Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ten Things Mike Learned on Tanna

The following is lovely, and copied directly from Mike's site. But what you won't find there is this TRAVELMONKEYS exclusive picture, taken by Mike, of the man who came to New York City and now tells stories in his homeland of this strange otherworld--not unlike what Mike will be doing for us once he returns to the States.


—If someone tells you the reef is "flowering", it means it has neurotoxins that roll your heartrate down to 30 beats a minute and then kills you. Also, when people call a place "Shark Bay" it is not figurative—it means there are many sharks, which you can see from the shore.

—Kava is prepared by the plant being chewed by prepubescent boys, and then the pulpy mess is spat in a bowl, which is mixed with questionable water and then drunk. It tastes much like this description would imply.

—When the volcano explodes, you can see the shockwaves in the air rushing toward you in the moment before it strikes you, and then the sound that follows. It is like God has punched you, or His hand is bursting up through the earth.

—The John Frum celebrations are long: this year's lasted nine hours, with a dinner break in the middle...from morning until nearly dusk. They act out scenes, a kind of living theater, with history of the island, America and other sources intermingled into a tremendous soap opera.

—The many pieces of molten lava bursting from the volcano are the size of refrigerators and Volkswagon bugs. If one hits you the size won't be the issue, or even fire...the heat is so intense that you would disintegrate. This has happened to visitors recently.

—The Friday night celebrations, when the John Frum dance and sing all night til dawn under the deep night sky reflecting off Sulphur Bay, lit by the red glow of the volcano standing above the village like an angry God, is unforgettable. This I will carry to my grave.

—When hunting a wild pig for dinner, you have to strike the pig solidly on the side of the head to knock them down, and then beat them with the pole until dead or dazed...then someone will slit the throat and finish the job.

—A villager showed me his sacred Snoop Dogg amulet, I met people who worship Prince Philip of England as a risen god, and I talked with a man who had been taken by a documentary crew to New York City. He told me what he dreamed about, and the whole village sat together in silence, everyone naked except for penis sheaths and stone-age implements, listening to his stories of an alien land.

—I spent a day with students at a school without water or power, where every book is a rare blessing...but confounding expectation, one out of every four had a cell phone. They charge them with solar chargers, like to play snake, and IM their friends to get together.

—I learned a tremendous amount, made some lasting friendships, and reached across worlds just a bit. When I think about how alien this place seemed just weeks ago to me, I am surprised at my ignorance. It is an excellent lesson, and I am already missing this mysterious, primal island that has helped me a little to see our ordinary world in a new light.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Surprise

This is Martin. This was taken during a rehearsal break. Lucy is his dog, but we also like to pretend she's the stage manager. She's a terrible stage manager, by the way, always letting us get off-topic and extend our break times with the business of getting more tea.

Despite her shortcomings, the rehearsals are going well, and I am looking forward to our opening next week. I am always describing Martin as "smart and funny," which he is, but it occurred to me yesterday that another word that should be in there is kinetic. He really knows how to move, and he uses his entire body to tell his stories, every ounce of him vibrating with it.

We worked on a show about his travels in West Africa last spring. This time he's telling us about some surprising family news that came his way not too long ago. I don't want to say much more, but I will say that the news takes him to the temple of Angkor Wat and the jungles of Vietnam. It's a hell of a story. I hope you can come see it.

The Surprise is being presented as part of The NY Frigid Fest, and as such the performance schedule looks as random as if you were to play Battleship with a calendar:

Weds, 2/25 @ 9
Sat, 2/28 @ 5:30
Weds, 3/4 @ 7:30
Sat, 3/7 @ 4
Sun, 3/8 @ 8:30
The Kraine Theater
85 East 4th Street (between Bowery & 2nd Ave)
$15 tickets @ SmartTix; click here
or call 212-868-4444

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Breaking News!

In a surprising turn of events, Mike discovered there was free wifi at the airport on Vila, the main island of Vanuatu from which he would take his final leg to Tanna after a 16-hour layover. Especially surprising, he said, since the airport looks like "a glorified hut."

He used the opportunity to send me some quick notes on the journey so far, which I will share in whole with you. He also sent two pictures of signs written in Bislama, the creole language that is spoken to varying degrees across Vanuatu and uses English as its base. As a fun exercise, try reading the signs--you'll understand more than you think.

