Bitterness Requires Taste (Something rotten is a Foot)

15 Aug

At the time of writing this unfocused diatribe about a crippled theater industry and the victims of this wounded monster (Whoops, gave it away too soon,) I find myself thinking about Kenya and a particular stretch of beach called Diani, situated near the city of Mombasa. It’s a truly lovely part of a wonderful-enough country and my day-dream about it involves my escape to a beach cottage, slinging drinks to expats and locals, seducing sun-scorched foreigners and forgetting all about them by the time the sun rises on yet another gorgeous day. I would spend my free time writing and taking swimming breaks in between scenes of dialogue driven, dramatically straight-forward plays and satirical essays about shit that no one in their right mind could give a flying curtain-raising-blackout-inducing-theater-as-a-form-of-swine-baiting fuck about. Employment would be taken care of (the pushing of alcohol, the last non-judged drug known to man) and my self-proclaimed creativity would be sated and I could sit back, enjoy a very cheap menthol cigarette and watch the sun set on my problems and, indeed, my life. And like that, with a puff of minty smoke, it’s all over. “He didn’t do much besides from smoke, drink, eat, fuck and whine” they would say, “but he really decorated his downfall with elements resembling the natural rights of a free man.” The fact that my dream ends with my own demise doesn’t deter the smile from creeping onto my mug, because it seems better than what I have now. I repeat: it seems better.

It is however, in reality, just a symptom of something that affects many of my peers. People I know, and dare I say respect, are considering stepping away from what they are so good at. I am not worthy of sharing a room  with these talented folks, and the theater industry losing me is of no consequence as I haven’t done much and struggle to do very little, but there are others who are proclaiming fatigue and a desire to flee, if not to other countries, then into other lives. Their confessions are not your average run-of-the-mill bourgeois reactionary bullshit about moving away from the crime or the poverty or the government or whatever else the all-too-comfortable upper-middle-classes feel the need to update their Facebook profiles with. These confessions are about neglect, abuse and loss of faith in an industry that desperately needs them, but is unwilling to admit that these people even exist. Even though new blood is needed, it remains unwanted. We are talking (writing, arguing, fighting, saddened, enraged) about a dying miser unwilling to part with his gold and demanding to be buried with it instead of sharing it with his starving family.

I recently spoke with one of the most prolific young playwrights in Cape Town and after congratulating her on a recent play (which was summarily cancelled after a week by Lara Foot, the Biggest Kahuna at the Baxter Theater) she admitted that the recent blow was enough for her to step back and try other things for a while. In a town suffering from a lack of decent new work, the loss of a good writer is tantamount to an actor doing a one man show dying from TB just before the curtain rises. Show’s over folks. You paid your money and can hang around for a while, but enjoyment of the arts is not on the cards tonight. The industry will suffer a death by a thousand cuts if Ms Foot and her compadres do not allow newly hatched work time to breathe before shit-canning it into oblivion. What remains baffling to me, and to others I’ve drunkenly ranted with, is that these new-old guards would not be where they are if someone hadn’t given them and their work some chance at a decent run. Perhaps they are the children of an abusive father and have now turned into bullies themselves. “I had to suffer, so you will suffer more.”

The trend is affecting actors as well. I think immediately of two amazing actors who have stepped away from the arena because they are either too good (outshining the mediocre can be dangerous) or not dull enough; dullness apparently being a point of pride and reason for employment in Cape Town. They are Dorian Burstein and Gina Pauling. Avid supporters of theater, generous performers and, admittedly, friends of mine (my bias is showing, dear reader. Apologies.) Anyone who has seen them on stage can’t deny the fact that they bring energy, lack of vanity and intelligence to their all-too-few professional performances. Yet, they have not been courted by directors or acting troupes. And for Christ’s sake why not? Are we really going to allow directors and producers to continue casting whoever sucks them off the best? Are we going to allow the higher-ups to work only with those who toe the line? Are we really going to let the naturally talented and most interesting artists amongst us go into other areas and share their magic with motherfucking foreigners not because it’s a wise career move but because they’re too good for us and our hop-along industry? Isn’t that an admission of failure? And if it isn’t… what is the goddamn excuse?

Side note: In the world of hip-hop, the joy of a rapper rising to the ranks of “ones who have made it” is because for every one rapper that succeeds, he brings ten of his homies up with him (presumably, they make up his posse, if my knowledge about the hip-hop world hasn’t succumbed to whackness… or something.) For an industry accused of violence and aggression, that’s a pretty admirable way of doing things. Yet our theater industry, filled with fairy-chasing, smiling, doe-eyed forest dwellers, is all about keeping others down so that shitty work can continue unabated.

To leave is not an answer but it certainly feels like respite. One would rather go A.W.O.L than fight a losing battle for a general who loves the enemy more than you. The good fight cannot be won if no one wants it to be won. We are allowing the bad to triumph, the mediocre to succeed and the good to go the way of the lonely traveler or even certain unemployed and seemingly unemployable writers spending their time blogging and dreaming of Diani Beach. Do not join me, rather fight back and regain your right to be better than what we have right now.

With that, I return to menthol monstrosities, slightly tepid, but free water, thoughts of hard-boiled dialogue and a beach littered with the bloody corpses of those who are eating away at an industry that deserves better. (A bit much? Fuck it.)

11 Responses to “Bitterness Requires Taste (Something rotten is a Foot)”

  1. Ou Disselboom August 15, 2011 at 19:02 #

    Dear Loo …

    Diani beach is reminiscent of packaged holidays to Durbs-by-the-sea, the hamlet of Kilifi some distance north of Mombasa being more to my taste. But I daresay pushing alcohol on bloated bathers may be a proposition better suited to a resort environment worthy of Sun-King Sol of the Lossidee.

