I’m sitting in Gail’s, one of my most favorite spots in London for scrambled eggs and toast, amazed at how easy it is to do things here. Not because it’s necessarily easier than Shanghai, but it’s so familiar.

In China I had to think about everything- “am I going in the right direction?” (for two days I was reading the city map upside down because it looked to me that the drawing of the hotel was on the wrong side of the street-it wasn’t. I just wasn’t putting enough thinking energy into looking at the illustration. I also left my debit card in an ATM my first night there (luckily after receiving my 1000 Yuan- about 150 dollars) because they give you the money before you take the card out. A lot of US banks used to do that too, and I used to leave my card in them as well. To get the cliches out of the way, China – like latter Gorbachev USSR – is filled with contradictions, surprises, and some pretty amazing stuff.

Saturday morning I happened upon Richard Schechner in the Merry Hotel’s breakfast room. “I’m giving a seminar downstairs in 15 minutes. Come on.” So I did. The room was packed Richard moved swiftly to the front, and I took a seat at the rear that had generously been vacated by a young student.

Richard was on fire- full of more energy and enthusiasm than any 84 year old has the right to possess. About 2 minutes later I was ushered forward to a seat at a table second row center and for the next three hours, I watched Richard enthrall his audience of 120 graduate theatre audiences with the story of his life, his productions, and his theories of performance. He endlessly “tummeled” with his translator.

And then Richard made a comment about Tiananmen Square, illustrating a point about how a certain kind of performance moves from the event to an unfiltered record (i.e. the Zapruder film) to documentary to dramatic interpretation. Again he brought up Tiananmen Square as his example. The translator brought things to a halt. “They don’t know anything about that,” he said with a serious tone that he had not employed in the first two hours, before playfully adding, “Or they’ve forgotten.”

 “Okay,” said Richard, “Let’s make it the Assassination of JFK.”

 The room nodded.

 In London for 3 days before heading back to the States. I’m sure I have more thoughts about China while I’m here, and I’ll pass them along as they emerge.

 But this is what was on my mind this morning.

 

 

Jim Niesen

 

irondale

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