Tag Archives: humor

The Maynardville Bridgehead (Like war, but for theatre sissies)

20 Jan

BRIDGEHEAD:

  1. A strong position secured by an army inside enemy territory from which to advance or attack.
  2. Super-cool war terminology that a lazy writer can use to spice up the title of his/her essay.

Let us, you and I, sit for moment and calm the fuck down. As we breathe, using our diaphragms to suck the air in and push it out, we must endeavor to let go of the things we can change and the things we cannot and hope to christmas and the angels of malarkey that we will know the difference. “Why this plea for tranquility”, I hear you whisper, your hot breath tickling my earhole. Because, dear reader, I’m about to discuss Maynardville and I wish to do so without the usual mouth frothing and skin tearing that comes with a discussion, critical or favourable, of a theatrical institution, tradition, legend or practice.

A quick recap: (Previously on Uncle Loo): When I say Maynardville I refer to the annual staging of a Shakespeare at the Maynardville open-air theatre. This is a production of The Maynardville Theatre Trust, supported first and foremost by Artscape. I have publicly stated my dissatisfaction with past Maynardville productions and my previous blog was in anticipation of 2014’s “The Tragedy of Richard III”. What I learnt is that public criticism of such a sacred cow is frowned upon and viewed as troublemaking for troublemaking’s sake. Privately, however, there seems to be a lot of agreement, especially surrounding the issue of Maynardville’s quality (or lack thereof). Asking publicly for Maynardville to be better is akin to shitting on Athol Fugard’s forehead, even though privately everyone is shitting on Mr Fugard’s forehead and gleefully sharing the sight of their well aimed turds with their friends.

*Please Note: I have never, nor will I ever attempt to make a shit on Mr. Fugard’s forehead, nor do I condone such nasty business. The analogy (ANALogy, haha) was purely for illumination’s sake.

Back to the business at hand (And now for our feature attraction): It was a muggy Saturday night and I held in my left hand an opening night ticket courtesy of a friend and in my right a Castle Lager cooler bag which contained two bone-chilling Castle Lites, a bottle of cheap-as-dirt-but-not-fancy-dirt-more-like-dirt-poor-white-trash-dirt white wine and a single wine glass, wrapped ever so carefully in an unwanted page of that morning’s newspaper (the arts section, perhaps? Stop it, you sly buggers.). The ticket ensured my entrance and the booze ensured my full attendance and yes, my full attention. Not because of the booze’s effects, but because it kept me occupied, which is essential when attending a a 3-hour+ play with unpadded seats. Yes, perhaps fruit and cheese would be better, but I couldn’t goddamn afford it, okay? Who are you? My mother? (Okay, settle down, Loo. Diaphragm, remember?) During the next three hours, two significant things occurred: A decent amount of the audience left at the interval, and I, having stayed until the end, exited Maynardville Park disappointed that I did not enjoy the play.

At this point, you may be asking, but is that not what you (me) expected? And to tell you the honest cross-my-heart-hope-to-die truth, it was expected. I was not surprised that I didn’t like the play. I could name, almost scene for scene, performance by performance, what I thought was wrong with the play. There were moments I didn’t hate, as there is with anything, but in general I walked away thinking it was pretty much par for the course when it comes to Maynardville (which, in my opinion, is not good enough, to put it mildly.) My compatriots and I met for a drink afterwards and we laid out the problems we had, lamented moments which could’ve worked but didn’t, and laughed at instances we found ridiculous. But then, half way through another ice-cold Castle Lite, a draft this time (wearing my big-boy pants in front of my theatre cohorts), a feeling of melancholy settled over me. I wrestled with this feeling through late hours of that night and until the evening of the next day. Why did I not run home, as I expected to do and what was expected of me to do, and write with glee about the faulty production I witnessed?

My best guess, as I still struggle with it, is that I wanted “Richard III” to exceed my expectations and when it didn’t there was a sense of celebration amongst those I know and those who share my feelings about Maynardville. And this is what made me melancholic. We were glad the production failed (in our estimation and opinion, which is not shared by everyone). I reason that we were glad, because it’s another nail in the coffin and that it’s one step closer to an implosion which might lead to a serious change. The truth, however, might be closer to the childish joy of saying “I told you so.” We can revel in our own superiority by pointing at the failure of an institution that cannot win us over if it tried.

This is an not an attempt to vindicate Maynardville or “Richard III”. The play was not good. The faults outweighed the merits, but in saying that. I am admitting that there were merits. And there were. There’s one thing I can’t fault the production with and that’s the fact it was obviously trying. The director (the very talented Lara Bye), her mostly-miscast actors, designers and crew were definitely attempting to break from the confines of mediocrity for which Maynardville is so famous. That they couldn’t rise above the history is a shame, but should we not be hopeful that an attempt was made?

