A Sad Wank As Career Progression (The Nomination Boogie-Woogie)

4 Mar

It has been two weeks since my play “Champ” was nominated for three Fleur Du Cap Theatre Awards and a masturbating monkey of melancholy (Jesus, with the alliteration) has taken residence on top of my head and its jerky movements and lewd grunts has put me off balance. Not that I was ever in the realm of the well-balanced, but what little I had has been substituted by the shuffling gait of a drunk trying to determine the pattern of desire lines in an open field.

The Fleur Du Cap Theatre Awards have long been a magnet for praise and criticism, including my own rants on the subject, and it is with my knowledge (correct or not) of the way the Cape Town Theatre industry functions that I find myself dizzily standing on the picked-at carcass that is my play. I say my play, but I know full well that my contribution is only as the originator of the script. A play belongs to those who raised it as much as the one (or many) who birthed it. “Champ” is not my first play, nor my most ambitious in terms of what I aim to present. But it has proven to be the most popular and lauded of my works thus far. I have been congratulated by a wide variety of people, ranging from those I respect to those I believe should be shipped off to Siberia and put to work in a gulag for crimes against theatre (a bit dramatic, but I started off with a suggestion of murder by firearm, but Oscar Pistorius has ruined those jokes for the foreseeable future).

The nominations that the esteemed (some not so much) Fleur Du Cappers have thrown at “Champ” have certainly boosted my confidence that the play has a life beyond the confines of Cape Town, however it is not because of the nominations that the play has been offered a life beyond said confines. The play was picked up by The Fugard Theatre for a revival run at the beginning of this year (2013, for those of you reading this in the future… on Mars) and other offers for the play were made soon after that, well before the Fleur Du Cap nominations. Don’t get me wrong, it’s motherfucking aces that we got nominated and the prospect of hobnobbing with the “elite” at the ceremony fills me with joyous trepidation that can only be understood by people who share my love of free wine and food in massive quantities. There will be drinking, eating and all manner of debauchery if last year’s ceremony is anything to go by. The play itself will be spotlighted for a while and the backslapping will surely ruin the suit I’ve picked out for the occasion (I only have one, so it wasn’t much of a choice.)

So, why the melancholy, I hear you ask. It is not the prospect of losing, which we surely will seeing as “Champ” is up against such behemoths as “Mies Julie” (sex, apartheid, guilt, sex, boobs, apartheid, guilt, guilt, sex, sex), “Statements After An Arrest Under The Immorality Act” (Athol Fugard, sex, boobs, guilt, crying audience members, Athol Fugard) and “The View” (non-stop crying from everyone around me, the whole time, for an hour and a half, dead-puppy level crying, sick grandma level crying, crying, crying, crying.) *

*Disclaimer: The above plays are all terrific and worthy of the praise they have received. My lame attempts at humour should not dissuade you from seeing them and supporting the fuck out of them.

Back to me (what a dick, heh?). The problem with success in this town is that very often the praise is underhanded. Instead of agreeing that the work is above what the “critic” expected to experience, one is complimented for finally dropping to the level of the “critic”, as if the work has been compromised to fit in with the “critic’s” low expectations. For example, soon after the initial run of “Champ”, I was approached and congratulated by a reviewer of some esteem. The reviewer told me, in no uncertain terms, that I had finally produced a play worthy of their praise. By some miracle act of artistic compromise I had managed to write a play that spoke to them instead of alienating them like previous efforts had. If this is true, then it is an immense failure on my part as a playwright. One should never pander to the “critics”, but rather strive to elevate their viewpoints to meet or succeed your own. If what the reviewer said was miscalculation or a blatant lie, then what can I make of that? Will I only be praised and revered if I disguise my work enough to fool those who hold sway over the industry? Perhaps. But what then of the honesty that one strives to bring to every piece of writing? Should the mask be created before the face? Should the carefully constructed lie be thought of before the truth is decided on? Can this paragraph contain any more questions?

