Theater Farts

My Confession to Cate Blanchett’s Uncle

Okay, My Dear Darlings, today I am going to reveal something about Plastikoff, that is to say, about myself. I don’t know how many of you want to know anything about me, but the reason for my openness is not what you think it is.

I usually say something about my drinking and s**t like that at the beginning of my blog but not today. Today I want to put a Freudian hat and dissect my bitterness and itch to be inappropriate (sometimes) in public.

I should say that a part of this entry was written last summer, but I decided to release it today. I think the time is right and besides I am ready to open another bottle of Port right now (smiley face).

Cate Blanchett, Anton Chekhov and My Confession

I am sure that not so many of you were able to catch a production of “Uncle Vanya” with Cate Blanchett at City Center last summer. It ran only for a few days and, of course, the ticket prices were way too, but somehow understandably, steep for any theater lover to be able to afford it. I was one of the lucky ones who got a ticket because of my theater loving friends who let themselves splurge on theater time after time. I barely can afford to buy a chicken wing at some fried food place, so to spend more than twenty dollars on anything was just too utopian considering my today’s salary. I am actually quite annoyed that only some “privileged” people can see theater in the city nowadays. Art is an escape and art is needed for all the people. Well, but that is quite a different topic to talk about and maybe I will return to it in another entry which, most likely, will be alcohol induced… okay, okay I will not go there today, so let me go straight to describing those feelings I had when I was watching the production of the Sydney Theater Company at City Center.

Yesterday, it happened so, I sent my supporting materials for a residency in a theater. Yes, that’s right, Plastikoff sometimes sends things out like that. (Beats his fists to his chest) I am an artist who needs somebody’s approval too. You know, I can’t survive on one chicken wing a month. I need some potatoes with it. Well, okay I will cut my spending on alcohol, but (he beats his fists even greater) I need it for my creative juices to flow and who the duck are you telling me what I should and what I shouldn’t do? (Gets himself together) Ups, sorry, I got a little carried away. I hope you’ll understand.

As always, as it is with me, everything was coming down to the last minute. This whole mad rush made my concentration work to the fullest. This last minute business always feels like the last day before a show is released. It is stressful but when it’s done, it feels like I have accomplished something. I thought I did well (Update: no, I didn’t get the residency (sad face)). Of course there is always place for improvement. I also understand that my understanding of what is good not always coincides with other people’s understanding of the same. That is okay, because at the end of the day I am the one who is going to judge my work from my point of view and my point of view might be very different from your point of view, so in Plastikoff’s head Plastikoff is always right (smiley face).

So let me go deeper into that ducklingly ducked Plasikoff’s mind and see how, for example, I found myself critiquing THE “Uncle Vanya” with THE Cate Blanchett on the same day I was refused the residency.

Okay, here it is, my confession:

I don’t know what got into me, but I found myself hating the production of “Uncle Vanya” last summer. After I was awarded with a ticket, which cost close to two hundred dollars, I was farting cranberries in my seat while watching it. What “bothered” me was not the production but the fact that I was sitting in the audience watching “Uncle Vanya” while my whole body screamed how badly I wanted to be involved with the show or be the one who wrote the play. Well, “Uncle Vanya” is not my favorite Chekov’s play. Why the heck it gets produced so many times, I have no idea? I was farting pancakes and believe me nobody should be in the same room when I do that. You would understand me if you wore my shoes but since I can’t afford to buy them I’ll leave you here with what went through my mind after the show.

There were a few elements that “bothered” me when I was watching the production. I know it feels weird when I say this this way but I like dissecting myself and see who I really am when I talk about somebody else’s work. We all see imperfections in others because we have the same weak points ourselves. We discuss and hate the very thing we dislike in our work and in… well, you got the poin. I am not a saint (pffff, sorry that was Port talking) I have many problems and flaws.

