Tag Archives: Amy Jephta

The Cat Ass Trophy Goes To… Peter Peter Theatre Eater

16 Nov

Peter Tromp, the esteemed Cape Town theatre critic, is a dickless motherfucker. Wait… wait… I apologize, dear reader. It was not my intention to start like that. I have no research to back my opening statement. There is no proof that Peter Tromp, the esteemed Cape Town theatre critic, lives his life without a penis or that he had sexual intercourse with his mother. One can only speculate on such things. Unfounded accusations of genital mutilation and incest are better left to editors and publications that employ people like Peter Tromp, the esteemed Cape Town theatre critic.

So, let’s try again.

Peter Tromp, the infallible trend setter and scourge of bad theatre, who time and time again has answered the call to deliver critical analysis of why a show produced by people of a lower class than Mr Tromp, is worthy of his praise or condemnation and has shown himself to be an immovable object when it comes to his opinions, is in fact… a dickhead. (Perhaps that’s where his penis migrated to. Someone will have to research that.)

The reason for my umbrage towards Mr Tromp is due to an article that was published in “48Hours”, an arts magazine that carries the honour of employing Mr Tromp and sending him on noble crusades to shit on or praise other people’s work. This, of course, is part of the game. Theatre-makers have to endure the good reviews and the bad ones and if one does not ask “why” when you are granted a good review then the same goes when one receives a bad review. The article in question is Mr Tromp’s review of Nicholas Spagnoletti’s “Special Thanks to Guests from Afar”, the fourth play in Artscape’s 8th Spring Drama Season (an annual season dedicated to showcasing new writing.)  I was also part of this year’s season and my play “Champ” was the second in the season, after Amy Jephta’s “Other People’s Lives”. Mr Tromp did not review “Champ” and gave no indication of his immense dislike (spoiler alert!) of the play when he interviewed me for “48Hours”. I say interview, but what I mean is he e-mailed me a generic list of questions, which I answered and the exchange was published as an interview. The sub-heading even read “Peter Tromp spoke to Louis Viljoen…” Peter Tromp has never spoken to Louis Viljoen. Peter Tromp is too important to speak to a lowlife like Louis Viljoen.

But back to the article. In his glowing review of “Special Thanks to Guests from Afar” (a review the play richly deserves. Mr Spagnoletti is a very good writer and the actors were superb) Mr Tromp referred to my play, “Champ”, as a catastrophe and one of the reasons for the Artscape’s 8th Spring Drama Season being on the verge of dismal failure. He also included Ms Jephta’s work in that statement, but I will let her start her own fight with Mr Tromp. (And I suspect she will eviscerate him.) Granted, it is his opinion. He has every right to hate my work and I don’t hold it against him. “Champ” was not for everyone. As much as it irks me to say, Mr Tromp has been reviewing theatre for longer than I’ve been working in it, and he’s seen more theatre than I have, so his opinion comes not from the mind of a neophyte but from experience in watching theatre (that he never has to pay for) and he gets paid to give his opinions.

However, (ah, boy, here it comes.)

The reasons critics are paid are not only to give their opinions. They are expected to say whether a play is good or bad, but more than that, they need to qualify it. “The play is good because…” and “the play is bad because…” and so forth. You get the idea. Of course you do, because you’re not a moron. Mr Tromp’s unqualified statement that “Champ” is a catastrophe comes out of nowhere. He uses his hatred of the play as a forward for his review of someone else’s play, but draws little to no comparison between the two. It is not expected of him to compare Mr Spagnoletti’s play to mine, but he introduces the possibility of comparison without following it through. This would be acceptable if he was an unpaid commenter or a blogger (hey, that’s me) but as someone who I’m sure refers to himself as a critic and who would not write a word about any theatrical endeavour without attaching an invoice to the article, he is in dereliction  of duty as a writer for the arts.

Later in the review, Mr Tromp takes time to denigrate the work of Gabriella Pinto, a young playwright who has proven herself, one year out of UCT’s Drama School, as a prolific writer/director who is growing with every new play she produces. Ms Pinto was not part of the Spring Drama Season, but fell afoul of Mr Tromp for reasons that are unclear. He hated her play “Chickens” and he felt he should mention it in a review of “Special Thanks to Guests from Afar”. Again, he doesn’t qualify his statement. Firstly he insults Ms Pinto’s work without explaining why it so appalled him, then he lumps her in and somehow makes her seem implicit in the “catastrophes” that were “Champ” and “Other People’s Lives”, therefore lowering her work and her achievements by asserting his disapproval of her writing and that she exists in the same industry as me and Ms Jephta.