Another reason for my lugubrious mood may well be the realisation that Maynardville won’t change because no one wants it to change. No one. Not us, nor them. If Maynardville and its shadowy cabal of a board (I imagine them in a castle, pale, feeding on virgin boys and singing Prussian monastery hymns) continue to resist change, then we, their critics, get to continue our criticisms. Welcome to the circle of unimportant, egoistic bullshit. Am I ashamed of my critique? Not at all. Is there something to be done about it? Of course. Why haven’t we done it? Because it’s easier to point out Maynardville’s flaws than to make a serious, loud, positive attempt to change what bothers us.

I don’t want Maynardville to disappear. There I said it. I’m glad it exists. It has employed many of my friends and will continue to do so in the future. That is also the reason I will continue to demand an improvement. At the risk of being rousing, we, the schlubs who make up this tiny, fragile little industry, can fight for something better. It is not only our right, but our duty. What good is it to sit in the back row, hurl insults and claim fraud, and then refuse to take the broom and sweep up the trash that so offends our art. This is not a call for group-think or inclusion or even forgiveness, but if we want challenging theatre then perhaps it’s time we challenge ourselves.

Maynardville has earned our scorn. And scornful we shall be. But what happens then? We can make it hard for them to do another weak production, or we can make it easy for them to do a good one. I hope to choose the latter.

Bleatings of a Maynardvillain (Why can’t we be frenemies?)

15 Jan

It was the first week of the new year, and not a creature was stirring. The Theatre Town of Cape was scandal free, or rather free of new scandal. The Fleur Du Caps, still months away, had not poisoned theatre practitioners (yet) and turned them against their peers (yet). No festivals were under way, so madness and pioneer-blindness were not issues to be dealt with. As far as theatre was concerned, the week had that new born baby smell. But then I did a fart on the baby.

I arrived home one fine evening after visiting my local pub and perhaps it was the one-too-many Guinnesses (Guinni? Guinnessees?) or even a harmful streak that lives behind my forehead and gets bored a little to easily… in any case, I sat down in front of my computron and booted up the old Facebook and was met with the poster for the annual Maynardville production of a Shakespeare play, this year “Richard III” is the chosen one. Maynardville, the famed outdoor theatre, a branch of Artscape, attended by all ages, a summer ritual, a Cape Town past-time, is the only South African institution (as far as my research intern knows) to guarantee a fully realized Shakespeare production every year. Quite a few of my actor friends have appeared in the plays over the years and various directors, from visionaries to hacks, have attempted to wrangle a decent production out of its cage and onto the moonstruck, windswept stage of Maynardville.

Here’s the rub: in my opinion Maynardville is not very good. Or hasn’t been for a long time (before my time). It’s had acceptable moments, a performance here, an interpretation there, but that makes it even more unacceptable; a promise unfulfilled is worse. My opinion is not shared by everyone, but it is shared by some. And you would think it’s alright to say something, wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t you? A-ha! You’re wrong. Take that. Shove it, Mr and Mrs Wrong. You are absolutely not allowed to say anything negative about Maynardville, because you are not saying words; you are shitting streams of foul smelling faecal material into the mouths of Grandma Friendly and her knitting circle friends made up of Ouma Rusks, Mrs Balls, The Mandela Family, Woolworths and little AIDS babies.

Before I plead for sanity, let’s go back for a second. There I sat, burping Guinness, the blue glow of Facebook highlighting the pubic-quality of my wannabe-moustache, looking at acclaimed actor Warrick Grier staring at me through Richard III’s eyes, dull text surrounding him, inviting me to travel to Wynberg, bring a bottle of wine, settle in for some Shakespeare-ing and get ready to… um… wait… I almost have it… ugh, damnit… At this point I opened up that little status thing-a-majig and wrote what can be considered the first shot in a war that will ravage the landscape (it won’t, but it’s fun to imagine). Here it is, the first exhibit in the prosecution’s case against me with my puppy dog eyes:

I love the disappointment that comes with the inevitable fuck-up and bastardization of Maynardville’s annual sodomizing of a great Shakespeare play. Go theatre.

“Woah, woah,” I hear you say, “The fuck did Maynardville ever do to you?” Well, not much, dear reader. Not much. Most of what I’ve seen has been dull, obvious and lazy. Some of what I’ve seen has been offensively dull, obvious and lazy. And on a few occasions it has been tantamount to a criminal offense for anyone who loves theatre and in particular, the work of Billy-Bob Shakespeare. It was with this in mind that I said what I said. And I stand by the intention, if not the sarcastic tone. Should I have said it? Why not? Am I allowed to say it? You’re goddamned fucking-A right I’m allowed to say it.

