When you're in-situ you can't hide from it - every day is a lesson and every interaction is a chance to improve and keep learning (every person I suppose if you're pedantic and opportunist...).
Yesterday I was stopped in the street by a volunteer for UNHCR. It was four degrees outside and he, and about four other people, were stood in the centre of Berlin happy to catch eye contact and attempt their spiel for donations to the charity. They do an excellent job, but I always feel a little sorry for these volunteers, and especially in these conditions. I hate ignoring them or their cause and I certainly don't want to be rude.
Wide eyed, pleading grin, a step in my path and bingo! Eye contact.
I smiled. Here we go...
I took a deep breath and began searching for my greetings and polite initial conversation, moving to scanning for the vocabulary to construct the sentence I wanted to form: 'I'm sorry, but I'm not able to donate today. I know lots about your organisation and do lots of charitable work too - but you're doing an excellent job. You must be very cold.'
That was not, of course, what it sounded like really...
It's times like these when you realise what you really want to say - that the thought occurs that maybe you say too much generally. You use unnecessary words. Waste people's time and beat around the bush with metaphors and general frivolities and pleasantries. Oh well.
This man humored me. He was patient whilst I arranged the few words I found and responded to me slowly, smile still in place, before asking me if I'd like to speak in English or wanted to continue in German. That's what most people here have said. Lots of people in Berlin speak English of course, but if you ask them or tell them you're learning, they are usually happy to continue to speak to you (and quietly correct you under their breath).
This worked the same way in Italy last year. In my free time I'd walk around the streets in town and if I hadn't interacted with anyone for a while I'd just walk into a shop and unapologetically begin to make conversation with the owner. This tactic, my free classes, and au-pairing for an Italian family with two girls were my main routes into the language.
This year however, thanks to the Opera Awards Bursary I've been able to be much more methodological in this process. I still talk to as many people as I can (laced with german apologies of course) and I still have my note book of phrases which I memorize and add to everyday. This time however I've budgeted for individual German classes too and it has made such an enormous difference. 1:1 means it's super personal and moves at my pace - we set goals and meet almost every day to make the most of my time here. And sure, my language, and linguistic knowledge and vocabulary is improving, but most of all my confidence increases every time and that is the biggest challenge.
I was not the best of students at school and boycotted most of my language classes entirely (sorry Ms. Shail) but learning for a reason offers you more motivation and has a sense of immediacy when you're actually there in the country of the language that you're learning. Boom. It's like my delayed German exchange that I wasn't good enough for and the trips I couldn't afford to go on have all come back together in the form of the Opera Awards hurrah!
So far Berlin has treated me well. I've had meetings at The Deutsche Oper, I am sitting in rehearsals for a new show at The Deutsches Theater next week and this weekend I am helping out Norman Cooley for Acting for Opera Singers masterclasses too. I've also, of course, been preparing and learning Ariadne auf Naxos ahead of starting rehearsals at Scottish Opera (co-production with Opera Holland Park) in February - but learning this surrounded by it's language and Strauss' context in the early 20th Century is the perfect research setting. The foundations of a language which I can continue through my career and the space, time and context that otherwise wouldn't have been available to me have been provided through the Opera Awards (sure, and a bit of my hard work) but I am incredibly grateful to the sponsors and the board for enabling me as a recipient of the award. And I cannot thank them enough: und ich kann Ihnen nicht genug danken.
As we move into 2018, this month marks half a year since I moved out of my cosy house in London with some awesome creatives, sold a lot of my belongings, and decided to live out of a suitcase for a while.
My work began moving me in new directions (literally, rather than metaphorically speaking) and instead of feeling pinned to London with ever-increasing rent prices I decided that instead of resisting it I'd move with it - responding and going wherever it took me. "If I can't do it now, when can I do it?"
Since then I've lived in six different countries for short amounts of time (for a mixture of work and play - and let's be honest for me they are the same thing) without the guilt of also paying rent somewhere in the capital whilst I'm away. It's living on the move - a sort of willing-homelessness I suppose, which offers me freedom, languages, new people and space to work and create.
Sure... you have to be super organised and you're far away from the comfort of those you use as pacifiers or human night-lights - but when it works the rewards are huge - and if you're lucky the world hasn't changed all that much when you return either. (Saying that though I was in Italy last year when Brexit happened but you know what I mean.)
I've learnt that opera is a heavy duty industry - right now I'm working on four projects so that's two scores and two play texts within my 23kg of baggage allowance not including my note books which is tough. I'm a visual person and the thought of doing all of my preparations on a computer rather than with old fashioned pens and paper makes me a little sad but perhaps that's the only lighter option I really have. You learn to prioritise; how many highlighters you really need and how to fully utilise a kindle but it's all for the greater good.
My next project at Scottish Opera will allow me to stay put for a little longer than recently, but I'll still really be living out of a suitcase - but now I feel like I've worked out a better balance than six months ago. In the mean time it's taught me what material things I really need, what I just want for comfort and how to wear those all important final kilos on the plane with you.
And before I forget - I must say another thank you to The Opera Awards bursary who have sponsored me through my time in Germany... but a future post is dedicated to it so watch this space...
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