Why did Peter Tromp feel the need to vent his anger about other people’s work in a review that had nothing to do with those people’s work?  It can’t be his hatred of women (I’m a boy-man with no penis attached to my head). It can’t be inexperience (he is THE Peter Tromp, esteemed theatre critic).  It can’t be his personal feelings towards an industry that he doesn’t understand anymore (surely that would make him unemployable in his field). You know what it can be? Lazy fucking journalism. Lazy, unedited, frustrated and unqualified rants from a man who should know better.

And what makes my rant any different? I don’t get paid to insult Peter Tromp. I’ll do it for free.

Someone Wrote on the Wall… With Permission, Naturally (The Art of Jerking-Off a Corpse)

29 Aug

To begin with, I must confess to envy. I envy the reasonable success of my peers and even the continued successes of those who came before me. I cannot help but measure my progress against the theatre-makers around me. My envy does not necessarily stretch to the quality of work, but let’s face it, the admiration of the industry (and the cash, little as it is to the real world) is something that I cannot help but want. Who doesn’t like having their genitals stroked by the movers and shakers of one’s chosen profession (a term to be used very loosely, unless you’re the GM/CEO of a theatre – Malcolm “The Percolator” Purkey, Lara “What’s that on your” Foot, Daniel “Big Red” Galloway, or Pieter “Jesus do we hate you” Toerien.)

It was with this hidden envy that I attended the Gordon Institute of Performing and Creative Arts (GIPCA) Directors & Directing Conference, with the focus this time around being on playwrights and their role in the theatre industry. I will relieve your suspense about what was decided the role of the playwright should be: The playwright should be shot and buried in a field on the outskirts of SA Theatreville. That’s a bit overstated, so allow me to re-phrase. The idea of the sole author with a distinctive voice and a personal vision of the world (real and created) that doesn’t play into a state sanctioned social agenda was frowned upon the entire weekend. Socially uplifting, community orientated, multicultural, all inclusive, positive, life affirming, comforting, false theatre was decreed as the way forward.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with any of the elements I mentioned above (even false theatre can have its rewards), but if it’s the only theatre we are committed to, then we are making eunuchs of ourselves. As it turned out, the conference was there not to actually explore the role of the playwright (as author), but to come together and wallow in our own destruction by our own means and talk about our industry as one might talk about archaeology: in academic terms, with historical reverence and an admittance that all this “writer” shit belongs to another age.

As a writer I shudder and reach for the gin.

While I agree that various forms of theatre are what could make the industry great, to ignore the singular voice of the author is to ignore the possibility of truly original visions. The group-think that comes with workshop theatre and the allowance of every voice to have a part in the story, is on occasion a bore. It is choral work versus a single person singing. Both can be beautiful (or awful) but the true personality of the singer emerges clearer when heard on its own, as opposed to in a group. Both can be moving, both have value, but to eschew one in favour of the other is moronic and dangerous.

The theatre of Mandla Bothwe and Mark Fleishman’s work with Magnet Theatre are great examples of workshop theatre that works, as much as the present day plays of “King of sole authors” Athol Fugard is theatre that doesn’t work (because it’s boring as fuck). But the successes of workshop theatre is now being used as ammunition against the idea of someone sitting down and writing a good play (unhindered by social responsibility, political correctness, inclusion of different points of view) and having it produced and living a life on the stage as well as the page.

What worried me most about the conference (besides from me taking to the free wine like a cat to an injured bird) were the clear voices of some of my peers and the way they were admired for their views, but completely ignored when it came to discussing solutions to our dire-as-motherfuck situation. Writers Juliet Jenkin and Amy Jephta (two lady chicks who make up a lot of my envy) both gave presentations urging the industry to acknowledge and nurture the singular voice in theatre. They spoke with joy and weariness about the process of writing and the need for truth over wish-fulfillment. They were applauded, their names were dropped in other people’s presentations, and then they were shoved aside in order for us to hear more from the elders (not only in terms of age, but also in position) of this world and how their solutions are dependent on our of acceptance of their strangle-hold over the industry.

The conference ended with a discussion of what we’ve learned (that’s right, folks. Like a classroom) led by Malcolm “Sophiatown: We get it!” Purkey, which seemed more like a group eulogy (workshop theatre practitioners take note). The final message seemed to be, “Walk the line, play the game, keep your fucking mouth shut.” The last word of the symposium came from young playwright Joanna Evans. She asked what the future for someone like her would be. How could she survive in this industry and keep making work that is personal to her while not necessarily playing by the rules set forth by the bureaucrats who run the theatres and head up the National Arts Council and bring about storms of mediocrity from the highest (lowest) echelons of government and non-governmental institutions?

At that point two things happened: I added another person to my envy list, and more significantly, no one answered her.

