like taking a breath, and practicing my writing at the same time is giving me a voice too… with the two together, I plan to scream like a fucking banshee, soon, and then we will see what happens.

The Clown wrote me to say that he had tried to send me a text message but I don’t think I ever got it – I don’t really know how to use these things.  He was asking if I am disappointed in him.  Come on.  I couldn’t be prouder, really.  As far as I can tell all this business about Soleil is what we were always talking about; getting there, taking advantage, and accepting on our terms.  If he can do that, it is all good, I already know that he is going to make great material.  It’s good to hear The Clown say that he is keeping busy before the contract with Soleil, especially after that stressful time where he was feeling like he had nothing.  The absolute best experiences I have ever had in my life have had to do with the two productions I did with him.

Of course he asked about how things are with The Contortionist, well, it is hard to say, love is always complicated.  I want to be in love, but The Contortionist doesn’t seem to understand exactly what I want to do and what drives me to do it.  This puts distance between us, and on top of that, we see each other maybe twice or three times a year.

So we will see what happens.  I fly to New Zealand to see her in a couple weeks.

Things are always more complicated, and the further we dig, the more complicated they get.



The Project

I know that I am supposed to be calling The Contortionist right now, but I have been exploding on the way home; I need to write.  And I think that she will find this more interesting than another phone conversation with me, anyways.  I am much more me when I write.  I hate talking on the phone.  I suck at it.

I need to talk about what it means to have a project.  At least a project when it is going well.  It is the culmination of having desires and passions and ambitions; and one everything stars going in the same direction, there is this sudden feeling, like when the roller coaster clicks on to the chain belt that lifts it up to the top of the first big hill.

Everything yanks you forward, and your head snaps back and all of a sudden, you have this great feeling of losing control.  The project takes over, and all of a sudden, your life becomes this project.  It becomes a source of inspiration; every second that you are alive, every breath that you take every inspiration and expiration is this fucking project.

As you are sitting on the train, you realize that you are wasting your time here.  Why not have books to read?  So you buy a million books and go through them just as fast.  Every moment that you are not doing something else; just going from here to there, you are reading.  And hey, why the hell not listen to new music at the same time?  And if there is space, let’s stretch a little bit as well.

I am watching a TV documentary, and I realize that I have grant research and visa applications to do, and why not get my laundry started and the rice cooking as well?

This is what it meant to have passion in my life, and this is the feeling that I crave.

I am in one of the most creative times of my life right now.  Every time I go out, I need to run back to my computer because my brain is busting with new ideas, words that sound so good to me at the time.

And I can’t talk to anyone when I feel like this.  This is like needing to go to the bathroom, but ten times worse because you actually need to save what comes out of you.

This is what is going to make you your living.

And I don’t feel so bad anymore that people do not understand me, because when I look around, I see that people have no purpose, they have no direction, they have no plan…

This is a rare thing, and it is the people that pursue it like a chimera that are going to get somewhere in the world.

No one has had great fortune or great work thrust upon them; nothing has come by chance.  The problem in the arts community is that we come to expect exactly that from the world.

There is a companion to the artistic nature, and that is discipline.

Perhaps the circus artist has an advantage because it is discipline that gets us to the place where we have an act in the first place – but physical discipline is nothing compared to mental discipline.

Everything comes at you like a sign.

You need to be able to read the signs and everything starts to make sense.

I used to be depressed because I thought that i needed to drink to find inspiration, but now I realize that it is not the drinking, but the company, the words that crash around you like the spray of mountain rapids of people talking and feeling important and wanting to tell you what it is that they think you want to hear.

I met an artist the other day who was excited about this new idea that she had about sitting with someone as though you are painting their picture, but the whole point, rather than getting them to stay still, is to get them to talk.  then, you transcribe as much as you can and write it down on that paper.  In the end, you have a real picture of that person, but drawn entirely out of their own words and ideas.

Some people have no ideas.

Once I realized that it was not the alcohol that was making me creative, I could go out and enjoy the potent ingredient without diluting it with its tasty companion.

I go.

And when I am there I drink life in hungrily because the world is information and life is processing that information, and the more we can take in, the more we can process, the more we are living.

