Maastricht to Brussels to Bruges

My first weekend traveling freely taught me a lot. My mom says that traveling teaches you a lot about yourself. In that regard was an excellent first weekend, very educational.

Friday

On Friday, Rob Dückers lead an excursion to Maastricht, a city about an hour south of Well. First of all the city was extremely gorgeous.

We enjoyed pie and hot chocolate in a cafe, which was splendid.

Maastricht still has part of its city wall from Medieval times, which is remarkable.

The other side of the wall was torn down when the city expanded, but since the Meuse river was right there, it made no sense to tear down the wall.

One of my favorite sights in Maastricht is the Boekhandel Dominicanen, an old church turned bookstore.

I love to see repurposing like this, or when churches turn into theaters.

Rob gave a tour of the Basilica of Saint Servatius, he's a curator of the treasury there. Our studies of Christian iconography in class got put to the test as we tried to identify the sculptures decorating the church.

Do you think this is the Virgin Mary? Why wouldn't you, it's a figure holding the baby Jesus, must be a Madonna, right?! THINK AGAIN!

It's Simeon! The dude who was the first to recognize Jesus as the messiah. We can tell because of his square jawline and flat chest. Also, he's standing next to a bunch of other stains from the New Testament.
After the tour ended, I headed to Brussels with my roommates Tim and Lorenzo, along with our friend Nora!

Brussels

The second I got off the train at Brussels central station I thought, "this is not a city that has my heart"
Most of the city reminded me of Midtown East in Manhattan. Large buildings and wide streets, plus the most hills I've encountered in weeks!

We explored the central square of Brussels, enjoyed waffles and chocolate (including a chocolate museum), and walked around plenty.

Our only goal for our one full day in Brussels was to make sure we saw the Magritte Museum. You may know Magritte from his famous works The Treachery of Images, or The Son of Man. Neither of those were at this museum! Regardless I loved these three paintings I saw: Portrait of the Writer Pierre Brochures, The Central Story, and The Heartstrings. After the Magritte Museum we went through the Brussels Museum of Fine Arts (which is one giant complex of museums) and saw some gorgeous art. James Ensor might be one of my new favorite painters.

After an exhaustive search of all the theater in Brussels I could find, I decided on going to the National Theatre of Brussels to see Notre peur de n’être. Google Translate tells me this in English is "Our fear of being, Do Be Our Fear, and Our Fear do Be" (depending on which instance of the title is being translated). My friend who speaks French, says it is actually "Our Fear of Not Being". On my bucket list was to see a play in a totally different language, without any English subtitles. So I got exactly what I wanted. But also I didn't because I didn't understand anything happening in the play. There was a lot of dialogue. Yet I did appreciate the staging: the entire proscenium was surrounded by fluorescent lights (which I adore on stage) and for the first of the three parts a scrim curtain was down. While scenes were happening, one of the characters was live-projected onto the scrim. So simultaneously you were watching a scene, as it was filmed (usually a medium or close-up shot) and projected on top. A handful of moments were genuinely exciting: a woman throwing a pot of spaghetti on stage, a mess of fog coming from upstage into the house, and the final moment of a woman's death when her dress ascended into heaven. Seven of my friends also saw the show, and I think one of them truly enjoyed themselves. The rest of us agreed that although the stagecraft was impressive, the play itself wasn't enjoyable; and even if we could have understood it, we're certain we would have found it pretentious.

Bruges

Bruges is called the "Venice of the North" because it has canals. Quite gorgeous. When I told my history teacher I was going to Belgium he explained how most of the wealth is from the country's exploitation of the Congo. Something to think in both cities.

After a walk through the city, we came to the 83 metres tall Belfry Tower. Since it was such a perfect day, we climbed the 366 steps to the top of the bell tower. The view was stunning, to be so much higher up than any other buildings around.

After climbing down 366 steps, we went in search in food. And there was our fatal error. Bruges is a very tourist-y city, and most lunch places closed before three. So the rest of our day was spent wandering for food, but still enjoying the usually sunny day.

LESSON: always pack lunch, you never know when it will be difficult to find inexpensive food.
• • •

Amsterdam

This weekend was our first excursion to the capital of the Netherlands.


As this was an excursion with the school, our three days were packed. It all started with a tour of the city by Rob Dückers. The city was fairly touristy, but the architecture, canals, and sunny made me love the walk. One of my favorite sights was the Begijnhof, founded in the Middle Ages, was sort of like a convent, but women could leave whenever they wanted; and what made it special was that women could actually own their own home there.