Now, when I say that “Uncle Vanya” is still not my favorite Chekov’s play what I am really saying is this: “Damn, this Chekov’s thing is being produced all over the world nonstop for more than a hundred years. Why can’t I achieve this kind of greatness; instead I am sitting in the audience and watching this play which was written by some dead Russian in the nineteenth century. Are people still finding this works amazing? Just think about it, there were three productions of “Uncle Vanya” in New York City alone last year. Why? Why can’t I be the one who gets produced at the City Center? Why?”

Chekov is a case to envy about. He is a writer that every playwright dreams to become during their lifetime. I am not alone in thinking how the duck did he do it?

This was my first realization of why I was feeling angry about the production and Chekov.

Of course, the production was great, there is no question about it, but there was apparently something that blew my mind. The thing that hit me the most was the fact that I was still to achieve the greatness of Chekov (it is funny that I am already thinking about my “greatness” while I have done none of my writings I should’ve had done).

Another part of my “dissatisfaction” with the show was that I “have” or “had” problems with Cate Blanchett’s performance. Bullocks, I had no problems with her performance whatsoever. I think she is one of the greatest actresses. What bothered my psyche in this case was the fact that Cate Blanchett has already achieved a real star status with her work on film and on stage. I want to be where she is right now and that was what my eyes caught first when I saw her on the stage. My inner voice was screaming: “Why not me, why I am not Yelena?” (ups, sorry.)

While watching somebody perform on the stage, you realize that this is a real person, right now, performing in front of you. I was looking for imperfections in Blanchett’s works as if saying to myself: “See, she is not perfect too.” I was demeaning her in a certain way that satisfied my status at that moment.

There was another discovery that came to me that night. I think this one was harder to catch since it involved a great director and his production of “Uncle Vanya” I saw back at my home country while being a theater student. Eimuntas Nekrošius’s production of “Uncle Vanya” I saw a very long time ago left a deep dent in me. He was one of the first directors who put a Chekhov’s play not the way everybody used to see it. Nekrošius put his own twist on it and Director’s Theater was born. The Naturalistic Theater died and nobody showed up for the funeral. There is no way to see the production again, but if anything directed by E. Nekrošius comes to your town, go see it. There are a few clips on Youtube for you to get a taste of his genius. Go and find them!

I want to be where Eimuntas Nekrošius and Cate Blanchett are. Yes, there, I said it. That night I was watching and comparing things that were not comparable. E. Nekrošius’s production and the production with Cate Blanchett were very different but both were professionally staged. They both had amazing actors in it and none of them was me. I was ripping those productions apart as a hungry coyote in winter because they reminded me of who I want to be and what I want to achieve. Phew, that might be a little too much, but thank god I am drunk right now to fully understand it.

I applaud Cate Blanchett. She keeps herself grounded and goes to do theater while money wise she could be better doing film. I don’t believe that she is not getting at least ten scripts a day from various writers, directors, producers who want to work with her and who appreciate her talent. (Update: go and see Cate Blanchett in “Blue Jasmine” (film by Woody Allen). Blanche = Blanchett (“Streetcar Named Desire”) – you will get the reference after the film! Terrific!)

I guess my confession is quite clear here. I am glad that I am able to say these things openly. One thing I know for sure, I don’t want to be one of those people that moan about other people’s successes while sitting and doing nothing. I like that this discovery energizes me to keep doing what I love doing, work in theater, in film and just create. So, I should say, thank you Cate and Anton for giving me the opportunity to discover something about myself.

Ah so nice, must be the Port talking (smiley face).

Theater Farts

To Crêpe or not to Crêpe or the Art of Baking Theater. Now What? A Cooking Segment?

Okay my Dear Darlings, Muffin (what?) of mine. It’s a late Sunday night or should I say an early Monday morning. I haven’t had my glass (or two, or three) of my favorite Port and the letter “t” is stuck on my keyboard. God, I am hungry! What a duck? Quack, quack!