Let’s skip forward to the next morning and the days that followed. I wouldn’t say that shit hit the fan, but the hushed tone of those who took offence was comparable to a threat. Rebuke came from unexpected people who all share the same sentiment: I’m a trouble maker who will only end up hurting myself if I take on Maynardville (Remember, this is Maynardville, not Godzilla. So, you are allowed to laugh.) How dare I, was the theme of the day. My Facebook statement was taken as unfair; an attack on those who live with the angels. A few friends informed me that I was making new enemies. Enemies? Like, bona-fide A-grade enemies? Wait… new enemies? New? I have old enemies? Holy mind-fuckery, who was I? And what… did… I… do…? (Insert obnoxious fart sound effect.)

Let’s start with the obvious plot-hole in this terrible tale: why in pluperfect hell would Maynardville and her play-pals give a flying Cohiba-shaped shit what I have to say? Why is the theatre industry so insecure that institutions, safe and secure and well funded institutions, force us to defend them in the hopes that these institutions, who do more bad than good, will look upon the industry with benevolence and stroke our heads approvingly. Why are we not taking a stand against bad theatre? If the notion that Maynardville does shitty theatre annually sits uncomfortably with you, then let’s change the parameters of the argument: If Maynardville is not bad, then can we all agree that it can be better?

I believe it can be better. I am excited by the idea of a great (or at least with the fully supported plan to be great) fully funded Shakespeare every year. I imagine that world and I smile. I do not smile at the thought of Maynardville’s destruction, because I don’t believe that a void is better than mediocre work. I believe that we, you and I, should be able to say, “This is not good enough.” We should be able to criticise Maynardville without it being taken as an attack on the people who work hard for months to make it a reality. I do not begrudge anyone taking a long-term job, especially in an industry that believes it’s acceptable to underpay (or not pay at all) actors, stage-managers, directors, stagehands etc. I do not criticise a director who attempts to lift the quality of Maynardville’s output, but is shackled by a committee of soft-handed, paranoid, detestable, on-the-verge-of-extinction layabouts who are as terrified of progressive theatre as they are of their own shadows.

How’s that for making enemies?

As I write this, “Richard III” is three days away from opening, and I plan on going. There are talented people working on the production; there are also untalented shit mongers. What if it’s good? Wouldn’t that be something? I would praise it, but more importantly I would be expected to praise it. And if it’s not? Should we shut up? Where do we draw the line between allowing something to float into obscurity, and fighting for the idea of doing better?

I’ll admit my expectations are low, but this allows me to enjoy it even more if it’s good. Then I’ll eat my words, Maynardville. Go ahead, prove me wrong. I dare you.

Ah Guilt, You Motivatory Bastard (A Call For Gum Smacking)

6 Jan

It was a balmy Sunday night at Forrester’s Arms when my best friend began to beat me viscously and grabbed me by the lapels and repeatedly smashed my head against one of the brick pillars that surround the courtyard at the popular Newlands pub. As I lay there, bleeding, picking out the shards of shattered teeth from my bleeding gums, my eyes pleaded for a reason; an explanation for the merciless pummeling I had been dealt. Through a cloud of inhuman rage and with an unearthly voice, he said, “Because you don’t write enough.” Stunned, I sat up, brushed the dirt from my shirt-front, spat blood into a nearby rose-bush and found myself unable to think of an excuse of why I don’t write more. I am a writer, am I not? (Am I? Aren’t I? I am. Or am I? Am I? I am? Are you sure? You’re not? Who are you? Stop looking at my crotch.)

Dorothy Parker is often quoted as saying, “I hate writing, I love having written.” Perhaps this could stand as the reason for my neglect of this blog. And I do specifically mean this blog. I have abandoned you, dear reader. I have left you in the dark, underwear around your ankles, clammy, nervous, unsatisfied. Or rather, perhaps that is how I left myself, while you fled to friendlier shores. It was in this last year that I made the slightest bit of progress as a writer and then immediately neglected the very pages that birthed me into the world of being an utterly unemployable writer. I lost touch with the people, man. I went corporate (as corporate as one can go without making a cent and finding oneself in a hole deeper than the dialogue in an undergraduate’s fourth-year play at Stellenbosch University.) I stand accused of forsaking my duties. My duty to you, sweetie-poes (I tickle your chin at this point). My duty to remind you how fucked we are.