    That having been said, I need to ask how you think your current bleating differs from that which we’ve heard from each successive generation over past few decades? Have you ever considered that perhaps the ‘old farts’ who went before also had to fight over the crumbs that dropped from the table? Some great talents fell by the wayside, while others of us still lurk in the shadows in the hope of finding favour and being tossed the odd pre-masticated scrap. A few secured their meager slice of the pie, on which they now nibble with a frugal caution lest it expire before they do (there being no such thing as a pension in this unforgiving business). Very few, in my experience, have ever been “courted by directors and acting troupes”.

    My advice, for what it’s worth, is to roll up your sleeves and claim your steak: as a wandering Dervish once said to me, “My friend, life is not a bed of nails!”

    • Uncle Loo August 16, 2011 at 15:56 #

      Dear Disselboom,

      Very well put. You must be an actor. Am I right?

      My argument is not a generational one. A few of the talented people I’m worried about leaving are not of my generation and are in fact “old farts”, but they are not sitting on top of the totem pole and I really do think it would be a shame to lose any talent, young or old, in our industry.
      I’m sure people have been raging about these issues for generations and smarter and more talented people than I have opened their mouths to bleat about what they think is wrong in theater. Does the fact that it’s becoming an ancient problem nullify the argument that there is a problem? Should the abuses be accepted or forgiven because it’s simply the way things are done?
      If you are an actor as I suspect, or somehow involved in the arts, would you be happy to be treated like shit by the system? My goal is not to see or foster adolescent ravings about anarchy, but respect and improvement of an art I love dearly,

      Thanks for the great comment.

      PS. Pity about your hate for Diani Beach. I spent a lovely holiday there with some family (In a huge goddamn mansion right on the beach, maybe that helps), so perhaps it depends on one’s experience. You have peeked my interest in Kififi, and I hope to visit Kenya again at some point and will make an effort to see the little hamlet,

      PPS. Working on a new play. Hopefully it’ll be up in Oct. My continuous attempt at claiming my steak.

      Uncle Loo

  2. Diane Wilson August 16, 2011 at 13:20 #

    I too cry over wasted talent.I can think of so many over the years who have been forced to earn a living in some other field. Believe me when I was in a position to push and promote I did just that. Ask David Dennis, Mark Banks, Belinda Koning, Nataniel, Royston Stoffels, Sandi Schultz,Pauline O’Kelly, Greig Coetzee just for starters. Those are some who are still IN the business. I could give you a long list of those who have unfortunately left it.
    However I must tell you how I started. In 1956 there was no way a young actor could get employment merely as an actor. You had to do assistant stage management as well which meant arriving at the theatre at 8.30 in the morning to start washing costumes and cleaning dressing rooms. (This was at the old Hofmeyr Theatre in Cape Town)I think I’ve run out of space. I don’t think this blog is for writing a book If this isn’t boring you I’ll continue elsewhere

  3. Diane Wilson August 16, 2011 at 16:57 #

    O.K. This was a fortnightly repertory company and we really worked like slaves for 3 pounds a week. Our days started at 8.30 and ended at midnight. I wonder now how the hell I managed.We had a sadistic stage director, Aubrey Lowe, who loathed women and he really gave me a hard time.Every 2 weeks, we would have a set change where we worked right through the night.
    Mannie Mannim can verify that when the company moved to the Brooke Theatre in Johannesburg in 1958, he was the head usher who arrived every evening on his bicycle from Bez Valley and I was everything. To give you an example, the play was “Fallen Angels” and I, having worked all day washing and ironing costumes, buying props for the next show, prompting on the current show rehearsing

  4. Diane Wilson August 16, 2011 at 17:09 #

    continued….would get to the theatre to start running Fallen Angels. I had a part in it, plus I was prompt, plus I was working the lights from the side of the stage. Mannie would arrive early to help me prepare the big 5 course dinner scene in act 2….and so it went on. To give you an idea of how we were treated, I hadn’t been paid my 3 pounds one Friday and I asked Aubrey (Mr.Lowe) when I would be paid. “When I bloody feel like it” was the reply.
    You get the picture? My parts got better and bigger over the years and finally when I started touring with Sandy Wilson’s production of “The Boyfriend” in late 1958, the management decided I had paid my dues and then I could become an “actress only”

    • Anonymous August 19, 2011 at 11:47 #

      Write that book!

  5. montag451 August 18, 2011 at 13:31 #

    Stories are proliferating on the ground of consistent fraud at the Baxter. And we are not even talking artistically. There is fiscal mendacity a-foot. A growing web of insider testimony to this exists. Journalistic tools should be sharpened and this mendacity made public. The ‘quite diplomacy’ of the Fugard will be something to keep an eye on in the future.

  6. Lea August 29, 2011 at 14:20 #

    Thank you for bringing to light an issue that as artistic plebs know nothing about.

    You used your words well, you’re a writer, right? 🙂

    • Uncle Loo August 30, 2011 at 15:48 #

      Dear Lea,

      I am trying my absolute best to be a writer. I’m yet to figure out how to capitalize on this writing thing as I find myself severely unemployable. But I’ll leave the whining to my blog-posts. Thanks for reading and commenting. Please feel free to do so again in the future.


  7. Anonymous September 18, 2011 at 00:53 #

    No darling, don’t try your best- stress kills.

    The problem with life is that it tends to be quite time consuming.

  8. Andrew Alexander October 5, 2011 at 18:02 #

    Hi Louis. I am Adam Neill’s brother-in-law. I am not commenting at present. I am signing up, on Adam’s strong recommendation, to receive notifications of your posts. Regards. Andrew.

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