You might ask, what’s up with all that “t” business hap’nin’ here? And I’d say, it’s never about the “t” it’s always about that damn Port. I don’t remember why I was not able to get it. Was it that I woke up too late and the liquor store was closed or was it that I had literally one dollar in my wallet when I got there? Hmmm, in any case, I am sober now and I might be not as funny as I think I am when I’m drunk. Oh yeah, definitely, this sentence, right there, would be a killer (who the ef says things like that?). I just need to hold that glass of sweetness in my haaand… Ughrr, now I need to pretend that I am drunk? How will I be able to find an excuse for my offensive diarrhea and theater farts? And I believe there will be a few folks that might say, hm-hm, you, Mister Plastikoff, are banned from theater society because of your foul mouth (god, they know that I’ve been drinking). I would say to that, you, so and so, very important theater person, must have some of that Port I just had and you will see. Life will show you how gray can become bright red and that will be just because you might be kissing some pavement after those delightful drinks you had just a few moments ago. Now see, I am not that evil anymore (smiley face).

Since my good friend tractor (about him a little bit later) woke me up early this morning (yeah, I started writing this in the morning, can you believe it?) with his laud bangs into the pavement right outside my windows, reminding me that I still live in New York City, as if saying, how dare I sleep past 8AM when everyone is rushing but nobody knows exactly where, I decided to use this time, disturbed from my three and a half hours of sleep, and write. If my friend tractor doesn’t care about my sanity and bangs the pavement like some kind of lunatic who escaped from an asylum after a weekend of partying with his buddies, I will not care about Monday too and talk about… food. Yes, that’s right, about food and theater at this early hour. A little confused? Don’t be! You probably slept enough!

I realized that it helps to be awaken by the City’s tractor this early in the morning, especially if you want to write a critique or a review about something artsy. It really doesn’t matter what you write about. You need to be affected by an uncomfortable thought that just would not leave your head till you put it on a piece of paper, or, in this case, in the oblivion of pixilated something that my mind refuses to understand at this hour. Today, it happens so, I am going to talk about crêpes, pancakes and blintzes and… theater, of course. Go figure why. Maybe I am hungry or maybe I am just plainly disturbed by the loud bangs outside my windows or maybe my downstairs neighbors are cooking something that got me into thinking, why do researchers “find” that early birds are happier than the night owls? But I digress. This might become a series of “early-with-no-sleep” blog entries into my slogosphere that everyone is so eager to never read. That’s right, I get this sarcastic on myself (and my writing) time to time, especially when I am disturbed by my friend tractor’s banging this early in the morning.

Well, as you already, perhaps, and most likely got it, this night owl of yours is very disturbed by these early birds digging something outside my windows on this gloriously nice morning (ha, just look at this, a nice weather again!). If not these early, happy birds digging some holes in the pavement, I wouldn’t be telling you about things I am just about to tell you. Bang!

My friend tractor decided to shut up and move away as if sensing my hand’s movement toward my, supposedly angry, pen. My dead end street became the quiet street I always knew again.

As if pretending that I am some kind of cook this morning I am going to talk about crêpes, pancakes and blintzes and compare them, that’s right, to theater and performing arts.

Let me just get a little bit more comfortable in my chair that has sensed quite a few farts of mine. Ups, I meant… oh never mind “arts,”“farts” it all rhymes and I get confused sometimes. When you’re finished reading, just call it an “f” word, if you wish. I am leaving it open for interpretations. I have no idea what that means though, but just remember the key words – tractor, Monday morning and farting loud sounds outside my windows.

Let me just pretend that I, for a few moments, become the lovely Julia Child who said: “Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.” Paraphrasing her I would say: learn to find differences between crêpes, pancakes and blintzes and apply these differences to your art.

(In the voice of Julia Child) “…no one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.” So what are these differences between crêpes, pancakes and blintzes? They all are made from the same ingredients: flour, milk and eggs and are baked on fire. But why do they have different names then?

