Dobar dan! (Good afternoon!)
Two days ago I experienced one of the most epic days I have yet to experience at CC. John Gould (one of our professors) even said that it was one of his favorite days at CC, and he’s been here a lot longer than I have!
Our final performances took place all over campus and were wildly different from one another. It’s one of those things where you kind of had to be there, but I’ll try to give you a little taste of each one.
1. First, Chris gave a long and convincing monologue, which seemed to be about a romantic relationship, but was actually about nationalism. I think a lot of the political science majors in the class realized this right away, but I didn’t realize it until Chris made the big reveal afterwards, and it blew my mind. I suddenly saw every detail of the speech he had just given in a new light. It’s amazing how much clearer politics can become when it is mapped onto interpersonal relationships.
2. Then Anya, Lauren, and Shauna performed a multidisciplinary piece–involving painting, dancing, and storytelling–about the experience of growing up in a military family. There were so many layers to it: it touched on freedom of expression as opposed to duty, what constitutes a home, and how to come to terms with one’s family, among other things. All of this was centered on the interplay between various bright colors, on the one hand, and white, on the other hand.
3. I didn’t have much time to process it all before we drove to a local middle school for John Russell and Tim’s performance. We were asked to enter the cafeteria and each sit down at a different table of sixth graders. We were then supposed to engage them in conversation and work different facts about dropping out of high school (we were given a sheet to work from) into the conversation. I was absolutely terrified to do this, but I found a quiet table with two girls and begun talking to them. I cheated by merely giving them the sheet to read if they wanted to, instead of reading it to them. I still had a good conversation with them, though. Next, John and Tim staged a slow motion “race” in the middle of the cafeteria. One of them was a lot faster than the other, but they both got to the finish line and both got graduation caps. A lot of the kids got really into the “race” and were cheering them on, which was sweet to see. It’s impossible to say if the performance will have any long-term impact on those kids, but it did seem to inspire them for the moment.
4. Next, we went to the quad, where Mac, Nawar, and Zach had set up a huge canvass. Mac painted the word “release” on it, and then they began inviting people to throw paint balloons on the canvass. It was really fun, and created something beautiful as well. The project was meant to offer a “release” for all the stressed out CC students trying to make it through Fourth Week. A lot of people gathered to participate and watch, and everyone seemed to be having a good time, so I would say it was a success!
(Crowd not pictured–everyone had to stand back to avoid getting splattered!)
5. We had a lunch break and then, back in our classroom, Luigi and Aaron performed a Brechtian agitprop piece mocking the current government of Venezuela. It was absolutely hilarious—I couldn’t stop laughing throughout the whole thing. Describing it punchline by punchline wouldn’t do it justice, but all I will say is that I got a square of toilet paper on which was written “revolution, revolution, revolution” as a souvenir.
6. Taylor’s performance was next and it darkened the mood instantly. It was about race, immigration, and the “American Dream,” and involved re-mixed voice-overs, including some poetry by Langston Hughes. It also involved Taylor sleepwalking with a white box (that said “dreamer” upside-down) over his head and later with a black garbage bag over his head. There was an all-white bed, white pajamas, a little white lamp, white walls, a white ceiling, and a white floor. And there was eerie, all-black visual art scrawled on the walls. It gave me chills.
7. I didn’t want to follow that, but my project was next. I took the class to the library and, acting as a character called “Official History,” I began reading from a book on CC history that I had found in the library. Ever since returning from Serbia, I had been collecting personal stories from various kinds of people. All the stories were about things that happened to people while at specific locations on CC’s campus. I gave slips of paper containing these stories to the class and asked them to read the stories when something in the history I was reading inspired them to do so. For example, I read a passage about William Slocum and various people read events that had happened in Slocum Hall. When each person had read from all slips of paper they had (most people had two), they ran to the location the story took place in, found an object, ran back, and gave me the object. As that happened, I slowly transformed from the character of Official History into myself, and began telling my own personal stories related to the objects they brought me and the locations these objects were from. The performance ended when I asked the class to leave the library and the collection of official books about CC behind. I intended to create a kind of alternative history that was specific to people and locations. I also tried to deconstruct the binary of official versus unofficial history at the same time, by blurring the boundary between my own persona and the persona of “Official History.”