Now, the notes from Mike:

--The people ululating once we came in sight of Port Vila far below, a few lights against the dark sea.

--The white couple and their black indentured servant, and how she hissed at him when he didn't pick up all their many bags fast enough.

--A really fine cup of coffee and a french pastry while overlooking the bay.

--Reading bislama EVERYWHERE.

--My talk with the Vanuatu Red Cross office...they revealed that Frumians of all kinds come and pay homage at the office, due to the red cross. They happened to be down the street--glad I stopped by.

--Incredible weather--I have had unbelievable heat followed by a torrential monsoon in just a few hours. I'm soaked. I bought a huge umbrella at the supermarket, which does indeed have an ATM.

--The signs on the main street of Port Vila, filled with crap of all kinds, that shout CARGO! CARGO HERE!

I can't wait for the rest of the story.

I will say that I got one more quick message, I think sent from the plane just before he took off:

My pilot has a big scar down his face, a milky eye AND a big knife. Not joking. Will try to get picture without getting stabbed.

Hopefully that's not the last missive I ever receive from him.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Beautiful British Columbia

Back when M and I were Seattle-dwellers, we'd cross the border to Canada anytime we needed a breath of Europea on a day-jobber's budget. Vancouver B.C. felt so . . . international. That was the word we always used, and that one word seemed to contain everything we couldn't find back in Seattle: rapid mass transit, enormous Hong Kong-styled dim sum eateries, a legal drinking age of 18, French, strip clubs that were more sexy than sleazy, foreign currency, and daily newspapers that would print the word "fuck."

We never performed there, but we always wanted to, and on the last trip we took there, back at the tail end of 2000, we spent the whole train ride home hatching a vivid and fanciful plan for our triumphant return.

Cut to nine years later, and we're performing in Portland, Oregon at the T:BA Festival, when a man who runs a performing arts festival in Vancouver comes to see our show. He really responds to the work, but of course it's too late to book us for this year's festival, and next year the city will be hosting the Olympics, which means that maybe we can talk about a booking for 2011?

And here's what I love about my M. He knows that 2011 is a lifetime away. Who knows where we'll be by then, or if we'll even be at all. He also knows we're already going to be in the Northwest for a different gig at the same time as the festival is happening. So really, there must be a way to make this work, right? And indeed, there was.

But it involved a number of compromises. The presenter told us that the space wasn't ideal. All the theaters were booked, so we'd be in their after-hours club. Also, we'd have no idea what our audience numbers would be like as there'd be no advance sales. We were told several times that this new club space was a big "experiment."

I read between the lines and told M we should expect about 30 in a house that could comfortably fit over 200. We put out 50 chairs and held our breath.

But they came! All these beautiful, smart, good-looking Canadians showed up and filled up all the seats we'd put out and more. We used up all the chairs, and filled up the cabaret tables and bar with standing room. The audience got Mike's humor immediately, and when the story demanded quiet, they quickly supplied it. It was a great night for live performance.

Afterwards, we caught up with an old friend, Dennis, who left the States after Bush was elected in 2000, married a nice Canadian girl, and is now a proud and happy father and game designer.

And the next morning, Mike did a live interview with a local television show. The host had actually watched a tape of Mike's performance in advance and then talked to him about his work for almost twenty minutes. This is notable because where we come from, artists are rarely treated as people who might have something to say that might be of interest to the general public. It was strange and wonderful and sad and nice all at the same time.

Then Mike delivered a fiery and funny and passionate and moving manifesto to the festival attendees. (Again, unusual to hear a keynote from an artist. O Canada, is all of you so wonderful?) And then we ate a bunch more food from the outstanding Granville Island Market: smoked Polish sausage and savory crepes and apples and Indian food and doughnuts and strawberries that we dipped into maple yogurt as we sat admiring the spectacular view.

On Monday, M leaves for his amazing island adventure, so it was nice to spend this time together in this place we'd always wanted to return to.

We will be back.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Seattle Snaps

Some snapshots taken with my mobile phone over the last week:

(in the lobby of the theater pre-show)

(doesn't my brother look like a rock star with his new 'do?)

(Lincoln Park)

(peeing dog)

(the beach below my parents' home, where kids are building a fort-like structure)

(Bakery Nouveau, and the remains of a twice-baked almond croissant)

(EZ Street records; cheap and plentiful breakfasts, and they know how to do hash browns right)