Back at my parents’ house, in the native land of mine, we had a great tradition, to eat blintzes every Sunday morning. This tradition was not really a “tradition” as per se. It was born from our love to blintzes or pancakes, as Americans would say, or crêpes, if you feel like speaking French all of a sudden. An amazing thing about that tradition was that we never knew what kind of blintzes we were going to have one or another Sunday. My mother was very creative about them and would change things around while making them. One Sunday we might eat blintzes the original way: plain with sour cream and homemade preserves on top. Another Sunday we might get blintzes stuffed with farmer’s cheese, apples or even meat. Sometimes the type of blintzes depended on the harvest we were colleting from the fields or ingredients my mom would find in our fridge. Blintzes and my mother’s mood were also sometimes interconnected. The flour based blintzes would become potato blintzes if my mom, of course, felt that she had more time on hands to work on those potatoes. If she just made fresh cheese from our home made sour milk, our blintzes would turn into tasty gooey-cheese filled delights. The quality and flavor of those blintzes depended on the ingredients that were purely grown on our farm. Blintzes were so rich nutritionally that we, after eating them, would have energy for the whole day. Considering that we usually had blintzes on a Sunday, we would eat leftovers throughout the day with no complaints whatsoever.

I know I know you want me to get to the point faster. It is a little too long winded for the New York type of speed reading, one might say. But bear with me, that’s exactly why it is the way it is.

Forwarding a few years to the point when I was introduced to American pancakes for the first time, I was amazed that in America to make pancakes you needed only one ingredient, a box with a premixed stuff. I just needed to add some water and voila I had fluffy brown pancakes on my plate in almost no time. Pretty soon I forgot my old ways of making my blintzes and was baking pancakes in no time from boxes bought in supermarkets.

Forwarding a few years to now, just recently I was invited to have some food at a crêperie. The name sounded very exotic and expensive. We ordered crêpes with cheese. The price was quite steep so I expected something very special to come on my plate. To my surprise I was presented with blintzes with cheese my mom used to bake at home and since I knew how much one spends making them, I was looking at my bill in awe and disbelieve as if somebody wanted to rob me in the bright day light.

So let’s talk about theater and performing arts now. What do crêpes, pancakes and blintzes have in common with it? We have a few sayings in my mother land that describe somebody’s work using blintzes as a reference. When somebody is making a lot of work and is concentrating in quantity rather than quality we say: “he’s baking (stuff) fast like blintzes.” When somebody is unsuccessful in making something, we say: “he burned his blintzes.” And when somebody is very generous, successful and in other ways extravagant with their work and effort, we say: “he baked a cake instead of a pancake.” Well maybe the last one I made it up myself just to prove a point I am going to discuss next.

Living and creating in New York City have its own cons and pros. The City is big and it is in a constant demand of everything. You don’t need to travel anywhere to be able to see and experience the world and its cultures. The world comes to you and explodes in your face with all possible colors. You say, “great!” and I agree with you. New York City is changing every minute. It is much easier to bring a finished product than produce the product in the wilderness of super-talented and great people in New York. But let me explain something here. To be able to survive in New York City is an art form in itself. Nobody got a “how-to” book for how to actually create art in the City. That’s why this line “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere” rings so powerful and true.

Here you can find every type of theater: from sparkly Broadway to dungeons-filled-with-fake-blood-splashing independent performances. It is very easy to lose yourself in the jungle of all this madness. The selection is huge and sometimes you might feel like you are in a big supermarket surrounded by all these sparkly packages that contain something that you want to try. It is endless. There are literally not enough days in a year to see all the shows in New York City. You might decide to buy an experience or a few regardless of the price though. After opening “a package” suddenly you might realize that what came out of it is filled with fluff and artificiality. Mui expensivo and no bueno.

I am not a big fan of big Broadway shows. I don’t know why but I find watching a cabaret or burlesque show more exciting and inspiring than, let’s say, watching the Spiderman on Broadway. I am here not to say that one show is better than the other, no. I’m here to draw some tendencies and make notes for myself.