Museums

This trip in Europe is all about the museums, and Amsterdam did not disappoint with museums to visit. I visited the:

Rijksmuseum

This is the museum with Rembrandt's The Night Watch. My Renaissance and Baroque art history teacher (Rob Dückers) lead a tour of the museum. One question brought up at a few paintings was, "is this a portrait" or an exploration of color/light/etc? As a friend and I explored the museum we remarked that many of our favorite paintings were of bad things happening to ships.

Amsterdam Museum

Part a history of Amsterdam as a city, part an exhibition of Dutch artists, it was the guide I had that made this museum an excellent trip. My favorite sight in the museum was a Mondrian painting that he made while riding on his bike.

Royal Palace


This place left me speechless. First built as a city hall, when Napoleon invaded the Netherlands it became a palace for his brother (appointed King of the Netherlands) and has stayed that way since. I wish all governmental and public space could be this stunning.

Anne Frank House

I'm not super enthusiastic about visiting Holocaust-related sights, that's not my goal with this trip. But going to the Anne Frank House felt right for this trip. I've learned about Anne Frank for so long, and always knew that the place she lived in hiding for years was now a museum for people to visit. Passing by on the city tour, I that there is a surprisingly long line to get into the museum. Opting to go as a group on this trip meant we didn't have to wait in the general admission line. And even when we were in the museum, it felt like I was always in a line, waiting to get to the next room, to see the next plaque, and read the next short sentence explaining a moment of Anne Frank's life. It wasn't as though I was wandering the home and annex, imagining myself in her shoes, I was parading through. The most startling moment was seeing the pasted photos of movie stars and celebrities still remaining from when Anne decorated her room.

Stedelijk Museum

Amsterdam's modern art museum. Wandering around I came across an empty gallery with a group of people in a circle, chatting. When I walked in they all said in unison, "welcome to this situation" and then they all turned towards the wall and collectively breathed out. It was a performance piece by Tino Sehgal. I wasn't expecting to see any performance art, but I watched alone for 10 - 15 minutes as the performers went around discussing

Phobia

Because I'm a theater student, my hope is to see the greatest variety of theater I can, from the most commercial European productions, to the weirdest and most experimental pieces. I'm trying to avoid seeing anything that I could see, or would be going to the states.
On Saturday I saw a piece at the Stadsschouwburg called Phobia. It was a dance piece from the international dance company Club Guy and Roni (originaly form Groningen) with the Slovenian dance company EnKnapGroup. This trailer shows exactly what the style and staging was: modern movement with a lot of vibrating, moment depicting violence, and a lot of fear. What you don't see are the "theater of cruelty" monologues. There was a sort of plot and mini-scenes that the movement matched with. It's rare for a production to be so engrossing and have so many elements of its aesthetic that I am deeply satisfied by. I don't think they've ever been to the US, and I hope I see more from them in the future.



The Red Light District

Before leaving on Monday, some friends had a traditional Dutch Sunday* evening: we bought chocolate and sauntered around the Red Light District. I passed lots of women in skimpy underwear, standing in glass doorways under red neon lights. As a part of our education in Dutch culture, we have learned about the tradition of acceptance in the Netherlands. Rather than hide and be embarrassed about controversial issues, the attitude is to be open. Prostitution is legal, which means that sex workers pay taxes, have healthcare and protection. There were lots of tourists walking around and gawking (like me), but I never felt unsafe in this area.

I'll probably be back in Amsterdam to go to the Van Gogh Museum, and see another play. So I'll report on that later.

*There's no such thing as a Dutch Sunday.
• • •

First Weekend at Kasteel Well

We landed at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam on Thursday, around 7:30AM.
The castle is a wonder.
I have to write a play inspired by my time here.

A photo posted by travis (@heytravistravis) on


For future Castle-dwellers, I packed with:
I've spent three full days living at Emerson's Kasteel Well.

Our first and second days were focused on orientation, with some time to make expeditions around the town of Well.

Saturday Night

A harp and violin duo came to the castle and played for us, which was a really fantastic. The songs ranged from Baroque to Celtic, with a cover of My Favorite Things thrown in. Here's a video of them performing. A couple of years ago I (and I imagine others) would have balked at the classical music played for us; but in this lounge, evoking a romantic intellectual soiree, I leaned in.

Previous Kasteel Well residents usually and sincerely describe their semester here as "a life-changing experience"

My plan is to keep expectations low and enjoy every moment, no attachments. That's close to my life's MO.

Sunday

I woke up and biked with my friends for a bit. To save money, myself and eight other people are sharing five bikes and using a Facebook group chat to keep us all accountable for bike usage. The bike I usually grab makes me happy because the handlebars turn towards you, like Pee-Wee Herman's bike. In our adventure, we came across gorgeous, bright flowers in large fields.