No one could answer her.

Backslapping As A Theatrical Form Of Self-Abuse (Not to mention entertainment)

4 Aug

Cape Town – Last Weekend

On the second day of the Directing Symposium, I arrived with a demon called Abraxas straddling my head and calling himself the master of all lies and both God and the Devil. He cleverly disguised himself as a hangover and seemed determined to haunt me for the rest of the very long day. I knew then that somehow I had made the mistake in thinking that any good could come from this symposium.

The Directors and Directing gabfest, presented by The Gordon Institute for Performing and Creative Arts (GIPCA), was meant to serve as a forum in which the art of theater directing and the role of the director could be dissected and discussed by means of expert panels, selected pieces of work, lectures and interrogation by the audience. This was the intention and in some way, it was executed. The devil, as we all know and what Abraxas kept reminding me of, is in the details. The fault does not lie with GIPCA. In fact it does not lie implicitly with anyone participating in the forum (they are who they are, and that’s the way it is,) but rather in the fact that from such a seemingly important and much desired event came nothing but the growing divides between the “I have, I haves”, the “I want, I wants” and those of us stuck in the middle. The “I haves” are the ones that have made their names and are considered to be deities of the theater. The “I wants” are their disciples, their groupies and the ones who desperately want to be liked by those they count as important. The rest are, well, the rest: Those who do the work, worry about the work and want to participate in the evolution and not the devolution of theater.

The first evening was an indicator of how things would go, but only in hindsight. The audience was greeted by the very affable Jay Patha (who, throughout the weekend, was trying to stave off the apocalypse) and we were then treated to the mad ramblings of Gay Morris, who seems to be vying for the role of the Mad Cat Lady in the live-action “The Simpsons” movie, albeit with a better vocabulary. Following her was Aubrey Sekhabi who spoke with unadulterated joy and a modicum of intelligence of his time spent in the theater world and surprised the audience (or at least me) with his enthusiasm, especially in an industry and a town where showing your love for something is considered severely un-cool and is reserved for bloggers, children and retards (one and the same, some might say.) The true high-low-light of the evening was revered theater veteran and Grand Dragon of the Market Theater Malcolm Purkey, who displayed such supreme gas-baggery that he started to resemble a person farting into a bottle and trying to sell it as perfume. The audience was then invited to sniff at the bottle and the response was one of gratitude and reverence. He claimed to be a populist and displayed that fact by not saying anything of importance, but merely put on a clever magic show that fooled the “I want I wants” and impressed the “I have I haves” in a manner that Hitler was impressed by Napoleon. (Not that I’m accusing the theater Gods of being Nazi’s or warlords. No, no, no. That would be egregious.) Cheap red wine and awkward flirtation with American tourists seemed to be the only way that I could wash the evening off my skin. I suspect this to be the invitation Abraxas needed to cuddle up to my brain.

Day two, as I said, was hellish in its opening. Little was I to know that soon the state of my hangover and the invasion of my headspace by the demon would prove to be respite compared to what awaited us at the first panel: The Director’s Signature. Six directors were invited to speak about the idea of director as auteur and explain, in as many words as possible, what their specific signatures were. Janice Honeyman, that money-making machine behind the pantomimes that have strangled Johannesburg’s theater industry, started off by oinking her theories and success stories to the nine o’clock crowd. I didn’t much care what she had to say and instead amused myself by trying to find look-alikes of “Homicide: Life on the Street” cast members. (I found a Richard Belzer, a Melissa Leo and a Kyle Secor. Alas, no Yaphet Kotto. Not that that’s indicative of anything… or is it? No, it’s not… Or maybe it is.) Claire Stopford decided to bore the living shit out of everyone by reading from some sort of thesis that explained, very academically, her approach to theater. She used Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” as an example of how she would dissect a play, which seemed as relevant as quoting the Bible when asked to advise on a rape or a hate-crime (too much?) Master stylist and Kabuki, Noh and all things Japanese obsessed director Geoffrey Hyland found an excuse to refer to himself in the third-person by reading an essay written by an ex-student of his that examined his work. Wouldn’t we all like to oversee our own reviews, dear reader? Uncle Loo definitely didn’t agree with Hyland’s tactics. It was at this point that one of the shining moments of the weekend happened to me. Theater stalwart and force of nature Diane Wilson leaned over to me, who she doesn’t know, and whispered, “I came in late. How many of these fucking people have spoken already?” I informed her that we were half-way through the panel and she exhaled loudly, rubbed her face and said, “Ah, Jesus Christ! What the fuck are they talking about?” The last part wasn’t a question, but an insider’s comment about the circle-jerk that was happening before us. James Nqobo showed youthful exuberance and excitement about the craft and Mandla Mbothwe proved that he didn’t belong on the panel by actually making sense and explained his process without using the opportunity to fuel his ego.