8. After leaving the library, we went to the gym, where we all participated in Hanna and Liz’s performance. We were all asked to work out in place, while Hanna and Liz protested unrealistic body standards and eating disorders through movement, posters, and a soundtrack. They did this on the top floor, where the cardio machines are, and then also led us to the weight room, where they did a second performance specific to common male body image issues. (They were not stereotyping based on gender, but responding to the reality that the vast majority of people working out on the cardio machines are women, and the vast majority of people working out in the weight room are men.) I thought their performance was very powerful, due to the location they chose.
Overall, I was blown away by the creativity and bravery of my classmates.
Well, this is my last blog post for this class. This block has been amazing! Thank you for (virtually) sharing this journey with me. Dovidjenja!
A very, very select few:
For the first time since starting to provide words for Colorado College’s blog, I am going to relate the content of the post to the title: on Tuesday our class will be presenting our final performances for the block… jet lagged.
We have safely arrived back in the United States of America as of about 3PM Saturday, and I think that I might speak for more than just myself if not two or three people and maybe everyone when I say that Serbia was a wild experience. Looking back on it, it all seems like some weird twilight zone. We learned so much in that twilight zone, though, so the next challenge is maintaining that in our everyday lives.
By the end of our week in Serbia, I had really started to piece together the violent and disturbing recent history of the former Yugoslavia, in particular the events between Serbia and Kosovo, and NATO and Kosovo and Serbia. Dah Teatar’s relevance as an important catalyst in the process of remembering and addressing the region’s history of atrocious crimes against humanity, involving genocidal violence, massacres, rapes in unbelievable numbers, and ethnic cleansing, became clear to us as these pieces fell into place.
Dah Teatar is in the business of forcing people to recognize parts of their history that they are trying to ignore. They use performance, both in the theater proper and the public theater of the street, to help people recognize the truth of their country’s history, rather than accept that which is professed by the state. Dah also addresses a more positive side of the region’s “alternative history” by showcasing in public performance the beauty of ethnic and cultural diversity and promoting recognition and acceptance.
We met with an activist group, under the guidance of Dah Teatar, called Women in Black. This is a global organization that has a strong and extremely interesting branch in Belgrade. Their performances are powerful and have been the target of retaliation from nationalist factions in Serbia. These women carried themselves with a confidence and conviction in what they believe that was enthralling. When asked whether they get scared when they are beaten verbally or physically on the street during their protests they answered simply. Getting scared doesn’t occur to them. Their devotion to the cause for which they are sacrificing their personal safety negates any fear. They act with purpose.
Everything we have learned from the workshop with Dah Teatar will be an available technique for our final performances. Personally, I can’t wait to see how the projects improve from the two we did before Serbia. I think that even with the added challenge of jet lag, we will see some pretty inspiring stuff.
On a separate note, I was excited to eat a meal that wasn’t a meat sandwich and to walk around both indoors and outdoors without feeling like I had just inhaled a pack and a half of cancer. I know I probably speak for at least myself and maybe a second or fourth person or more when I say that I am happy to be back in the US. Belgrade was a lot to take in in just one week, and now we’ve got three days to process it before the block plan leaves it all behind and we move on to bigger, smaller, greater and lesser things. Maybe I’ll even look for a job.
Check out the pics below to see some of the things we saw!
Hello! I got back to CC about 24 hours ago and now that I’ve recovered a bit from the epic plane journey, I figure it’s time to share some more stories with you while they’re fresh!
1. We did a workshop with Dah in which we envisioned the floor as a map of the world, and did a series of exercises in which we all traveled on the “map” to the place we were born, the first place abroad that we went to, the place we’d like to be, the place of our greatest sorrow, the place where we plan to spend our lives, and to Belgrade. It was a really cool lesson in how to give meaning to space and/or how to give space to meaning.
2. We met the only out gay politician in Serbia, and one of the co-founders of the activist group Women in Black (two separate people).
3. On one of our first days there, I got turned around on my way to Dah Teatar. I stopped and asked an old woman who was sitting in the park for directions (in my very limited Serbian). She gave them to me, and I followed them. A few blocks later, I was starting to get lost again, and someone pulled on my arm. I turned around, and it was the same old woman! I don’t know how she found me—had she been walking behind me the whole time on her way somewhere? Had she been following me to make sure I followed her directions? Did she just happen to run into me again?