A photo posted by travis (@heytravistravis) on

In the afternoon all the students had a meeting with Dulcia Meijers, the executive director of Kasteel Well. Her presence was like nothing I've experienced in an administrator. Although mostly reiterating the rules we had heard that weekend, but without a slideshow so she could engaged so deeply, walk around the room, and make direct eye contact. Never talking down to us, we learned from her three decades of experience how we would make this experience we want. Her attitudes on drinking struck me: in the states she says, the attitude is drinking to get drunk. In the Netherlands, drinking is a social activity, to get rid of inhibitions, and often appreciate the taste of wine. Approximately her point was, "I don't have a problem with alcohol consumption, but I hate alcohol abuse". A new perspective.

Planning

Built into the curriculum of the castle, is planning/budgeting/adventuring. Over the next three months I have to build on these skills, to see all I can see, and appreciate it all. To keep track of it all, I'm using Airtable (which is AWESOME. Highly recommend for all sorts of database-making), to create a three sheet database. Here is the main view, which links to the "Cities to Visit" and "Things I've Bought" Tab.


Planning is stressful. Classes start tomorrow.


• • •

An Overview of Summer 2015

Today I head to Boston, and on Thursday I depart for Emerson College's Kasteel Well program.
Here's an overview of my nearly perfect Summer 2015:

Internship

My internship with VH Theatrical, and Works by Women went incredibly well. I learned a lot about all it takes to run a not-for-profit theater company. Budgets, administrative work, tax papers, union forms, social media, fundraising. I'm really proud I got to help plan two "play" dates with New Brooklyn Theatre.

For awhile the organization was looking for an alternative to using Microsoft Excel as a database of performers, writers, directors, designers, etc; and I came across Airtable one day and since it ended up being exactly what was needed, I got to help set it up which was excited. Also I initiated an implementation of the messaging platform Slack, which truly helped to move most emails and texts to one platform for the team to use internally.

Writing

Most of the summer was spent working on the first draft of a new full length play, Art is Easy. I've uploaded a sample on the New Play Exchange. In addition I've been working on another draft of The End of Broadcast Radio.

Ushering

I love ushering so much. Being a part of greeting people going
  • I saw the Tempest at Shakespeare in the Park roughly 8 times in full, and the first act another 4.
  • I saw Cymbeline (also at Shakespeare in the Park) 13 times in full, the first act another time.
  • With Roundabout Theater Company, I saw Significant Other five times.
  • This past weekend I saw Public Works' production of The Odyssey three times.

What I Went to See

On Broadway

Fun Home (which I did see in previews at the Public), Hamilton, Hand to God, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (which I was seeing for the second time) are the productions that I believe matter most on Broadway.

Off-Broadway and Beyond

The first time I saw Significant Other I cried through mostly the entire play, happy and sad moments. It's such a beautiful, tender, emotional, and touching play that hits right on particular insecurities. Seeing the play multiple times has sort of embedded it into my mind.

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' Gloria at the Vineyard Theatre was an incredibly well written idea/event play, and like his previous, An Octoroon, it's one that I appreciate and fall in love with the more I think about it.

Dave Malloy's Preludes at LCT3 was an example of something I loved from the moment I walked into the theater, and I wish I could revisit it annually. Malloy and director Rachel Chavkin's aesthetics each are so satisfying to me. Joseph Keckler's performance of "On a Loop" was transcendental. The cast recording cannot come soon enough.

Little Shop of Horrors at City Center with the original Audrey, Ellen Greene, and Jake Gyllenhaal was just one of those one-in-a-lifetime experiences. My friend David Levy wrote a truly splendid essay, responding to the production.

Mrs. Smith's Broadway Cat-Tacular was everything I've ever wanted when going to the theater, and I'm devastated the production wasn't more of a success. I'm a Mrs. Smith super-fan for life.

New Brooklyn Theatre's productions of Las Meninas and Rachel were so gripping. The post show discussions were some of the best I've ever had.

I caught Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind twice from the NY NeoFuturists, which is always thrilling and a kick in the butt to go do and make something.
Dylan Marron and Jo Firestone's Ridgefield Middle School Talent Nite was hands down, the funniest thing I've ever seen, and has set the bar for me in respect to comedy.

Taylor Mac performed the 20th Century Abridged (from judy's 24-Decade History Of Popular Music project) at Celebrate Brooklyn! I was stunned at how the monologues in between songs -- in order to give context to each pop song -- were so educational, and bringing up parts of American history that aren't at in our mainstream discussion. A week later at the Park Avenue Armory, Mac did an open rehearsal of 1786-1796, focusing on the temperance movement and pub songs. It was a delight. Taylor Mac might be my number one theatrical inspiration.
A photo I took of Taylor Mac at Celebrate Brooklyn!
This summer was a lot of couch-surfing, very Amanda Palmer-esq. Thank you to all who accommodated me.

• • •