In a bid to alleviate my melancholy, I think of “Champ” as an aberration; a phantom blip on the radar of my career (Christ, enough with the metaphors). I don’t mean the play itself, but rather the resulting madness around it. I believe, rightly or wrongly, that it doesn’t help the play. At best, it leaves the play as is, without the need for alteration. At worst, it feeds the ego of the creators and their need for acceptance. We are, after all, a community of artists and low self-esteem and the need for over-compensation are perhaps the things we all have in common. To bend to the attention of something like the Fleur Du Cap Awards might lead to a breaking of integrity that will last longer than the warmth of the glow from the brief acceptance. Such moments, whether they are large in scale (awards) or tiny (a kind word from a critic), should be viewed as reminders to stay true to the work and not as inspirations for similar work. Lest we forget, we would be making theatre with or without awards or critics. Wouldn’t we?

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11 Responses to “A Sad Wank As Career Progression (The Nomination Boogie-Woogie)”

  1. Marina Griebenow March 4, 2013 at 13:15 #

    Dearest Louis,

    OMG I’m going to ruin your reputation as an anti-establishment, f….er of everything ordinary and so forth by commenting here, but I feel I may since I’ve seen a lot of your work in the past few years.

    Watching you mature as a playwright (obviously never enough to your own satisfaction) has given me great pleasure and I’m very proud of where you are right now, particularly because I know Champ is just a milestone on your very unique (and sometimes quirky) personal journey and you have set very high standards for yourself..(.jeez, I’m really overdoing the corny, aren’t I!). You know my viewpoint on the swearing… actually I still don’t quite get the academic argument about that issue, the one you presented at the Gipca thingie, but that’s just me and you don’t have to mind me, because you know what I do for a living! You know what Noël Coward said about critics: he thought them very clever because they could go to the theatre night after night and know so very little about it! 🙂 Maybe if you sit me down and explain it very slowly…

    Suffice to say that few things give me greater pleasure than watching all you talented and very bright young people (and I’m NOT ancient yet!) innovate and reinvent our theatre scene locally and nationally. Remember that success and acknowledgement aren’t swear words… they are a means of helping you to get where you want to be, on your own terms hopefully.

    And you are absolutely right about the other scripts that were nominated. Remember that there were about another 20 more that did not make it to the final four, including Fugard and Mike van Graan, so you find yourself in the company of the best and the brightest.

    As for going on without critics and awards, I truly hope that that would indeed be the case, otherwise my own romantic notions about artists who have to make art because they are driven by some or other unfathomable and irresistable creative force and talent will be shattered, and that cannot happen because that’s my raison d’être.

    May the force be with all the nominees on the night of the 17th. May we all celebrate the excellence in our theatre industry without forgetting that the following day the work continues! Much remains to be done.

    Theatrical regards
    Marina

    • Uncle Loo March 4, 2013 at 18:42 #

      Dear Marina,

      Thanks for the comment. Your support means the world to me, and I know I speak for quite a few others as well. Yes, the swearing issue is going to be an endless debate between you and I, but at least your objection is not just one of “ag I don’t like the word fuck”.

      I am thrilled at the Fleur Du Cap’s response of “Champ” and as I said it can do the play no harm. Anything to bring the work to the attention of others is appreciated (positive or negative). I guess the blog also served as reminder to myself not to take this too seriously and that it says nothing about me as a person but hopefully about the ability of the play to reach an audience.

      Perhaps my hesitant stance towards accepting the Fleur Du Cap’s praise is that they continue to disappoint me in terms of what they leave out. The question that’s most on my mind is “Where is The Mechanicals’ KING LEAR?”. One nomination for Emily, which she deserved completely, is not enough for (and this is my opinion) the best play I have ever seen. Nothing has ever moved me and affected me as much as King Lear. And if the awards ignore that, then it puts the whole thing into a different light for me. It makes me suspicious. You understand that, right?

      Anyway, I look forward to enjoying a bottle of free champagne with you on the evening of the awards. I love a bit of a drunken dress-up party.

      Loo

  2. Diane Wilson March 4, 2013 at 14:54 #

    Please ,if you are a writer Marina, stop saying “very unique”. Very very irritating.It is like saying ‘ very sui generis ‘

    • Uncle Loo March 4, 2013 at 18:45 #

      Dear Diane,

      What a pity and a shame that you won’t be at the awards. It’s been two years since our brief meeting at the GIPCA event (we never even exchanged names.) I would have loved to share a bottle of free wine with you. I will drink one and think of you.

      Hope to meet you soon.

      L.

