Friday, April 18, 2003

Well, so what happened next?

So Tatyana showed up at the internet at about the same time as I ended yesterday’s letter, and together (it was her day off) we went out in search of a couple of things. The first thing we were thinking of, was a copy of the film “Searching for Bobby Fisher”. If you have never seen this, it is the true story of a boy named Josh who is some kind of amazing chess genius. The story shows us the time when this fact is realized by his parents and what all happened to him and it is quite a good show. But because it is an old movie, and the local video pirates no longer carry it amongst their cash of new titles, so we had no such luck in this endeavor. It is one cool thing about being here is that you can buy, for about three dollars, the movie of your choice, and in a lot of cases, you can buy these tapes some amount of time before the actual theatre movie comes out. I bought a copy of the Spiderman movie at the Warsaw market for about $5 maybe 30 days before it opened in the theatres. The Star Wars film was available for about the same amount of time there. Here it is just the same, only because of the extreme poverty, you can only get VHS tapes and not DVD’s. So while shopping I saw quite a few titles that I know to just be in the theatre right now. Interesting thoughts of copyright infringements and lost royalties come to mind. But at the same time, considering the actual content of a lot of these films and the extreme poverty of the locals, I think it probably works out for the better. And I don’t think anyone here would disagree.

And along these lines, I am also seeing a bit of the dilemma that the ever-present poverty is causing in terms of the vision of what constitutes a good and decent society. And of course this is ironic considering that under communism, this place was the most gentle place to live anyone ever saw. The sheer weight of self-policing was incredible and all for the benefit of a peaceful “normal” life. Now however, it is the gangster who rules and there is less and less social order. I say that the gangster rules because a decent person has absolutely zero chance of getting by here any more. There is simply not enough jobs or money or opportunity. There really is simply nothing to do except to go dimly out into the world and make something that resembles a face. It is ridicules. There are many people here who blame the president, Alexander Lukeshenka, but this is not enough to really justify the problems. The lack of money here is more then simply a systemic problem, and more also than a cultural or a simply economic one. There simply are no easy answers.

But as I said, we had no luck in finding this tape, but, as we were at the market I had a chance to visit my fruit girl there. She was a friend of mine the last time that I had a chance to be here, and she was one of the Belarussians who wrote a letter of recommendation for me when I was in Poland. She looks good, life seems ok, and I got quite a nice greeting from her when she saw me and this was nice. We also stuck out head into the bike shop that they have at the market. Now, when I say bike shop, you must know that this is really only a very, very tiny place where there were only five or six bikes for sale and these bikes never cost more than, say, $50. I asked the guy if he could even get stuff for sport bikes, and he simply made some snide remarks about how these things were simply European things. Tatyana told me that what he said translated, at least in meaning to something like “don’t play with my head”. I don’t know if this was true or not, but it happened this way, and there you go.

I still think that there is some reason to work a shop here, but I think a lot of the enthusiasm that I had for the project is beginning to ebb. And this is simply for the reasons for the poverty I mentioned above. Belarus is very hard on outsiders. During my history, I have had the fortune to be seen as a local, but on this trip, for several reasons, I don’t feel that this is so. I am also not sure if this offends me or not. I suppose if we are talking about attitudes and what sort of things are important I peoples lives, we should, inevitable go to some reasonable source for the definition of what constitutes peoples motivations in their situation. In most cases, you either use some personal desire to do something, or if the culture is more selfless and ego-less, at least a drive for the cultural/economic development of the whole would be the heart of a places motivation. But in the case of Belarus, this is simply not so. In Belarus, the tightrope act that is played here is very pervasive. The difference between getting paid by a government, and not getting paid by a government is quite large. In the old days there was effectively one company, one boss, and everybody worked for that one company. The referendum, and I hope I got that number right the other day, was effectively firing 200,000,000 people. But nevertheless, the inherent, at least ideological nature of the culture, is still that of a place waiting to be told what to do.

Now certainly Mr. Stalin made a good enough case for preventing hero’s from stepping forward, and all of us from the west have heard Solgenitsen and about his gulag and Siberia and about 20,000,000 or so who were pruned out of the tree for some reason or other. All true. However, those who are claiming to be the boss and to do this talking, not only are not the people doing the paying any more, but they no longer seem to have or even feel any vested interest in the lives of its people. The current idea of a forced lack of independence by virtue of an unstoppable poverty is simply not right. And if the former Soviet Union was indeed simply fascism under the disguise of living together well, this new big brother doesn’t even have Lenin and Marx to hide behind. Which of course, is the foundation of a word called corruption. But in Belarus, even this is some accepted ideology of what is considered the “new normal”. And that this change is still so, even after the absolute change in character of the town and all of its residents over the course of the last 13 years without the necessity to remember each other, I am simply not sure beyond simple fear or the false panacea of position of why they still cling to the archaic values (and by this I mean trappings of order) with a grip of steel. That grip simply must come from fear and fear alone, because there is simply no philosophical reason to continue it. And my thinking, is that this fear is propitiated as much from the inside as from without.

Now, I am one who does not believe in the allowance of a rape of a culture. And certainly, to my eyes, the European banks have taken far more then they have given to the eastern European countries they have had easy access too. And, that the Europeans have been kept from Belarus by the disallowance of the west’s freedom to intrude is neither good nor bad to my eyes. It is good because eventually, it would only lead to an even further lack of disenfranchisement of the population, but it is bad because at this level of poverty, there is nothing to franchise! But with the former Soviet Union’s secrecy still intact, or at least the front of it, Belarus simply has no real visible means of supporting itself without working together. The flow of goods services, and especially new money, is so small, that I am afraid we are not looking at growth, but the formation of some new and amazingly stubborn culture of poverty that simply should never be. And I say this, because there is no one really to blame in this now. Not the individual, nor the state. And Ironically, it is a part of the culture to worry about who is guilty more then what was supposed to be done. This is still true, and because of this, nobody is willing to take responsibility.

