6 Notebooks for 6 Women for 6 Years in Bratislava (2016) was developed as a new performance for a Bratislava audience, a follow-up from Lena’s most recent domestic solo performance 40 Minutes which celebrated her 40th birthday, on 29 November 2014 and which was made especially through the creation of 40 notebooks for 40 women in Lena’s life in the UK, post the age of 25.
6 Notebooks for 6 Women for 6 Years in Bratislava saw Lena use 6 notebooks of the 40 birthday gifts she received and start filling their pages whilst dedicating the writing to 6 special women she met whilst studying in Bratislava from the age of 19 to the age of 25. The performance was created in Bratislava, in the 6 days leading up to Friday, 26th February, when the performed reading took place.
This is the script from the performance at Studio 12, Bratislava, 26 February 2016.
6 Notebooks for 6 Women for 6 Years in Bratislava
All the writing has been compiled and sorted out on Friday 26/02/2016.
Each notebook is dedicated to one of the 6 Women. Dedications were decided on Friday 26/02/2016, upon finalizing the script.
Notebook 1 – for Jana Wild
Day 1 20/02/2016
I disbelong. At Liverpool airport with flat white and childless, with nobody to care for, to worry about, to shout at, to complain to and about, I disbelong.
Endlessly charming world of international travel and supposed independence and autonomy. It’s about pretence. It’s about no risk and show of vulnerability. Nobody shows any signs of discomfort. And yet we all, all of us travellers, disbelong. As if it’s absolutely normal to be feeling this freedom, writing in this café, sipping my flat white.
Next to me a mother and two boys aged 5 or 6. Possibly twins. One of the two boys is called Dylan. I put on a black dress today (above jeans) but then decided against it. Simple jumper is better. How to grow old gracefully? How to preoccupy myself beyond babies and the idea of procreation – sweet sweet baby making and all the chaos and drama and body at the edge of experience. What’s sweeter and more magical and more traumatic… all that love, joy, sadness, jouissance. I am finding myself in my 40s. This trip is a part of that journey.
And I disbelong, as I look at the other travellers. The mother with 2 boys, one named Dylan, has now gone.
A WORRY, A CONCERN, A DISAGREEMENT, A COMPLAINT
Why is it that this autonomous, this independent time with no dependents, with no interruption, matters so much more when it comes to knowledge and arts production? What is this preoccupation with continuous deep focused time? What is its value? Why this kind of production, in a vacuum, beyond one’s reality and messiness of existence? Yes, this is a paradox. I’m enabled to compose these thoughts in this AUTONOMOUS PRODUCTIVE TIME WHICH MATTERS AND COUNTS, WHICH IS VALUED AND IMPORTANT. This writing matters… It is here with you now.
Oh I can do anything this week… and yet there’s such pain to its existence, such small personal sacrifice of happiness and love.
Notebook 2 – for Emília Vášáryová
Day 2 21/02/2016
There’s that time when you still don’t know, before you start occupying the space, before a certain kind of colonisation happens. I’m in hotel Marrol, room 108. I know this hotel has a library saloon but I don’t know where it is. I kind of know where the restaurant is. I am still to eat breakfast.
I am in this state of not knowing. I don’t know exactly where I am. That excites me. I am yet to become an explorer in this new Bratislava to me. When I first moved here I remember following some strangers down Ventúrska street – this was before my VŠMU days – it was when I was living in INTERNAT and didn’t have many friends and felt lonely and quoted Hamlet to myself:
O God! God!
How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable,
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Fie on’t! ah fie! ’tis an unweeded garden,
That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely. That it should come to this!
I remember seeing In the Name of the Father film. I’d go to the cinema. I’d go walking around the streets following strangers into bars. Snow. Cold. Then a love affair with a Dubrovnik guy who lived in Vienna. That was memorable and very quick. He was so terribly handsome and so nice – a killer combination that didn’t attract me too much. That was also February, but back in 1994. Kurt Cobain died few months later in April.
And here I am, in all that unknowing where exactly I am and where certain facilities are and what is going to happen and where the new VSMU is. And where is this STUDIO 12. Nothing is clear. It’s sweet to be so irresponsible, so out of control, kind of nonchalant. It won’t be for long. Enjoy.
