Wonderful day in Paris, sunny, just cool enough to allow strolling around without sweating. I spent the day doing my usual bookstores itinerary, from the FNAC at Les Halles to the left bank Librairie Compagny, and La Hune and L’écume des pages at St-Germain-des-prés, with a coffee or a «demi» here and there on the way. My bag is now heavy with books.
I am sitting on a terrace, at la brasserie Barnum, on Monge street, just beside La Mutualité, a place packed with memories of May 68. I stopped for another expresso before climbing Monge street to visit my friends at Le Théâtre de La vieille grille. Strange feeling: they are Jewish artists, very committed to the defense and illustration of the tradition of Yiddish Jewish culture, I admire their work and yet, yesterday, I was still in Beirut where Jews are not liked, to say the least.
So it seems to be the right moment to try summarize my last days in Beirut and particularly to report on Tuesday’s performance. The problem I was having with the video input of my laptop did not disappear. It was still there on Tuesday afternoon. So I had to go ahead, perform and live through this major problem. On Monday, when I rehearsed at Mazen’s, I could get something close to a decent image although the lights conditions were far from ideal. I was expecting that, at Monnot theater, with better lighting conditions, things would be better. Quite the contrary.
The day started with other types of problems. Last week, I had told Sharif that it was needed that the video projector used for the performance would accept a NTSC video signal. I was not to worried because most recent video projector do automatically detect what type of signal they receive, PAL or NTSC, and adjust to it. At the end of the morning, we received the information that the Monnot projector was only PAL. We found out later that it was not the case. It had not been really checked, the tech director just said he did not know. So we needed to find one. Sharif did localize a shop were they had on for rent at an acceptable price. Mazen and I had to go and wait for this guy at the shop, and then test if it worked. It did but all this running around in Beirut crazy traffic took time and when we arrived at Monnot theater, it was lunch time and we were off to Neila’s palace to eat.
Setting up started later in the afternoon than I would have liked. Then I ran right in the lighting and keying problems. I was not able to set the keying at anything near what I had succeeded to do the day before with bad lighting conditions. At the moment, I thought it was because there was not a sufficient intensity of light. When I think this over now, I realize that the problem on the contrary was too much light. I should have asked them to lower the light intensity to create conditions similar to what I had at Mazen’s. But I was too stressed out to quietly analyze the problem and my mind was totally focused on getting more light than they could give me.
The only possibility was to adapt to the lousy keying conditions. In order to have my hand visible enough to the public, I had to always set it on the bottom layer of keying rather than on top of everything like I normally do. The resulting image was bad compared to what I usually get, this was frustrating in itself, but the worst was that this seemingly little modification forced me to change on the fly all the transition strategies that I had carefully rehearsed.
I tried to calm myself during the hours just before the evening starts. The first group played on and then it was my turn. I was still stressed out and very sorry that this specific performance in Beirut would not be the performance we had been hoping for. All those technical problems and Bob not there. I first talked to the audience explaining why Bob was not there, how important this project was for us and how important the prospect of showing it in Beirut had been, etc. I also talked about the questions we started asking ourselves later on about what it meant coming from abroad in Lebanon and show Lebanese those images of that war that they had been suffering from and that they maybe did not want to see anymore. My conclusion was that, given that we had the opportunity to do so, it was the right, ethical, thing to do. This was received with warm applauds and it helped me to start the performance in a better mood.
Then it started. I forgot to start the mini-DV camera so I did not record the totality of the piece. It is twenty minutes into the performance that I realized my mistake. But apart from that, things went surprisingly well. Thanks to all the rehearsal I had been doing, I went through the piece rather fluently, not doing major mistakes and succeeding to do all the transitions more or less on cue with the changes in the music, the background DVD and the timer. Visually the live animation was visible and did not suffer too much from the keying problem. The image of my hand did suffer, so did the section with the doll which made the end section less interesting and made it seems too long.
But I was like in a tunnel and I had no idea how the audience was receiving the performance. Anyway I did not have the mental space to even worry about it. It turned out that the applauds were long, warm and generous. Many people told me afterward how touched and impressed they were. Apparently, nobody noticed what went wrong technically. Of course they had no idea about how it was suppose to be and they took it as it came. I had to force myself not to talk about my problems and accept that the piece was what they had seen and not what I had wished, and that the audience was generally happy with it. All the testimonies converged.
The next day, when Sharif was driving me to the airport, he mentioned a Lebanese journalist who was so enthusiastic about what he had seen that he wanted them to put on the performance again two days later so that he could write an article and convince more people to come and see it. He thought everybody in Lebanon should see it. But I had to leave the next day. This was sad also because it prevented me to see the performance of the other musicians that I spent time with every evening.
After, it was the beginning of a slow return home, including this one day stop in Paris which I am enjoying a lot. Staying at my friend I., walking around in Paris to visit bookstores, lunch with H. and S., then A.. and L.. in a few minutes, and tonight C. and F.