She then led me practically all the way to the theater. I tried to communicate with her that she didn’t need to lead me, she just needed to tell me verbally where to go and I would take it from there, but either it didn’t get through or she wasn’t having it. She didn’t speak a word of English, and I speak about fifteen words of Serbian, on a good day. On that morning, I experienced what it is like to have a fairy godmother. If only I had her around to help me when I get lost in Colorado Springs (which is often)!
4. On another occasion, I had a different old lady stop me on the street and start talking to me in rapid-fire Serbian. I kept telling her that I didn’t speak Serbian, but she was persistent. I eventually realized that her walker was stuck on the curb a few feet away, and I lifted it out for her. She then started thanking me profusely, which I did understand. Apparently old Serbian women and I just have a great connection. It’s probably because I am an old Serbian woman at heart.
In all seriousness, these two events, along with a few others, have left me amazed at the amount that can be communicated nonverbally.
5. I was talking with Dijana (the director of Dah) and found out that her partner’s ex-wife is Marina Abramović, the world-famous performance artist (who I incidentally happen to be mildly obsessed with). And apparently the three of them hang out all the time! Also, since Marina has worked with Lady Gaga, that means I’m two degrees of separation away from Lady Gaga. Shit just got surreal.
6. I experienced a really classy jazz bar.
7. Dah gave us a second tour around the city and told us about their site-specific performances in the places where they did them. It is crazy how many historically important sites Belgrade has. For me, it was an important reminder how much history every place has. Even if it wasn’t the site of bombing, renaming, etc., every place has stuff that happened at it that is important to someone.
That’s why I decided to do an alternative history of Colorado College for my final project. Right now I’m collecting stories of things that happened to people at CC. I’m still undecided as to what format I’m going to present these stories in, although I have a lot of ideas.
I should be working on that, actually! Thanks for reading my stories. I’m planning to post some pictures soon.
Belgrade is a picturesque city. Our hotel sits on a large traffic circle through which trolleys and busses and cars come careening with little regard for one another. A few blocks down the main shootoff of the roundabout you’ll come to a large plaza with a statue of a man riding a horse. A common meeting place. The subsequent blocks are pedestrian only and well used. It seems that at any time of day (and we have checked it out a almost every hour of the 24 hour cycle) there are people roaming. During the day the cafes fill up as the locals sit for an espresso to fuel their continuous, leisurely stroll. We stop for a sip of water from the communal fountain and look at watercolors of Belgrade in the rain.
Over the last few days we have seen and learned an overwhelming amount of really cool history, politics, acting techniques, new words, names, foods, and more.
The fortress of Belgrade has been the site of bloodshed for eons. Fighting between tribes, clans, empires, nations, and any other manner of human organization has occurred here since the beginning of history. We toured the fortress with narration from Dah Teatar, the theater company with which we have been doing our workshop. They shared their own experience with the space and how they have used performance to try to “cleanse” it of its bloody history.
Back towards the hotel and up a small hill you’ll find the Parliament building, St. Mark’s church, and various parks dotted and criss-crossed with perfectly pruned tulip gardens. We stopped at the foot of the stairs up to the front door of parliament for story time with one of the leaders of Otpor!, the revolutionary group that was instrumental in the ousting of Milosevic.
In our workshop with Dah Teatar we have been exercising our budding skills as thespian-activists. Practicing everything from pilates to speaking text while barking like a dog to improvisational and stage presence skills, our workshop days have been geared towards the acquisition of performance techniques for sending a message.
In addition we have heard lectures from Deanna, a co-founder of Dah Teatar and a performer of many works of political theater. Also a lecture from Zoe who is a performer for women’s rights and the leader of Queer Belgrade.
Our days and nights have been stuffed full to the brim of new and outrageous adventures and more knowledge than you can shake a book at. Check out the attached pics for a little taste of your own. Feel free to live vicariously!
In the words of Lauren Traub ’14, “Deuces!”
1. We saw an old man walking his pet bunny. Apparently pet bunnies are a thing here.
2. We went to the ruins of the National Library. It was bombed during WWII and has been kept intact ever since. Dah Teatar, the theatre group we are working with, did a site-specific performance there commemorating this. It involved a violin, lighting a book on fire, and pouring ripped pages out of water buckets.
