Tag Archives: Grahamstown

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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Cold-Cocking As A Means of Progress (A Call To Arms)

14 Jul

The annual exodus from Grahamstown is in full swing as I sit down to write this. Those returning from performing or watching new (Fresh! Vibrant! Yay us!) theatre at The National Arts Festival are flooding the internet with Facebook updates and Tweets about the genius work they saw, the best of times they had, the glory of our unified nation and the general nonsense that comes with that sort of back-slapping, artsy-fartsy, communal experience. People are vomiting sayings like, “It changed my life,” and “It reminded me of how great our country and our theater has become.” The offence these people commit are not that they believe what they say, but that they say it so freely. Innocent as it may be to openly volunteer inane enthusiasm for what is clearly not as glorious as the bouncy, wide-eyed idiots would want you to believe, it is endemic of a larger problem that faces our fragile little artistic community: the ruling class of this community are so used to saying whatever comes into their sub-fame contaminated minds that the idea of anyone telling them to shut up will be tantamount to a serf’s betrayal of a royal’s trust in times long forgotten (by general society.)

Allow me to offer an example that may clarify my rant: there is an old actor who lives in Cape Town and remains a fixture on the stage and on television. He is a respected, beloved old codger who carries with him the aura and grace of a theater sage; he has seen it all; he knows all the angles; his public adores him. He believes, I assume, he has earned the right to say whatever he wants. I was acting alongside him in a play and one evening I found myself smoking a cigarette while waiting to go onto stage. Smoking with me was a young actress of immense talent who should command respect from her co-actors (and does, for the most part.) The elderly actor “God” walked outside to continue his voice exercises. He nodded to us, looked my friend up and down and said, “If you stopped smoking, your tits would grow back.” I stood mouth agape, not knowing what to say. My friend was so embarrassed that it affected her performance and the comment certainly didn’t stop her from smoking. A few years earlier this “Christ-on-a-Cross” of the stage was acting alongside another friend of mine, and just before the two took to the stage, the old fucker turned to my friend (another very talented person. I know, I know, I’m so lucky…) and said, “My boy, you should be in musicals. You have no place in serious theater.” He said that. Just before the lights went up. And… nothing… happened. Both those stories are well known in the Cape Town theater industry and there are many more incidents attributed to this man. What enrages is me is that nothing happens when he says these awful things.

Shift your imagination, for a moment if you will, to an office environment or any working environment that isn’t inhabited by ineffectual artistic types. Let the aforementioned incidents play out within those environments and try to imagine some sort of violent act not being committed in response. You can’t, can you? Sure, you can say stupid shit to whomever you want, that is everyone’s inalienable right. God bless free, offensive speech. But there has to be an expected reaction. Generally, a well placed “Go fuck yourself” can ease all ills, but what if you inhabit a world where no one dares to say that? Where acceptance of severe insults (to your person or by means of lame artistic endeavors) is met with nothing more than a wide-eyed stare, a contemplative gaze into the abyss and perhaps a drunken rant to those who will listen, but not spread, your pain? What then? Could there be a way out of this? A path to enlightenment?

Yes. Punch the cocksucker in the face. He might think twice about opening his trap around you ever again.

We cannot function in a sub-genre society that is seemingly dedicated to artistic freedom and the right to voice opinions, but refuses to accept that a public rebuke to any statement, by a person or stated within a work of art, forms part of what makes an open-minded community work. My argument is not against the dumb-as-shit, talentless old fart who offended my friends with his words; my argument is against me and those of my ilk who did nothing to make him think about whether he should offend us or not. There are no consequences to what people say within the artistic community. The answer is not censorship, but debate. However, before a debate can begin, the revolution must be jump started by extreme acts that might cause debate to be a more acceptable consequence. The violent French Revolution was the reason the British revolution was a peaceful transition from monarchy rule to some sort of democratic republic (Dig that comparison, motherfuckers!)

This brings me back to the people returning from Grahamstown. Of course they are allowed to say whatever they want, but they must accept that there will be those who openly doubt their blind devotion to a festival that has done more damage than good in the world of theater. This is not negativity, but merely a refusal to see it your way. You don’t have to shut-up, but I will tell you to shut-up. That is my right. And if you feel offended, we can have a debate.

If you refuse to debate any form of artistic expression, or if you think your opinion is above any sort of debate, then you deserve to get punched in the face.

If your ego is driving your work and public persona, then you should get punched in the face.

If you think your work and opinion is a revolutionary act (and you’re not an armed, with weapons or intellect, revolutionary) then you should get punched in the face.

If you abuse those beneath you or those who are following in your footsteps, then you should get punched in the face.

If you use race or racism to excuse your shoddy work, you should get punched in the face.

And, fuck-it, I will say it: If you do anything half-arsed and promote it as being important, then you deserve to get punched in the face. (That goes for you Janice Honeyman, Pieter Toerien, Malcolm Purkey, Bobby Heaney, anyone who misdirects Maynardville and those who fuck things up for the rest of us.)

PS. Anyone who disagrees with what I’ve said, can debate me. If I don’t want to debate you, you can punch me in the face.

We need more rumble in this jungle.

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