Ah-ha, you didn’t see that coming, did you? Even if you did, I beg you to tolerate me for a second while I lament the state of the arts, especially theatre. What makes my statement relevant to you, I hear you ask. Have I not always complained about the utter arse-water we pour onto the shrinking amounts of stages as the seasons go by? Sure, my pontifications are not new, as a quick browse through the archives will prove, but I endeavor to form a small part of the weight that aims to balance out the ignorance, naivety and general lack of insight that accompanies the theatre industry on its travels. I am but one man. One riot, one ranger. Cue the patriotic music, watch as I grow teary and tumescent, offering my battle hardened member as a floating log of hope through the rivers of uncertainty and disappointment.

As you can tell, I am unfocused in my accusations. Chalk it up to settling into the saddle, adjusting the leather straps to my changed shape (fat), and whispering to the mare that I am indeed her previous rider, even though I have let myself go and smell like the river of shit I’ve crossed to get back to her, I am one and the same. Uncle Loo, here to serve. So, let’s consider this post le blog the turning of the key to re-start the engine. Instead of choosing a topic to rage about, allow me to consider the options and then pick from that fertile field future fulminations that will have their own blogs. Shall we then, for posterity’s sake, take a general look at prospective issues that plague (or seem to plague) this little industry of ours? Come along on a fantastic journey…

  1. Let me begin by charging us, the writers, with dereliction of duty. We constantly step away from the fray to tend to our egos, our pockets and our yearning for acceptance. We rely on guilt, cliché, audience expectation and cheap tricks. This provides many opportunities for devolution and opens the door to the hucksters of workshopped theatre.
  2. Workshopped Theatre. Or to be more precise, the con-artists who use the technique of workshopping a play in order to get away with lazy, faux-democratic, pandering, bullshit theatre. And extra demerits go to the fraudsters who rely on their cast to come up with a story and then have the rotten balls to credit themselves as the writer.
  3. Theatre Management. Your constant reminders to us about how theatres have to do the big, audience friendly, musical, broad shows in order for the theatres to do small, progressive, intelligent plays, is all well and good (an appreciated, sir. Yessir master, I dance fo yah) but it becomes empty platitudes when you don’t actually ever end up doing any of those small shows. You love your houses and your big fuck-off cars and you club memberships, I get that, but will you still love them when they are reduced to ashes by a maniac theatre-maker who has absolutely nothing to lose?
  4. Producers. Pay your fucking crew and actors, you miserable cocksuckers.
  5. Maynardville. Could you stop being shit? For once? Try it out, maybe you’ll like it.
  6. Critics/reviewers. See point 5. But add lazy.
  7. Actors. You are rarely as important to a project as you think you are. You, the foulest of hypocrites at times, insist on being taken seriously and wanting to do better work, but if you chase enough paychecks and you cease to balance it out with good work, then you deserve no respect and not a slice of good work. You can hide behind financial security all you want, but it won’t make you good, honorable or important to your industry unless you are good, honorable and important to your industry.
  8. Theatre-makers (in general). Make good theatre.
  9. You and I. Yes, you and I, dear blog browser and friend. Bad theatre, like apathy, does not exist in a void. We are the oxygen that feeds the monster. The slaughter will stop as soon as we insist that it stops. How do we do that? I’m not sure, but I do know that we’ll be better off if we do it together (apologies for this last burst of sentimentality.)

Here we are then, at the beginning of a new journey. A journey much like the old, but with newer profanities. Please feel free to comment, add topics of rage or to simply call me a dickhead. My hope is to be back quite soon. I’ll give this writing thing another go, lest I seek a trampling from a loved one. Or if I come into some money (in that case you can fuck right off… but that’s a slim motherfucker of a hope, boy.)

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?

Peace? I Hate The Word (But not as much as I hate you, dickhead)

9 Feb

Let us, for a brief moment, gather our thoughts and discuss with frankness the state of relationships within our beleaguered little theatre industry. Perhaps “industry” is the wrong term. It conjures up images of factory lines and products instead of attempts at artistic expression. Shall we say “world”? Our theatre world? Jesus, that recalls some fantasy realm where knights with impossible names rescue maidens with impossible necklines. We can’t say “within South African theatre”, because the differences, in aesthetics and practice, seem different from provincial capitol to provincial capitol. I must admit that I have no idea of the inner workings of theatre being done in Durban and Pretoria. I won’t even venture near those cities if there isn’t a paycheck attached to the reason. (I’m fully aware that my ignorance is showing beneath my unformulated ideas, thank you very much.) It happens upon me now that I should speak about what I know, or what I think I know: The Cape Town Theatre Industry World Place Village Hamlet Bumfuck Jerkwater One Horse Town Whatever You Goddamn Wanna Call It. Not concise enough for you? Fine, but let’s move on lest the cobwebs gather and lethargy sets in.