3. We had beers with some social workers from Belgium that we met in a a café.
4. Hana threw up from drinking the tap water.
5. We met one of the activists from Otpor. He told us about how on the day the regime finally fell, he was afraid of being beaten by two policemen that he saw. So he asked one of them for his baton. Surprisingly, the policeman looked shocked and scared and gave him the baton. The activist turned around and realized there was a crowd of other activists behind him, which was why the policeman was afraid. He then put his arm around the policeman, and told his friends, “He is our brother,” so they wouldn’t attack him. And he kept the police baton as a souvenir!
6. Chris almost got a French girl’s number.
More stories soon!
I say that because I’m conditioned to say that when I wake up from a couple hours of slumber. For example, now. The problem remains, though, that it is 8:00Pm. I probably shouldn’t have taken a three hour nap, in terms of killing jet lag, but the weight of my eyelids at 4:30 this afternoon after grabbing only thirty minute, sporadic intervals of Z’s since 6am yesterday (MST) was too heavy.
So obviously, or not so obviously given the current haziness of the brain, we have arrived in Belgrade, Serbia! My route, along with Mac, meandered lazily over to Detroit, then picked up the pace across the Atlantic Ocean. We stopped in to say Bonjour! to the early bird Parisian community, but only briefly. So briefly, in fact, that my bag (which I was coerced into gate checking due to overbooking in Denver) didn’t have time to run to the connecting flight (or get driven there, or however that works).
Lost bag notwithstanding, this afternoon we landed in Belgrade to a springing spring complete with budding trees, seventy degrees of fahrenheit, and grass and flowers. We grabbed a bus from the airport to the hotel for tri stotina dinari. The ride was a good intro tour to the immediate outskirts of the city. Lots of old houses with red tile roofs, grass growing amidst the flowers in the medians, small cars and trucks on smaller streets.
We wandered hazily through the surrounding blocks this afternoon, grabbed some chocolate-stuffed croissant things at a bakery, checked out a park and a little art gallery kinda thing with a human hampster wheel, and walked under old european style buildings surrounding one apparently war-torn structure.
The whole crew has just arrived in the hotel. 30 hours of traveling for them so naturally we are gonna go to bed…. later after we do stuff.
We presented our second round of group performances today. The assignment this time was to do a site-specific performance with a strong intention, one that would “intervene with social order, perhaps even political space.”
My group realized that two of our members, Anya and I, both had experience figure skating. We designed a performance in which we acted as figure skaters and our third group member, Chris, acted as our coach. We went to the ice rink during a morning figure skating practice session and did a performance in which Anya and I broke the norms of figure skating in multiple ways (the wrong movements, the wrong music, the wrong clothing, skating as a pair with each other instead of with men, and a general failure to be appropriately ladylike and graceful). Chris, as the coach, then repeatedly tried to put us back in our place. We wanted to draw attention to the ways in which the overall institution of figure skating enforces gender in harmful ways, and encourages abusive coaching practices. It was scary to do this in front of figure skating coaches, skaters, and rink staff, but I do think that our performance sent a message.
The next group had everyone in the class write a political slogan we disagreed with, and then go out on the street corner and protest. For me, that felt really uncomfortable and messy, but it made me think hard about the performative aspect of protesting. The next group had us “protest” with signs that said things like “Smile, it’s a beautiful day!” and “Just saying hi!” We earned a lot of smiles, waves and honks, and it felt like a really positive way to interfere with social space.
Similarly, the next group had us hand out flowers and give compliments to strangers downtown. This, too, made us feel good and like we were connecting with the Colorado Springs community. The final group sent out a few people to collect signatures for a petition that had no content. They would offer people candy if they signed, but would not tell them what the petition was for. They got some signatures, but not a lot. I thought that this, similar to the first protest, said a lot about the performativity of political processes.
Here’s a picture of our whole class in the park downtown after all the performances:
We also took our Serbian language test today. I think I managed to learn to read Cyrillic just in the nick of time!