Anyway, what all followed this bike trip was a more then interesting series of events concerning the acquisition of a new Nadia for the play. After the bike shop, we went over to school number 12, ostensibly to look for a lady who I had met via her son while talking to the school of performance arts. But in looking for this woman whom was simply not where she said that she would be, we were invited to speak to the students at this school directly, and this turned out to be a really cool thing. Tatyana and I were invited into three classes to talk to the students, and we made a pitch for an actress to play the part of Nadia as well as asking if there was a possibility of someone other that me playing Robert. I saw a couple of girls who could play the part quite well and we got some interest from them as well. This was a nice thing and a new thing and Tayana made no short notice that it was her presence that made this thing seem a bit more “socially acceptable”. I agree.

And, so, A few Nadia’s in the pocket, after a stop in at the flat for a bowl of soup, we went to the theatre for our meeting with the director of the theatre, Ivan Inanovich, who was not there. However, The director of the show, Yelena Giorgina was there and we talked a bit with her about acting, actors, modern theatre, Stanislowski and method as well as about Yelena’s trip to the USA. I also had some chance to talk about the play a bit, and I began to get the impression that these people had not thought of the script in the manor that I had written it. And actually, it was not that they might have misinterpreted it, it was as if they had never read the damned thing at all! Now, this may be seen as normal, and I may indeed have become overly paranoid after a years deprivation of freedom, and art is, after all in the eye of the beholder. But the problems here are far more pervasive then the normal ego and/or laziness of the theatre.

Now, perhaps what happened had a lot to do with what I was talking about before concerning the economics of the modern Belarussian world, and how people are perceived. But more likely, what happened is that simply the theatre had failed or refused to see the play I was writing on even more then a cursory level. What was shown to me, was that they though my admirable characters were not admirable, and my bad guys were seen as heroes. I tried to explain to them that just because Edward drinks himself into a stupor in this moment that the play is in, this does not mean the guy is or was an alcoholic. And this must be true, because if this was all the guy was at the start, it diminishes the whole of the play and especially the vision of our Nadia as some of ideal of femininity. And the theatre even refused to talk that Ideal seriously, and this even after we actually had a good potential Nadia show up (see later).

So there was a bit of an argument. But if the Russians seem to have completely changed their mind as to what sort of characters they find admirable, well what the hell am I even doing here? This is certainly a different thing than seven years ago, but it is also a much different thing from last year. In my writing of Pod Kablukom, the horribly unlucky Edward, loses the beautiful Nadia to the ever fortunate Robert for a period of a few days. But to the new Russian sensibilities, Edward must certainly have had it coming, and it is Brother who is the real hero for the show by at least trying to get some money off of the American. Well, don’t ask too much about whether or not my still sore from being raped by Poland ass wasn’t burned a bit by this development. I mean, not only are we having a problem deciphering the art, but apparently these guys do not even dig their own people any more. What is good is bad and what is bad is good. And Not Michael Jackson “Bad” either! And so here I am staring at YET ANOTHER PROBLEM in that because the play I wrote was quite sympathetic to a Belarussian culture that had a great history of being calm and workaholic, I am now being told that I am… well, a FUCKING YEAR TO LATE TO TALK TO THEM! This new Belarus seems to have learned pretty quickly from Poland the possibilities of the quick buck and are (after agreeing that Nadia was indeed only a whore), is busy scheming away looking for it. Well this isn’t very good! I mean, I am sitting at the table and trying to tell the director that Edward is not guilty, and neither is Nadia and neither is Edward. I am trying to show them that the tension of the endeavor comes from the fact that nobody is guilty, and that it was simply a matter of a turn of events, and she is telling me that she thinks that it would be better for all of them to be guilty and to play the thing like a fucking crime drama…

Well I’m sorry, but if Nadia is whore from the first word, you have no show! If Edward was drunk before hand, If Robert only a lecher, we have no show! If any of the arguments are that simple, there is no play and I just wasted… WASTED a year of my fucking life. And to be honest, I am a bit insulted to be thought of this way. So maybe they simply didn’t get it, maybe it is a matter of time and understanding… I don’t know, but I am telling you that I am, and was, getting more than a little pissed off. But then, just as I was thinking that it was all going to be a piece of shit, in walks two of the girls we had pitched at school number 12 that afternoon.

One of these girls was not particularly attractive and this created a problem for her in reading the lines and presenting herself, and of course, she was the one who was coming for the audition. The other one, the one just coming along for the ride… Jesus Christ! If there was such a thing as the most beautiful girl in Belarus, this was her! Tall, a body, perfect skin and carriage, and, just for good added measure, she is just enough of a bitch to be elected queen. This, was our princess; this was out Nadia. So we asked her to read, and of course, she had talent. And after she left, perhaps 10 minutes later, yet another group of girls came, and the afternoon turned out to be only for auditions.

So, are we a go? I don’t know anything. In America we say, anything is possible. In Poland, they said it is possible, but quite difficult. In Belarus they only say: It’s impossible. I am trying to loosen the bindings from the inside and not from without. I am doing what I am doing. And I am not trying to do this to set these people up for a rape from the west, but rather to allow them some chance to defend against it. I want new ideas, and new chances. But I’m telling you: If the appearance of 9 virgin dancing girls all want to put their Just before the convent energy into my play isn’t enough to move my mentally constipated director to just begin the fucking production… I quit.