Ah Christ fuck, where was I? Relationships. There you go. The Cape Town theatre community (fucking nailed it), like so many other enterprises, of an industry standard or sub-industrious, is built by and functions through relationships. As a writer and theatre-maker I would like to say that the work is paramount and integral to the momentum of theatre. This, however, is wish-fulfillment tantamount to retardation. To use, and possibly bastardize an old maxim, it’s not what you know, but who you know. If I was a cynic, I would it put it more succinctly and say that it’s about the cocks you’ve sucked and the ones you haven’t. But I am not a cynic, and I will not stoop to such a level of inane explicitness. If one has fostered a relationship with a person or persons with whom you would like to work, then the chances are in a community as tiny as ours, that would happen. Or at least attempts would be made.

But, here’s the “but”. The practice of making connections has become a vertical line from which nothing travels down, only up. This, of course, is not new to any system functioning as a hierarchy. The boss doesn’t know your name, but you sure as shit need to know his name and your goal becomes for him to know your name. Where this becomes a problem for us, you and I dear reader, is that our community is tiny. Everyone already knows everyone else’s name. We’re all connected like the characters from a euro-centric three hour long drama about the search for truth, happiness and oh fuck I just fell asleep. The name game, the relationship ship (what the fuck, Loo?), has been mutated because of the diminished size of the playing field/ocean battle grid (enough with the metaphor, dickhead). The new rules state that you may know someone, but that you may un-know them depending on whether they’re proving themselves useful to you and your plans for global domination.

The executives who sit atop the theatre structures, like warlords surveying their fiefdoms, have to contend with bottom lines and need a secure investment to keep their tenuous positions. It really bodes well for a theatre-maker if one of these House Masters likes you and takes an interest in your work. Perhaps you have to give a performance that impresses them, or write a piece that makes them and their arm candy laugh their pretty little heads off, or you have to direct/produce something that makes an elephant shit sized amount of money for someone else. The theatre bosses, like most people in positions of power, want what others of their ilk have. Johnny Stealmuch has a Ferrari, so Cindy Rapist-of-Good has to have one as well. Substitute a Ferrari for the next hot production, and you’re close to knowing how this works. If the one can’t have what the other has, then a pursuit for a competing production begins (a Jaguar, perhaps). On occasion the two Dons will put aside their turf war and collaborate on a production.

Stuck between the two, sweaty, heaving bodies is the artist (or the production, if you expand it to include those involved in the process). Their position may resemble the cat’s meow, but there is now a possible negative outcome to this arrangement. Let’s say little Dolly Theatre-maker made her name at a different theatre, ruled over by another tiny, foot-stomping lord. That lord now hates Dolly for spreading her wings beyond his reach. As do that lord’s frequent collaborators. Having felt Dolly was one of them, they now hate Dolly for calling someone else Father. Dolly, whilst walking in the woods contemplating her fate, comes across another problem. The critic who praised her has nothing but contempt for the Master in whose house she now has residency. She knows that the critic will utterly destroy her production in the press, calling her a one trick pony and a flash in the pan, instead of focussing his rage on the person for whom it is intended. The critic cannot complain about the theatre management, instead he ruins Dolly’s play in the hope that Johnny Stealmuch will feel a slight tickle in his ballsack.

And what of those under the theatre-maker’s care (actors, crew, etc.)? Are they subject to the same institutionalised abuse suffered by their fearless leader? In certain cases, yes. If the transgression, real or not, has been big enough, then an actor’s relationship with a writer, a director, or even someone on a management level could make them untouchable to possible future employers. Eg. “You worked for Dolly and Johnny Stealmuch, so how could I trust you to put my fever dream of a script in your hands?” On occasion this swings the other way. An actor could be such a burden on a production because of his behaviour in the past or his personal feelings about management, that the theatre-maker instantly has a problem when choosing to collaborate with him. The play may be perfect, the cast may have magical chemistry and the budget may be balanced enough to ensure a decent production and satisfy the financial needs of those involved, but the mere presence of this hated actor derails the production and sets back any thought of negotiation. I use “actor” as an example, but this could be a director, writer, designer, production manager or investor. The point is that because of a fractured relationship and an incident resting uncomfortably in the past, the work has become the least important item on the agenda.

Perhaps it behooves us to move beyond what has worked, if what has worked has resulted in a lower standard of work. For once I won’t pontificate on what makes bad work, but I will rather state that sometimes it’s because of our need for relationships, the practice of oiling the gears with friendship and loyalty, that the work suffers from lowered standards. The opposite (contempt, back-stabbery and motherfuckery) won’t get us far and might only serve to stroke our victimised egos. So, is it not in our best interests to find a middle ground that is neither hot nor cold, but just right? You don’t need to know someone to decide you hate them, but you also don’t need to like them in order to work with them.

If the focus is the work, the little play born from the muck, birthed through blood and sweat and tears and terror, then who the fuck cares how much we like or dislike one another?

