When everything is crumbling around you, and you feel that all of your hard work has been for naught, sometimes your only option is to breathe deep and keep marching.
We’ve been anticipating disaster since before we arrived in Rijeka. We now face the very real and—gulp—more likely possibility that we won’t be able to use Galeb after all, due to the aforementioned bureaucratic glitch, which, the Theatre regrets, seems beyond even the Mayor’s control. With only six days until our scheduled performance, time has become an enemy, forcing us to make some unwieldy and uncomfortably quick decisions.
When we first met with Marin, the Theatre’s General Manager, he encouraged us to create something scalable. That way, should some logistical concern arise, we could modify our concept. “If you decide not to show anything in the end, that’s totally OK,” he insisted. We dismissed that immediately. Spend five weeks working with actors at the Croatian National Theatre and NOT make something epic? Yeah, right.
The rehearsal room is unbearably stuffy. It’s ninety-one degrees outside, and we work indoors all day without fans or air-conditioning. Our actors are stretched thin between several projects, and, though they’re sincerely enjoying our work, they’re exhausted. Kim and I, too, are burning out. We’re working overtime, not only as co-directors, but also co-stage managers, choreographers, producers, and designers. The temptation to quit and hit the beach is stronger than ever. Do we pledge the little energy we have towards this seemingly impossible final stretch? Or do we spare ourselves the struggle and let WRECKED die on the vine?
Since we arrived, we’ve been telling everyone in town about what we’re doing. Opinions vary. We’ve heard everything from “Cool!” to “What is Galeb?” to “Don’t go on that ship; it’s going to sink any day now.” The unanimous consensus, however, is that the citizens of Rijeka are annoyed about the ship’s inaccessible location in the port. According to the locals we’ve met, it costs the city approx. €130,000.00 annually to maintain the ship and keep a security guard onboard at all times. Yet, when we went aboard two weeks ago, the only thing that the security guard seemed to be working on was his tan.
A barbed wire fence now separates the ship from the street. From the outside, €130,000 does seem dubiously high. “Babies here are dying of cancer,” our dramaturg told us when we arrived. “How do people here feel about Galeb? They feel pissed off that their tax dollars pay for it to sit there and rust.”
We took this to heart at the outset of our process. The last thing we wanted was for the local audience to perceive our work through a contentious lens. We came here to build bridges, not to burn them. Yet now, ironically, we can on some level relate to the frustration the locals feel about this ship. Indeed, what is it doing here, particularly if no one is allowed to see it up close, let alone engage with its historical significance in any meaningful way? It’s a cool relic, for sure. But at a distance, it’s an eyesore. There are plans to spend millions of euros on renovations to make the ship a tourist destination. But the people here seem divided about whether or not that would be a good thing. For years the citizens have been paying to keep it afloat, just barely out of reach. “Why?” they ask. Why not chop it up and feed it to the fishes?
To give you a more detailed picture of what we’ve been making: we have been working with five actors—three men, two women—to create living, breathing, ghostlike installations in various rooms on this haunted ship. The idea is not to represent figures such as as Tito, Kennedy, and Liz Taylor in some literal way. Rather, the actors embody a range of these characters’ archetypes using a nuanced, physical language. These isolated tracks eventually coalesce in a final, climactic group scene. Spoiler: it involves a dance number.
The specific historical signifiers—the “documentary” elements of the piece, if you will—come from audio and visual elements that play throughout the space. We want the audience to bring their own stories and imaginations to the experience, and to let the historical material function purely as atmosphere, something to get people’s wheels turning. We have spent the last week discovering and refining this concept. Now, all of that might have to change.
We do, of course, have a backup plan. But when we pitched it to the actors yesterday, they were heartbroken. “All of this has been about Galeb,” one of our actors pleaded, close to tears. “How can we do it anywhere else?”
We’re stuck. If we can’t use the ship, we’ll have to perform what we have using a few different rooms in the theatre and a hallway that connects them. But we’re worried that in this new space, the dramaturgy of the piece will fall apart. The public, too, is dying to see the ship. People have been calling the box office every day to inquire about tickets.
The only solution, as we see it, is to present whatever we have, and to find some clever way to incorporate the fact that wonky bureaucracy disrupted our plans. It would be one thing if we had two more weeks to navigate this decision. But with only four and a half more days of rehearsal, and only six days left to prepare, we’re starting to panic.
We are trying to remember that the secret ingredient to all great art is uncertainty. “All great art is about life and death,” a mentor once told me. “If that is true,” I often ask myself, “then how can artists expect to make great art unless, time and again, we fearless plunge face-first into the void, with no guarantee of survival?”
It is always easier said than done. We still don’t know what will happen. And honestly, we’re terrified. We are expecting to have a final answer about the ship by the end of the day today. If we don’t have one by tomorrow, we change course.
For now, we keep marching.