Tag Archives: CHAMP

Trimmings of the Fringe (an Edinblurb)

3 Sep

At the time of writing, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival has released its last performance of the year back into the wild, with a pat on the back, a knowing wink and a roll of the eyes as the unlucky son of a bitch returns to a world that needs theatre like it needs an arsehole on the elbow. I was a participant of the festival, albeit an incidental participant as I authored the play in question (Champ) and remained pretty much removed from the production and staging and dropped into Edinburgh for eight days, mostly to drink and get in the cast and crew’s way. However, for the sake of argument, let us assume my presence in Edinburgh was purposeful and not merely in aid of personal debauchery. For doing so will make headway with this tale, and provide me with purpose beyond explaining the presence of the drooling, masturbating monkey that sits on my neck, calling itself my one true friend and sifting through bits of my soul for a final nub, an unsmoked treasure, a dream amongst the ashes.

I must pause to inform you that my return from Edinburgh coincided with my decision to give up the one thing that has remained a constant in my life for (almost exactly to the day) half my life: cigarettes. Oooh. The mere word sends certain people into fits of rage and disapproval. Goddamnit Jesus Monkey Christ, how I miss smoking. My hope is to never return to the habit, for it is a nasty, cancerous thing, but I’m not yet released of it’s grip. I still laugh at its stupid jokes, I still blush when it smiles at me, I still lie awake wondering if it thinks about me. This is, I believe, the first reason why it has taken me a while to write about Edinburgh. The motherfucking addict in me has been keeping me busy with scrounging adventures for sugar or booze or anything that might make me forget about my one true love.

The second reason is that, and if I’m lying I’m dying, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival was quite uneventful. Let me be clear, it’s the Edinburgh period Fringe period Festival period, the biggest fringe festival in the world and a play I wrote was invited to participate and that, ladies and doodlebugs, is aces in my book. The festival is a throbbing muscle of theatre and performance and is fed by the veins of pubs and restaurants and, like visits to best call girl in town, no one goes without coming. I say uneventful, because unlike something I would usually relish to write about, nothing was seriously amiss during my eight days nestled in the bosom of Mother Theatre. And fuck if that isn’t a mess. (The hearty, supportive ones among you might glow proudly at my restraint. The dark, negative shits in the crowd are cursing my name for selling out.)

Imagine, for a moment, the closest thing we have to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Who said Grahamstown? You did? Good for you. Yes, The National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. Boy, what a heap of sloppy shit when compared to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. (Then again, it’s a heap of sloppy shit when compared to a heap of sloppy shit.) With ’round ’bout 2500 shows to host and promote and programme (I include stand-ups) it’s a wonder the thing gets pulled off every year. Cast and crews were found adequate, if not slightly extravagant, lodgings; shows ran on time; programmes were accurate and all of this in the middle of a busy metropolis that doesn’t skip a beat and manages to be one of the prettiest places this untravelled lout has seen in his life. Grahamstown, by comparison, can, frankly, suck a dick (and not only in terms of organisation, but in terms of content. Nonetheless… dick.)

That isn’t to say that Edinburgh was perfect. No, no, no, silly billy. We are, after all, taking about a theatre festival, run by theatre people, with theatre-makers from all over the world coming to make theatrical shits on the faces of audiences who pay up the arse to be defecated on by these theatre-makers and theatre people. My eight days only allowed me to see a few shows, but more than half were loose stool water, bum gravy of the highest order. But unlike seeing a bad show in Cape Town, which depresses me because I know it will probably become the biggest thing since Lara Foot invented black people, seeing a bad show in Edinburgh made me feel better about what we’re trying to achieve in South Africa. If a world-travelling, critically acclaimed play can suck so much donkey cock in Edinburgh, then little Cape Town plays (the honest ones; liars need not apply) stand a chance at living a good life.

One also has to deal with some of the hierarchial bullshit one deals with locally. At one particular jamboree (specifically meant to bring together the South African show-makers and introduce them to the various street teams assigned to each show and also served as a shindig for us Saffas to hang out, spend some time with each other, try to spot the cracks in each other’s shows) we were made aware that our importance was fleeting and only in effect when Dame Janet Suzman wasn’t in the room. There we were, hoisting our beer filled glasses, toasting each other after one of the festival big-wigs praised us for being so wonderfully South African and reminded us that Mies Julie (Jesus, that play just won’t die) exists and that we can never be as great as that and then summarily dismissed himself from the room to sit in the V.I.P area, a table away from us slobbering maniacs, to which you had to be invited and was (I assume) specially set up for HRM Suzman. What? The old girl couldn’t have a drink with the plebs?

So, I spent my second evening in Edinburgh drinking various room-temperature beers, flirting with Mark Fleishman (let him deny it) and staring at the festival big wigs taking turns putting their heads up “Damnit” Janet Suzman’s behind and wearing her like a hat. Oh, and smoking. I did a lot of smoking that night.

Perhaps it was the feeling of not being ended by Edinburgh that gave me the guts to stop smoking. Perhaps I felt a sense of accomplishment as I, and a few of my peers and countrymen, strutted our stuff and presented world-class work. Perhaps it was that I felt at home there and realized that I would like to return, free of addiction and cancer. Perhaps I’m fooling myself and I’ll never write another play again and a month from now I’ll be back on the smokes, working an admin job at UCT’s drama department,being ignored by that flirt-hound Fleishman, dreaming about Suzman and Edinburgh, convincing myself it was a half forgotten oasis.

I probably won’t let you know, so you choose how you want it to end. (Ooh, very fucking mysterious, Loo.)

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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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