I am sure that there are lives that have been lived that are worth ten times other lives.  Some by choice or by obsession, others have been forced into a mold by external circumstances.

The more I hear about Baltic and Balkan countries, dealing with various degrees of success with the independence that they have won from the soviet empire not 15 years ago… the more similar stories come up.

An understanding of the look that these people have in their eyes.

Passion is genetic.

I feel like I saw a trickle of an idea, a work, a way to make a living as my own man.  as an artist; maybe.

And by chipping away at the little rocks that were in my skull, using tools like the people I am meeting and the books that i am reading an my own thoughts, the own dramas that I am going through at this moment in my life, this trickle has become a deluge.

And I am trying to hold my footing and hoping that this is all going in a good place, and I am drinking it all in while trying to save as much of it in little jars like this one that I am writing right now.

But there is no way that I can fit all this into jars; and there is so much that is flowing away from me; never to return.

But that is where the choice comes in, and that is why art is about what you leave out as much as it is about what you decide to put in.

In fact, maybe more about what you leave out.

Someone asks me ‘why the hell do you want to do it in Bulgaria?’

Well Bulgaria chose me; there was no other choice; I intentionally let the choice make itself.

A man who controls everything in his life is a man who lives the same day over and over again.

If you can open yourself up to the circumstances and events that are constantly going on around you, you will find yourself in places that you could never find on purpose.

More jars, more jars…

I can only write about 20 percent of the ideas that go through my head.

As i am typing, I am thinking of the next thing that I want to write, and telling myself; ‘oh, save that for later, that is good’  but what actually gets written is what my fingers want to type all on their own.

Writing is a training and compassionate writing, instant writing, honest writing, is something that needs to be developed.

I liken it maybe to guitar;

At first I wanted to play sounds; the technique was in my way.

Then I wanted to be able to play anything that was in my head;

Now, I am only concerned with making the things that I hear in my head any good to listen to in the first place.

It is impossible to get all this down; there is too much information in a life;  it is infuriating.  it is like trying to download the internet or record every show on cable at once.

Random moments of any given life are not as good as the random moments of a passionate life; and then imagine that you take the tool of selection to that life.

That is when we are talking.

I feel deflated, now.  empty.

I didn’t cover everything I wanted, but now I feel the sails filling again.

On the surface, this is a project that is researching Aleko Konstantinov and Bulgarian history, but what it will Actually be on stage will be very different.

It will be like taking a pill about the last hundred years, a country that fought to be free, lost its freedom, and then won it back at great cost to itself and its people, about letting go; about being in the wrong place at the wrong time, maybe feeling that way, and maybe not.  It is about travel as a means to seek your place at any time, right or not, and about travel being a search or a journey, physical or internal.  It is about letting go; of control, of desires, or just letting go in the face of extreme pressures, like the fact that there is too much information about any one topic in life let alone life itself, to try and hold your footing.

A torrent.

It is about self-doubt, of course, and travelling as an escape.

It is about nice music and lights and movement.

It is a show, and it is about important things, but unfortunately, it will be stained by me.  I am a filter, and I am utterly mad.

I miss her.

Now I will call her if she is still up.

Travel As Source Material

Today I had a good time helping out my Lithuanian friends at the Lithuanian Day concert at the Expo, hearing the Lithuanian artists, seeing the ballet dancer (yet another Lithuanian Egle), etc.

The Painter, a Lithuanian artist living in Japan on a travel grant talked to me about the politics of the small village where she is living.  From what she says, living in a small village in Japan is still living in a small village, and I guess that can get a little frustrating.

She has plans to travel after the Expo – similar to mine, I think.  I am working on a way to get from here to Bulgaria and ultimately Lithuania and Holland, by boat and rail and car and walking; trying to use the travel as raw material on which can base my next project.

And, like her, I am just hoping that there is a way I can manage to pay for all this.

She has the idea of drawing an image out of someone’s words she’d need to be very sensitive to them in order to make it work.  Can’t wait to see what it looks like.

Hope she hung up her tanabata wishes and that they will come true.