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.

Call the Poo-lice! Someone did a racial on my theatre face. (The Fleur Du Cap Boogie-Woogie)

26 Mar

As I sit down to write this, the 2012 Fleur Du Cap Theatre Awards have been over for a week, which makes me as behind the times as your average Fleur Du Cap judge (getting my shots in early. Booya!) In actual fact, the awards were over before any of the nominees were crowned “Worthy of Our Praise” by the esteemed panel of journalists, bureaucrats, high-school teachers and professional non-paying audience members, only no-one wanted to admit it. If one was to view the Fleur DUH Caps with the importance it deserves, then one would merely experience a brief smell of flatulence in the first quarter of the year, followed by frantic waves of the hand in front of the face to rid the atmosphere of methane-heavy arse breath. But never a community to let things go and attempt a progressive surge into the unknown future, the theatre-makers/attendants/participants/commentators (yo, that’s me) of Cape Town are still trying to oust the gaseous whiff left by the Fleur Du Caps by producing our own farts in retaliation. We are not merely farting in the wind; we are farting in a tiny, badly ventilated room in hopes of clearing the air.

The reasons for the multitude of bloated stomachs and their subsequent releases stem from the mundane (the nominees, the list of invited guests) to the… well, mundane (the winners, Lara Foot’s comments on why white people are shitty shit-ass shit mongers.) Allow me to address the latter, if only for the briefest of moments.

Lara “Athlete’s” Foot took the stage to accept the award for best new South African play, “Solomon and Marion”, otherwise known by its original title, “ Dame/Lady/Queen Janet Suzman and some black dude discovered by Lara Foot.” Ms Foot proceeded to give lip service to Distell, the sponsors of the event, pausing only to criticize them for allowing the Fleur Du Caps to be so, utterly, shamefully, disgustingly white. She wasn’t disgusted enough to refuse the award of course, which would’ve been a truly significant, possibly revolutionary move. It was tantamount to performing oral sex on someone, and stopping at various intervals to insult their genitals. “I won’t stop pleasuring you, but my God, do I hate your wang/hoo-ha.” This, like so many other race-related upchucks, caused a flurry of unfocused ravings from both sides of the isle. Some were standing up for Ms Foot, calling her fearless and progressive, while others were insulted and took her comments to be a direct attack on them as… a… liberal… theatre… community… dedicated… to the… democratic… zzzz… zzzz

Anyone with half a brain can see that Lara “My Left” Foot’s comments are not incorrect. The theatre industry, or the parts of the industry represented at the Fleur Du Caps, is too white. But that is what happens when an industry becomes institutionalized. Forward momentum and change are not welcome, because they threaten the old guard (not only in terms of age, but in terms of aged thinking.) What is annoying is that it has to be said by Lara Foot-and-Mouth, one of the most prolific manufacturers of broad, guilt-inducing, bullshit PC theatre. If it was said by anyone else, I believe the news that we’re one step away from re-casting “Woza Albert” with Jeremy Crutchley and Charlie Keegan (I couldn’t think of whiter people, I apologize), would’ve gone over smoother. So, at the risk of sucking the dick while gagging at the sight of it, Lara “Flat” Foot was right. May God strike me down.

I will now, for further comic effect, deconstruct the rest of the evening. I arrived, after hustling a ticket and a date, received a program and was utterly delighted by the first item on the running order. There, written in bold, stood the announcement: 18:00 – 18:30 Pongracz. No lead in, no long sentences, no explanation. Just straight-up-fuck-you Champagne, motherfuckers. That’s when I knew that at the very least, I could get hammer drunk and witness the fiasco that was about to unfold. After giving me half the chance to fill my fat little face with gallons of free champagne and as many snacks as my chubby, greedy hands could carry, I was cattle-driven into the auditorium of the Baxter Theatre (General Manager: Lara “fetishistic obsession with” Foot. Wait a minute…) and seated next to a delightful black couple (Jesus, how did they get in?) What followed was an hour and a half of mostly forgettable self-congratulatory, but furiously intensive masturbation. The overly designed set looked like a Bonnie Tyler music video, but minus the alcoholic, gloriously raspy voice of Bonnie Tyler, populated instead by the recovering-alcoholic, slowly decomposing corpse of the one, the only, Heather Mac (remember her?  Me neither) belting out folksy, ancient, amazingly irrelevant tunes in between the major awards.