I ended up in the Blue Church. I came late but just in time for Holy Communion – bread tasted rough, harder. I had to receive it by mouth, not hands as it is customary in England. My grandmother used to say you must never touch the holy bread with your teeth. You should never bite it. I did, a bit. First time ever, it felt like a transgression. The priest talked in the end about community/parish notices and mentioned some kind of ‘LIFE’ group, which will be meeting for 9 months, I suppose some kind of pro-life activism. And yet everyone looked so soft. Then when I was leaving and us Roman Catholic community of Blue Church goers dispersed through the streets of Bratislava, one older guy, who was walking in a couple and was therefore taking up larger part of the pavement than permissible bumped into another older guy who was carrying some large plastic bag. He literally only touched this bag… The non-church goer guy, with the plastic bag, said something like this:
… ze sa chodi po pravej strane v tejto republike
In this republic. – what ownership of the state… not in this country, but republic. I was annoyed but very impressed at the language he evoked, what political agency – one would assume this was some kind of autonomously ran anarcho utopia – in this republic.
Notebook 3 – for Vladislava Fekete
Day 3 22/02/2016
Eating breakfast at Marrol’s Boutique Hotel everything is heightened. There’s this sense of protection and pretence, security and oppression. How can I rely on this furniture, on this sweet music, black and white photographs, money? There is no trust and love here. It’s sheltered and deceivingly easy. Today I don’t flow.
Post VŠMU workshop 1. I decided to go off my planned script and asked the students to improvise… and there I was, in that world again, etudy na VŠMU, prvý ročník herectva… I saw myself in these students, even though they all seem much bigger, older, more understanding, clear about the world, somewhat committed. It’s a strange thing to go back some 20 years and realize how things have not changed much. How a new generation is being built and inspired and nurtured and taken care of.
I told them it was all in their hands. I told them of Doris Lessing and bell hooks and problems of being indoctrinated in an education system and a potential to find a paradise in a classroom. I told them about Jacques Rancière’s ‘Everything is in Everything’ exercise and let them search for a deeper understanding of the world and civilization through a pair of glasses and a Starbucks coffee bottle. I was amazed at all the things they came up with through a pair of glasses and yet, later on, when I asked them to create something out of all the conversations we held on pains and desires, bothers about he world, complaints and dreams… After we looked into each other’s eyes, they resorted to certain schemes of knowledge portrayal. To act. To do what you have learnt to do. To fall into security. But I am not disappointed, far from it. I loved being back there in those herectvo sessions where world is shown, created according to certain ideas about acting. Emotion on stage, creation of charm…
Remember to copy out quotes from Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook
‘…nothing is personal, in the sense that it is uniquely one’s own.’ P.13
‘The way to deal with the problem of “subjectivity,” that shocking business of being preoccupied with the tiny individual who is at the same time caught up in such an explosion of terrible and marvellous possibilities, is to see him as a microcosm and in this way to break through the personal, the subjective, making the personal general, as indeed life always does, transforming a private experience—or so you think of it when still a child, “I am falling in love,” “I am feeling this or that emotion, or thinking that or the other thought”—into something much larger: growing up is after all only the understanding that one’s unique and incredible experience is what everyone shares.’ P.13
Notebook 4 – for Zuzana Golianová
Day 4 23/02/2016
‘…and Paul’s sudden young laugh. I was filled with such a dangerous delicious intoxication that I could have walked straight off the steps into the air, climbing on the strength of my own drunkenness into the stars. And the intoxication, as I knew even then, was the recklessness of infinite possibility, of danger, the secret ugly frightening pulse of war itself, of the death that we all wanted, for each other and for ourselves.’ P.150
lack of attention
What is this performance going to look like?
I don’t know.
This sits in the dramaturgy of the risk.
I am to be uncomfortable.
Is there to be a script?
What about vulnerability?
How’s this theatre? What’s there to see? This is art and life combined. This is me creating and forming 6 days of my life. This is contextualized through the act of performance in this given time, Friday, 26.02. This is Brechtian but it is post-Brecht. This is visible right now, this is perceived. This is what it is. I am here for you, now in the future, now on Friday – now. This is imagination of a woman/mother left alone for 6 days. This is thanks to Virginia Wolf. This is political. This is feminist. This is about a critique of a society we live in. This is about making the invisible labour visible. This is about asking questions about value and time and the way we perceive art. This is what it is. Lena at 41 visiting Bratislava ad doing workshops with VŠMU students as a part of Erasmus teaching exchange. This is an attempt at revision, at reinstatement, at observation… This is Lena from a distance, not caring that much. Is this theatre? Who asks? This is about generosity. What counts as art? This is about a search for a new form of theatre. This is post-Treplev. This is 2016. This is February. This is Bratislava. This is Studio 12. This is slightly before 8pm.