The director’s panel was the most important panel of the symposium, but it showed the cracks in the industry, which are ego, self-obsession and a certain out-of-touch with reality viewpoint, with the exception of the last two directors I mentioned. As much as my bitterness might come across as gleeful, I was saddened by the fact that we learnt nothing about what these people do to improve the industry that supports them. They did manage to put the audience at ease by implying gratefulness to being listened to, but all in all the façade was left unchallenged as I suspect most of us prefer the status-quo. And we absolutely motherfucking shouldn’t.

The second panel of the day was one where veteran actors speak about directing and directors. This was mostly uninspiring and boring, except for three moments: Dawid Minnaar sounding like a cross between Marlena Dietrich and William Shatner (“I… have been working… in… theater for… a long… time.”) Diane Wilson (my new crush) spewing bile and not giving a shit about anyone and showing off a wonderfully vulgar mouth. And the moment Nicholas Ellenbogen decided to berate Chuma Sopotela and Faniswa Yisa for talking about how they still make “struggle” theater and plays that explore their cultural identities and what it means to be a black woman. The audience went very silent as Mr. Ellenbogen went on his mini-tirade and exclaimed that they (the two actresses) need to move on and “who cares if you’re black or white or whatever.” A clearly infuriated Mandla Mbothwe took the microphone and laid into Mr. Ellenbogen in a way that was reminiscent of the rebuke that Joseph McCarthy got from the U.S senate in the 1950’s (“Have you no decency, sir, at long last?”) Except that Mr. Mbothwe looked like he might jump up and cold-cock the old actor, which would’ve served as a fitting end to the day. Which it was, for me at least. The hangover had won, and I decided to retreat to my hovel and battle with Abraxas without the distraction of the theater community trying to make itself feel at ease about becoming redundant in its complacency.

Day Three started off with brunch, coffee and a performance directed by Sanjin Muftic that was capable, intelligent in its argument as an example of rehearsal technique and of absolutely no importance to anyone trying to make a living in theater. It was too academic; a trend that was emerging from the symposium.

The first panel of the day was given to young (emerging) directors and was a relief after the ego-driven nonsense of the previous day’s panels. Amy Jephta spoke with an authority and a clarity that seemed out of place for a twenty-three year old and I found myself respecting her despite not being a fan of her work (and I needn’t be in order to think she’s bright, you naysayers out there). Neil Coppen was the only person throughout the conference who brought up the lack of good writers in the industry and brought up the possibility of the old guard standing in the way of the new. He didn’t elaborate too much and I suspect this is because he doesn’t want to ruffle too many feathers in the industry that has now embraced him (ruffle, young man, ruffle!) The great moment of revelation came when audience member, trouble-maker and father of one Adam Neill asked what pisses these young directors off. It was as if a valve had been released and the pressure to be a pretentious theater dickhead had been relieved. The young directors became more animated as they started to bitch-slap industry sacred cows and conventions, but were too quickly halted by Janni Younge who seemed determined to smooth things over and bring the discussion back to what she thought was important: positivity, unity, smelling other people’s farts, bullshit, bullshit and bullshit. It was a pity, because for a few brief moments the bitterness and righteous anger that a lot of people have were allowed to shine through.

Side note: One can still be possessed of anger and bitterness and not hate theater. The one does not mean the other. Those who think that complacency has provided forward momentum in the arts should shuffle back to their happy caves and continue their metamorphosis into trees.

The final panel was made up of journalists and critics and an immediate truce was declared. “We’re on your side. Say it with me now: We’re on your side.” That was the summary of what was said. This is not the fault of the journalists, but the fault of the perceived audience. They did not want to hear from journalists that they could do better, but merely that the journalist were there to make them look good. Thank fuck for Marianne Thamm who, when asked how she could better serve the theater-makers, said, “I do not serve you. I serve my readers.” That was met with a very careful applause by some, and disgruntled snorts from others. Abraxas, my brain-drilling demon, wanted to jump up and kiss that feisty lesbian Ms. Thamm right on the lips, but I kept him at bay with promises of future forays into drunk-town.

Nothing much was learned at GIPCA’s Directors and Directing conference, at least not by me and most of the people I spoke to (those I enjoy speaking to) feel the same. What was a revelation was the theater industry’s ability to ignore the bigger problems (lack of good writers, audience pandering, archaic modes of communication, class-systems) and the fostering of a new breed of complacent rule-followers by those who wish to keep theater in their very slippery grips. To go back to Ms Thamm, who said it the best, “We are in crisis.”

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