A mixture of shock and nervous laughter met the acceptance speech of Saul Radomsky (or was that Mannie Manim? Oh wait, he’s the other old guy.) Never did the audience seem more white than when he dropped two f-bombs during his time on stage. “How rude!” “What gall!” “Snicker, snicker, snicker, he said fuck. Hahaha. Fuck fuck fuck fuck!” The main joke of the evening was regularly doled out by people who took the stage to accept awards for winners who were mysteriously absent. They all said the same goddamn thing: “Well, obviously I’m not so-and-so” and alternate versions of the comment. It didn’t work. Not once. And frankly, I think they should be shot. Well, maybe not shot, but at least smacked in the gums. Relief came in the form of Alan Committee, offering an irreverent alternative to the so-serious-it-makes-your-balls-ache ceremony. In short, he MC’d the fuck out of that show.

The rest of the ceremony went as predicted. The majority of the awards went to people undeserving of recognition, but thankfully there were a couple of welcome surprises when underdogs triumphed and newbies were recognized. This, of course, caused a considerable amount of hurumph-hurumphs. I asked a theatre stalwart/deity what he thought of the evening and he said, “It must be bad time for theatre if a small show like “Die Rebellie van Lafras Verwey” can win a few awards.” There you go. Would you like to know who’s to blame for the state of theatre in this country, dear reader? Dickhead theatre stalwarts/deities like that belligerent motherfucker.

The show closed with a song from Heather Mac and her unwashed band, titled “Eventually” and as soon as my ears met the droning, screeching chorus, I bolted out of my seat and headed for the free wine. That woman’s music really brings the boys to the bar. What followed was a prime example of why people like me shouldn’t be invited to upper-class shindigs like the Fleur du Caps, and should be discouraged to use the black-market to score tickets. (Are black-market tickets as unwelcome as black ticket holders? Could this be a topic for a future blog? How far can I stick my head up my own arse? Is that the same question?) My compadres and I drank and ate everything in sight. And after a good half-hour it was as if the awards never happened. It was just another party with my friends, and that’s the way we wanted to remember it.

And then the farting began…

The Wonderful Recruitment of Mrs. Whistlefarb (A Short Story)

27 Sep

Maggie Whistlefarb passed away due to complications relating to hip-surgery on May 27th of the year she was to celebrate her sixty-first birthday. Sometime after her death, she found herself walking through a thick fog that made her squint in hope of penetrating the grey color surrounding her. Maggie knew she was dead, but that fact seemed inconsequential to her, and she worried more about the anesthesiologist who gave her an incorrect dosage and caused her to aspirate into her oxygen mask and drown on her own vomit. He would feel horrible about his actions and attempt to alleviate his guilt by drinking too much and colliding with a station-wagon carrying a father of four who was being fellated by a rent boy. The anesthesiologist would survive, but the prostitute would die from head trauma and the father of four would succumb to his injuries two days later, having lost too much blood when the rent boy bit off his penis as a result of the sudden impact. The scandal would cause an unflattering light to shine on the dead father and his children, who would all suffer abandonment issues and battle substance abuse for the rest of their lives. The male whore was not mourned by anyone, except for the anesthesiologist, who would go on to resign from the hospital, move to the coast and drink himself silly until his liver gave out and his body remained undiscovered for two weeks.

Maggie had no idea how she knew this, but the need to investigate her ability to know all things, present and past, did not strike her. She merely moved through the fog and saw her entire life as if it was on a plate in front of her. Her husband, Dennis, was the manager of “Time 4 Bed”, a furniture store that also sold novelty clocks that were imported from Belarus. He was introduced to Maggie by her father, Michael Bensozia, when she was twenty-three and the two were married eight months later. Maggie knew she was the prize given to Dennis to buy the favor of his father, Lucas Whistlefarb, an industrialist who subsequently invested in Michael’s business (an import-export consortium specializing in the shipping of empty freight containers.) Maggie’s marriage to Dennis was a continuation of her relationship with her father, minus the obvious intimacies that come with married life. She served him well, as her mother had served her father, and as she served her father after her mother died from a heart attack in the middle of a farmer’s market. Maggie and Dennis never spoke in depth about anything; he never sought her council; they fought only about domestic issues; they stopped sleeping together after the birth of their daughter, Candice. Maggie hated the name, but Dennis and his family insisted on naming the child Candice, as they had an affinity for it. The Whistlefarbs had four other Candices in their ranks.