The Red book starts with a requirement to write ‘Doubts and Confusions’ about the Communist Party in the UK, 1950s.
Notebook 5 – for Valéria Schulczová
Day 5 24/02/2016
This notebook is for an artist, someone who draws and paints and does doodles. I am unwell today. I cough. I can’t think straight.
Gary suggested to come to Bratislava tomorrow. Niamh offered to look after the kids. Is it a crazy idea? What if an airplane crashes on the way back? What would happen to the kids? I’d love to have Gary here but I’m so sick. I can’t think clearly. I wrote him a letter last night about our ideas of relationships and friendships. How complicated can it all get? How much closeness do we allow one another with other people around us? How claustrophobic is heteronormative relationship? Would it be any different in a lesbian one? Is it about heteronormativity or coupling? Closed in. All alone, in a Strindbergian Dance of Death. Marital bliss. What is it all about? I need to eat. I need to get out.
Students asked to ask the questions to myself. I did. I told them a story of the chicken in Karlova Ves flat – Gary and I came home one day, drunk and young. I was starving. I really fancied a roast chicken. Gary said no, we should just go to bed, but I poured olive oil and sprinkled herbs all over this chicken – off it went into the oven. I went to bed. We both did. I am not sure if we set the alarm for the early hours feast, it was well after midnight, but when I woke up, all was white, full of smoke. I thought I was blind. I quickly opened our balcony door. I started seeing contours of objects again. I woke Gary up. Tiny little black chicken was on fire. The whole flat stank of burnt oil, for days, for weeks. We imagined a headline in Bratislava papers, čierna kronika, page 9, something unimportant about how two foreigners were killed by a burning chicken in Karlova Ves flat.
Notebook 6 – for Slávka Halčáková
Day 6 25/02/2016
This book is for sorting it all out.
- Lessing/hooks. Rancière: Everything is in Everything exercise.
- Automatic writing o túžieb a strachov. Collective Manifesto about Fears and Desires.
- Speaking for a minute on what bothers you and what you desire.
- What kind of theatre do you want? My theatre manifesto.
- Writing exercises: Old World Order/New World Order`
Writing in the Hour of the Wolf
List of things to do this week
- Create a scene using 3 objects and extracts from writing in the style of theatre that you want
- Quizoola exercise (Forced Entertainment), questions and answers – gathering of performance material
Lecture on Contemporary Performance in the UK is done.
I have just taken some coughing medicine and a paracetamol. I feel spent. Yes, spent. Why is it that when I am alone, all alone, with no Gary and no kids, I end up being unwell. It’s a conspiracy brought about by mother’s guilt. You don’t deserve it.
With Lessing I have read Black and Red Notebook. I am yet to finish the Yellow one and the Blue one. Far away from the Golden.
BLACK – writer/artist
RED – political
YELLOW – emotional
BLUE – everyday
Yellow Notebook Sentences:
She loved rehearsals, theatre shop and small talk, and malice.
There are hundreds and thousands of people, all over the country, simmering away in misery and no one cares.
She looked pale, almost severe.
These streets were ruled by fear and ignorance, and ignorance and meanness had built them.
She saw she had used that phrase, these people.
I imagined, said Ella, that we all wanted the system changed.
Day 6 23:10
50 minutes left of this experiment.
What do I remember from the day?
Gary said that every morning when James, who is 2, wakes up he goes around my room and then the house saying ma-ma, ma-ma, ma-ma, ma-ma. He’s looking for me every morning.
Sid, who is 8, narrated the story about how him, Gary, Gabriel and James got locked out of the house, because Neal, who is 15, locked the door and put the chain on and went up to his room and put on his headphones really loud and just never heard them knocking and shouting. You would have been so mad, he said.
They had to climb into the garden and throw the ball at his window, twice, and he looked at them, really confused, and then slowly, very slowly came down, very slowly, like a snail, Sid said, came down and opened the door.
I saw a placard at VŠMU today which said POLITICI NECHRAJTE SA NA DIVADLO (or similar) in support of the teaching strike. I never managed to get involved in that and then I wondered if I was crossing the picket line.
I had a dinner at Sen Marten with Vicky and mentioned the phrase LABOURSOME AESTHETICS.
All these laboursome projects, all this work, all this productivity, all this desire to keep it on, on, on, ongoing.
I learnt there’s a special coffee house in Starý Smokovec called ‘U Vlka’ and that they organize all kinds of cultural events there and reading groups.
Endeavour and creativity, everywhere, all these people busy thinking, writing, living, dreaming, plotting, singing, conversing, exchanging, loving…