Even though I find Broadway shows fluffy-out-of-a-box-full-of-artificiality I should also add that I like pancakes too. Yes, it might not always taste like real pancakes and you might need to put a lot of syrup and butter on top of them, but it is what it is, and it’s usually called pancakes.

Here is Broadway and there is independent theater too, where artists shed blood and flesh to be able to perform in front of a handful of people. There is certain “sickness” going around in these circles. A tendency to make a lot and cheep art and not to give the time needed for this art to grow and to be more flavorful is present. There are too many pancakes made and a lot of them are burned.

There are a few people who disregard the pace of the City and allow themselves to give that precious time for their art to mature. These artists usually leave New York City for a few days or months in need to collect the energy and ingredients for their pancakes, ups, I mean art. Their recipes are exquisite, natural and very “organic.” It’s always a huge pleasure to see a show created by an auteur or a group of people who say “no” to artificiality and are giving their time to grow their art naturally.

What I see in New York is that a lot of talented people and their art suffer just because they take shortcuts using too many gimmicks. Their pancakes become chemistry filled cookies or something you could use to kill people instead of giving them the needed juices to energize their being.

Coming from a theater tradition where directors spend almost a year, if not more, developing and putting a show on the stage, to me, it seems, that this “cookie making machine,” like, let’s say, Fringe Festival, is quite drastically foreign. Of course there are some good things about the festival, but I truly believe that an artist needs to give enough time and energy for their art to blossom. There is no need to make everyone run like headless chicken picking up stuff on the way out after performances. Why run like some lunatics from a mad house as if the mad house is just about to explode. The only thing that is not exploding there is the quality of work produced during those runs.

Yeah, one might say, but there are so many theater groups in that festival, there is no time for more elaborate shows. This is an excuse that never ever should come up. This making of all these half-ass-baked shows hurts everyone in this business. An audience member who catches a show like that will think twice about spending their time and money on another show in any theater.

But there are other problems. Let’s take a look at Broadway shows. “Spiderman’s” being on Broadway is the epitome of all clichés that are put in one place to get an audience member to pay for the show. Somebody very thoughtfully developed ingredients to make this show a “success.” There are so many scandalous stories that follow this show that one could write a whole book on how to make a show without making it… Oh wait, there is a show… Oh never mind, just add some water…

Producers spend tremendous amounts of money to make those artificial ingredients. They put it in a box, attach some sparkly ribbon and voila – ze show! It is sad for me to admit, but I have absolutely no interest in seeing “Spiderman” on Broadway ever, so let me leave this box of mix for pancakes on the shelf and move on to shows that need my and your attentions.

It is always an event in my mother land (of course in my mother land, where else?), when somebody releases a show, almost any show. Creators spent at least six months or more on it growing their own natural ingredients that need time to ripe. The blintzes made from these ingredients are full of nutritious goods. There are quite a few burned blitzes too and I am generalizing a lot again, but for my comparison I like when I say, blintzes are tastier at the party you weren’t invited to.

Just a few days ago I read a blog entry by a director whose show was in the Fringe Festival. She was sharing her experience and what she learned from being there. She gave me all the answers to why I am not interested in the Fringe, even though that’s a platform for a lot of unknown artist to be discovered. Do we need to be discovered to be successful in this business? I don’t quite understand why artists have to be put in extremes. The quality is what I am looking for in a show, but it seems that Fringe is more involved in baking as many pancakes as possible “to feed the crowds.” Every half baked show I experienced makes me think twice if I want to spend my money on another one. Who can I trust when even reviews are bias, because someone is being paid to review a show in a “good light,” putting that sparkly cellophane on a substance that is… well you decide yourself what.

Now how about those crêpes, you ask? Do you have a recipe?

Here it is. To have an expensive and successful show you need:

1. A star that would bring audiences

2. A venue that is in the City and is very expensive and hard to get

3. Reviews that would be smashingly great and most importantly in New York Times

4. It is almost always better if the show has a foreign name attached to it

Now mix it all up and you’ll get the overpriced crêpes.

P.S. Thank you very much! Gone to feed my chicken.