Now we go to Serbia! But for most of this week, we weren’t so sure we would be able to go. The pilots on Lufthansa, one of the airlines we’re flying, are going on strike, so our original flights were cancelled. The process of trying to re-arrange everything has been stressful for our whole class. As it stands, the class flies out tomorrow through a re-routed flight. I will fly out a day late, on Friday, through a different flight. (I joined the class late, so I had a different plane ticket, but my original flight was cancelled too.) This whole ordeal has been really frustrating and time-consuming. But the pilots’ strike is exactly the kind of performative political action we’ve been studying and even seeking to imitate. So I feel like I can’t be mad at the pilots. I should support them. But at the same time, I am annoyed…so I feel like this is a reminder for us that political performances, performative politics, etc. are quite disruptive. They interfere with people’s lives. Even our class performances today interfered with rink staff, coaches and skaters, cars going by, and passersby. Some people made it clear that they felt harassed even by the positive signs, flowers, and compliments. And compared to the disruption caused by something as large scale as, say, the WTO protests in Seattle, which we’ve been studying, our class performances were nothing. (It’s important to note that the WTO protests didn’t just cause disruption to the organization they were trying to disrupt, they also caused disruption to a whole city.) Thus, I think before every action or performance, it is crucial to ask, “Does the good of the message I am trying to convey outweigh the bad of the disruption I will cause?”
Well, I should probably start packing! The next time I blog, it’ll be from Serbia (unless I get bored in the Denver, Boston, or Munich airports).
This week has been wild. To start with, we’ve been learning about an incredible number and variety of performance artists over the past few days, which I’ve found exhilarating and so, so inspiring.
We’ve also been doing a lot of performances ourselves! I, for one, started off the week right by getting married a bunch of times. My group was set to go on Monday for the last of the performances about hierarchy. Our piece explored the way that cultural practices are institutionalized through repetition. We were also engaging several hierarchies: the unequal gender roles within a traditional heterosexual marriage, and the fact that some relationships are legitimized through marriage, while others are not.
The next step was to explore site-specific performances. In class on Tuesday, the majority of the class went to King Soopers, a local grocery store, and shopped in slow motion. Some people in the store became annoyed, others joined in, and an older woman remarked to one of my classmates that the performance was a great reminder to slow down and enjoy life.
While this was going on, two other students and I went to Wooglin’s, a local deli, and performed some ordinary actions (entering and leaving, asking for and drinking water, conversing, and muttering to ourselves). We then repeated the sequence of events four times. We were trying out this form of performance:
We definitely succeeded in amusing and confusing Wooglin’s customers and employees, if nothing else.
Part Two to come soon!
John’s last post outlined most of what we did during First Week, but let me update you on Friday’s class, because it was awesome! We’ve been studying a lot of political theory (and practice) and we’re just starting to get into what for me is the most fascinating part of the “art of insurgency”: the potential for insurgency in art. Yesterday, we had our first set of performances. The assignment was to create a performance that reinforced and/or challenged hierarchy. The results were varied, but uniformly very cool. There was a modern dance performance about the Cold War, a Brechtian illustration of discrimination at the airport, an audience-participation heavy piece about the changing means of production in a PB&J factory, and a rendition of Orwell’s Animal Farm using tableaux. These performances brilliantly illustrated many of the political science principles we’ve been learning about.
We’ve been discussing the ways in which various resistance movements appropriate the dominant norms of their cultures for their own ends. For example, Asmaa Mahfouz posted a vlog that helped spark the recent Egyptian revolution. Her call to action embraced patriarchal norms; she insinuated that men were not real men if they failed to participate in the protest movement.
My classmates’ performance about airport discrimination engaged this dynamic on a much smaller scale. In their performance, a character is discriminated against for wearing traditional Muslim garb. He then takes off his shoes and lifts them up, showing them to the TSA agent. The TSA agent interprets this as the Muslim man’s compliance with airport security norm of taking off one’s shoes. However, in many Middle Eastern countries, showing someone one’s shoes is the ultimate sign of disrespect. The Muslim man in this skit is thus appropriating dominant norms for his own resistant purposes in the same way that Asmaa Mahfouz was.
We’ve also studied the ways in which small, everyday acts of resistance can eventually build up to turn into a movement. In the performance about the PB&J factory, the “abused worker” character sneaks a taste of the peanut butter when his supervisor isn’t looking. This type of theft was common in Eastern European “Communist” countries, and it built momentum for regime change.
Here’s a picture of the “PB&J Maker” that ultimately replaced human labor in the performance:
We also learned a lot on Friday about the history of modern dance. I’m so excited to further explore the connections between these kinds of revolutionary (and traditional) aesthetic practices and revolutionary movements!