  3. guy March 4, 2013 at 20:48 #

    Dear Loo. Thank you for the big up for King Lear. But Cape Town clearly wants the kind of Shakespeare it deserves. I am mostly taken by your skill and dog headed honesty in keeping the kind of perspective you do, the honesty in critical questioning, when everyone around you behaves like Chekhov’s russian dog. “Their psychology is that of a dog: when they are beaten, they whine shrilly and run to their kennels; when petted, they lie on their backs with their paws in the air and wag their tails.” I hope you take the “Local Tony”. Not because the committee wagged their tails. But because you are truly hardcore original.

    • Uncle Loo March 5, 2013 at 09:21 #

      Plus, the cash would be great. I could finally get the Armenians off my back. Curse my high stakes domino addiction!

  4. Adrian Galley (@ACGalley) March 5, 2013 at 08:28 #

    It is a curious dilemma indeed, on the horns of which you find yourself; at the risk of rubbing salt into the wound (or pissing in your eye – less of a cliché but nonetheless ignominious) I heartily congratulate all three champs. Fucking well done. I fucking wet myself with ROFL and didn’t mind the fucking language at all. As far as your collective integrity goes, there must be some comfort in the knowledge that at least one of the potential laureates has been shed ahead of the Fugard run. Such a fucking pity, though.

    • Uncle Loo March 5, 2013 at 09:36 #

      Dear Adrian,

      Yep, it is a great pity we lost Adam. Especially now that he’s been nominated (the bastard) and we can’t use him for publicity. I’ve always wanted to whore Adam out, but he’s one step ahead of me time and time again. But we’ve gained Pierre Malherbe in the process and I think he’ll bring something new and exciting to the role.

      Thanks for the laughter (sounds like a Barry Manilow song) and I hope we see you at the next run at the Fugard. From April 5th.

      Loo

  5. Anonymous March 5, 2013 at 09:08 #

    Fascinating read!! I think, however, your melancholy is miisguided. It is simply irrational to claim that works of art are created to intentionally pander to the “critics, judges, reviewers…” whatever you want to call them. How on earth are you going to do that? It would entail detailed research into every judges’ personal likes and dislikes and intimate preferences…..and even then, as with all of us…..these aesthetic sensiblities are constantly in flux; John Gielgud’s performance as Hamlet in the fifties was brilliant……today it sucks! It is also patently absurd to attempt to deliberately alienate them….in fact there is no guarantee that you could even do that! What we do say about critics is always after the fact. We never predict what so-and-so is going to say about this or that play or scene, but we’ll bitch and moan when they don’t like it. This is by no means to say that there are doing their job correctly…..far from it. But I think, whoever they are and whatever they might finally decide, it obvious they were most certainly “elevated” by your work.
    And if you get it? Put it on your mantelpiece or use it as a toilet door stopper…..whatever. One day it will remind you that, whoever they were, some people somewhere gave me an unsolicited pat on the back……
    The money’s also good.
    Looking forward to seeing your work!!
    James Borthwick.

    • Uncle Loo March 5, 2013 at 09:31 #

      Dear James,

      Thanks for the comment.
      I hear what your saying, but I disagree. I think a lot of people in our industry pander to audiences and reviewers. I think it happens the whole time. Granted, they don’t often succeed and sometimes the audience member sees through them, but so much of the work we see is being done by people who want to be taken into the fold and told by some reviewer, or a VIP audience member that they have done well. And this feels god, I’ll admit that. But for some it’s becomes the reason behind the work. And I find that poisonous.

      About the award, if “Champ” does get an award, then I will be grateful of course. I’ll even brag about it to my loved ones. My argument was that I refuse to let that influence the work or feed my ego. My mom and my friends already like me, and I need no one else’s validation. It’s appreciated, but i won’t seek it.

      (Does that make sense? I might be writing this too early in the morning. I haven’t had coffee and a smoke. Plus, the reflection from my PC screen is showcasing the severity of my morning wear.)

      Hope to see you at “Champ” (from 5th of April, Fugard Theatre)

      Loo

  6. Diane Wilson March 8, 2013 at 17:53 #

    Hi Louis,
    I really understand how one’s own nomination is diminished when a work one considers especially brilliant is overlooked. I am so happy to see that in spite of being brave enough to antagonize many in the business, you have been honoured none the less.
    Your fan,
    Diane x

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