Thursday, May 27, 2010

Controlling the Message

I can’t believe my time in Vienna is almost done. It seems like I just got here, though in a strange way, it also feels like I’ve been here much longer than two weeks. It’s a comfortable city, and I could see myself getting lost here (in the good way).
After a morning playwriting workshop, a group of us (David, Ian, Rachel, Jill, Elinor and myself) hopped the train for Schönbrunn. It’s a palace that was the summer residence for royalty in Austria, and it is a-m-a-zing. The size of it is totally incomprehensible to me. The palace itself is one thing, but to come out the back doors and see the enormous palace’s something I’ll never forget, I’m sure. The rooms in this place were pretty amazing. Unfortunately, no pictures are allowed inside, but there are some really cool rooms. One is decorated to look like the entire room is made of blue and white porcelain (though only the clock, chandelier and candle holder actually are); another pair of similar rooms have little shelves all over the walls for small decorative items, and the most amazing inlaid decorative wood floor I’ve ever seen.
When we finished wandering through the palace, we headed into the mazes, since it was included in our ticket. They were fun, and I totally failed. Of our group, I was dead last to find the centre (though some of the girls cheated, so I think they’re disqualified), but eventually I found it, and the view was worth it, huh?
We were about to head up the big garden hill when a freak storm hit, absolutely drenching everything. We ducked under the cafe awning and waited it out, eating some lunch. When we were done, it had just cleared up. Our timing couldn’t have been better. So up the hill we went.
It’s quite a trek, actually, but again, well worth it. The view from the hill, and then from the top of the building is incredible. Go back to the second picture in this entry of the view of the gardens from the back door: see that tiny pair of wings on the roof of that building? I stood there.
Yeah. I know.
After that, we headed home, and eventually David, Ian, Kathy and I went for a late dinner at Mama’s kitchen, a tiny little place half a block off the main street leading toward Stephansplatz. Chicken Schnitzel and Radler followed. Fried food and lemonade beer. Who could want more, right? Oh right, then we had more gelato.
The next day, we went off early on the S-bahn (above ground train) in search of Zentralfriedhof (the main cemetery). Some of the pictures I took there are amazing (thanks to beautiful stones, the invasiveness of ivy, and great light, as well as one convenient snail).
Please note, I asked them to hold hands for the photo. They wanted me to be clear that they weren’t just doing it on their own. :P
We took the above ground train back toward the hostel and stopped at a cafe and a bakery, then a big fountain we had passed on our way before. I giddily took photos of the water, loving my full manual camera just then. Yes, I’m a nerd.
After a short stop at the room, and a bit of a nap, we headed out, since we still had time to kill before our play. We hopped on the u-bahn red line and went all the way out to Leopoldau (or Leopleurodon, as David and Ian call it), wandered a bit, found nowhere suitable to write, and came back to Stadtpark where we watched little kids at the skateboarding park by the train station until it started to rain. We then went to a place called Koi where we worked on our writing exercise, and I ate egg noodles with prawns and broccoli.
Our play was late, so we headed off at almost 9. My Own Private Biopolitics was a show very different from my expectations (though I should be used to that by now, right?) I think I expected more bioethics than politics, which is just my brain filling in the blanks wrong, I suppose. Anyway, it was one of those weird shows where I couldn’t tell if the audience was laughing with the performer or at him.
However, it did raise some interesting questions about the value and purpose of art, and how much control the artist can and should take over the message the audience receives. I for one found that he was so intent on his conception of the piece that it felt more like a thesis defence than a piece of art. You know how a joke ceases to be funny when it has to be explained in minute detail? I felt a little like that, losing the message in “the message.”
It really did get me thinking that for me as an artist, my natural inclination is that I want people to get every reference and inside joke I make, to follow my train of thought and go where I go. I suspect most artists want this, because I suspect most people make art in some way to connect with others. However, I need to remind myself that I can’t control how any audience interprets anything, and that as an audience member, there’s a real joy that comes from making your own connections to a work. I suppose this fits into “show, don’t tell.”
The one thing I’m still trying to figure out is how he gave the audience permission to laugh (whether he wanted them to laugh or not, they had no qualms about it), where the audience in Do Animals Cry? did not feel so entitled (except for a few rare folks). I’m not sure if it was something to do with writing or delivery, or if it was just the difference between two audiences. Perhaps it was also that he invited some audience participation, and kept the house lights up on us for most of the show (watching us the same way we watched him? And yet some audience members felt no pressure under that surveillance: several people did leave partway through, including one guy who stomped off about 15 minutes in and slammed the door on his way out).
I had many problems with his piece, but at least I didn’t find it cruel in the way I found Do Animals Cry? to be completely mean. In the last year, particularly through writing fiction and now plays, I’ve found that I’m very modernist, in the sense that I am fine with uncomfortable messages, but that there are certain types of formal messing about that I don’t tolerate well. I still like narrative. Sue me. Post-modernism just ain’t me.
Today, I’m back to one of my favourite places, Stadtpark. I’m watching some ducks chase each other, and some kids who are clearly on a field trip screech and chase each other too. On the way here, I stopped at a jewelry store I’d seen a few days ago and bought two pairs of earrings (yeah, I know Mom, I don’t need more earrings. But they’re really pretty), then at the “British Booksellers” where I bought a small map to keep, and a copy of a play that Natalie recommended to me.
As I began with, I can’t believe how little time is left here. Today is a free day for us to write, and tonight, Rachel’s getting a bunch of people to meet at Crossfield’s Australian pub for one of our last nights here. Tomorrow, we have most of the day to ourselves, until our final group meeting in the evening and the next day, I head for the airport around noon to fly to London. So far that flight is still unchanged, though, because of the British Airways cabin crew strike, my flight to Madrid was cancelled, and I had to find another. This resulted in a 14 hour layover in London, and I won’t get to Madrid for an extra day (Sunday morning instead of Saturday late).
Oh well. There are worse places to be stuck than London, that’s for sure. Elinor is actually going to be there for a few days now, since the London to Calgary flight was also cancelled. She’s meeting some friends of friends or something, so I’ll probably tag along for a little adventure. 14 hours is too long to spend in an airport, though I’ll have to try to sleep at some point.
Anyway, I’ll be back with more later. Prost from Vienna!

“(It slips away) Be what you’re becoming/(it slips away)And not who you were/(it slips away) Grab hold of the here and now while you still have the chance”
-“20 Going On...” by Tsunami Bomb


  1. 2 pairs of earrings isn't too bad, hopefully no more shoes though, they weigh too much in your luggage!
    You have made me want to see Vienna

  2. " I still like narrative. Sue me. Post-modernism just ain’t me. "

    LOL, way to declare it right out loud on your blog. Reading that post just made me miss you and our conversations; I kept responding to your paragraphs with related diversions. Anyways, it sounds like you're having a blast. Glad you're enjoying the Radler, and also that opera is growing on you (responding to more than one entry at once, I know). It's probably because opera in Europe tends to be better than opera in Canada, also because La Traviata is one of the best operas IMO.

    (Responding anonymously because you know who this is)

  3. "Leaving on a jet plane" is stuck in my head right now for you. When you wake up you will be leaving there but luckily the adventure isn't over for you yet! Enjoy the rest of your time.