Candice Whistlefarb was raised as well as Maggie could raise her, but the child took after her father in ways that left Maggie out of influence’s reach. Candice treated Maggie as Dennis did: courteous, given to occasional false interest and hidden disdain. When Candice left home at nineteen, Maggie was relieved. When people asked her if she suffered from empty nest syndrome, she lied and told them she did. However, she wished her home was emptied of Dennis as well. She did not desire company, nor did she fear it. She merely ached to be alone, far from the noise of the world. Her life continued unabated as she continued to lie her way through social occasions and conversations with her husband. When her daughter got married, she felt happy only because she would no longer have to feign worry about Candice’s life. She’d met the groom only once before the wedding and he struck her as an unspectacular human who thought Chinese tattoos made him an individual and went on tirades about he, and only he, could revolutionize the advertising industry. Maggie was not surprised when he lost his job and went to work for a company that sold billboard ad-space near the airport. A few years later, he become a re-born Christian and divorced Candice and moved to small town in the mountains to become the reverend of his own church. He was murdered by an obsessed parishioner who believed the reverend was Christ arisen and who attempted to eat the body before the police, responding to a report of screaming and blaspheming coming from the rectory, pulled the mad believer off the loin-cloth dressed corpse.

Candice never re-married and she would move in with her father after Maggie’s death. The two would bicker constantly and be miserable at all hours of the day. Maggie felt neither woe nor pleasure at her husband and daughter’s predicament, and for the first time since she found herself in the fog, wondered why she no longer felt anything. It did not bother her, but it made her curious. She enjoyed feeling curious as she had never been curious about anything before, save for the obvious curiosities of adolescence. She had not been surprised by anything since the wondrous discovery of her own sexuality and those warm afternoons and cold evenings when her fingers would travel across the mounds and valleys of her body and cause her to tremble and marvel at her wet fingers dipping in and out of her and stroking her to orgasm. As she thought about herself then, Maggie realized she could still feel. She stopped walking through the fog and imagined pleasuring herself. She only had to think about the glorious feeling when she erupted in climactic ecstasy. It had been remarkably easy, and she gave credit to the surrounding fog and emptiness beyond.

With Maggie still in the throes of self-administered passion, it took her a few moments to realize a figure approaching out of the haze. The figure was that of a man, but not any type of man she had ever seen. He seemed to be made of the emptiness he emerged from. Maggie straightened up and waited for him to speak.

“I am Abraxas.”

“I’m Margaret. Please don’t call me Maggie. I’ve always hated it.”

Abraxas smiled and offered his hand for her to shake. She did.

“Where am I?” Margaret asked.

“You are where you want to be. It is important to realize that.”

“Can I be other places as well?”

“You can be wherever you want to be. It is important to acknowledge that.”

It was Margaret who held out her hand this time and told Abraxas that he should lead her to where she wants to be. He took her hand, interlaced his fingers with hers and guided her further and further into the fog. All that remained of Margaret was the previously rare sound of her giggling and the lingering aroma of her orgasm.

 ***

 It was three weeks after Margaret’s death that heaven realized its error and sent Samael into the fog to investigate. When Samael emerged from the fog and reached the gates of hell, he saw Abraxas sitting at the grand entrance peeling a mineola. The minor demon smiled up at the minor angel and the two greeted each other as old friends. Samael sat next to Abraxas and accepted half of the deceptive fruit.

“You already took her, did you not?” Samael asked with a sigh.

“I did.”

“Did you lie to her?”

“I didn’t have to.”

The two beings stood up and Abraxas pointed through the gates into the netherworld. Samael saw Margaret and what she had become.

“She’s vying to be Queen,” said Abraxas, “Doing pretty well in the polls, now that I think about it.”

Samael could see Margaret Whistlefarb was doing well and she had found a place among the upper echelon of demons and bringers of death. Abraxas informed him that she had gone back to her maiden name, Bensozia and everyone referred to her by that name. They sat down again and looked at each other with affection. They shared a laugh, toasted their friendship with the fruit and said their goodbyes. As Samael was leaving, he turned to Abraxas and said, “Some you win, some you lose.”

THE END

The Saigon Five (A Short Story)

30 Aug

When Ingrid Ballflower celebrated her forty-third birthday in her usual fashion, dinner at “Saigon” accompanied by those who thought themselves to be close to her, she already knew about her husband’s philandering. If interrogated about the evening, Ingrid’s guests would say they knew something was behind her green eyes the entire duration of the dinner, but in truth they neither suspected her of harboring doubts about her marriage, nor did they anticipate the unique way she viewed the situation she found herself in.

Among the invited guests was Ingrid’s closest friend and colleague, Anna Sapstein, who carried herself in a manner akin to a grey hound suffering from hemorrhoids and occasionally shot looks of guilty desire towards Damian Ballflower, Ingrid’s husband. Ingrid had found out about Anna and Damian’s affair a week earlier when she happened across a series of e-mails on the Ballflower home computer. Damian had forgotten to log off of his “Gmail” account and when Ingrid opened the browser the first e-mail she saw had the subject line, “My holes ache for you.” Attached to the correspondence was a photo of Anna bent over faux-bamboo two-seater couch, spread legged with chipped fingernails resting on her perineum (to leave unobstructed the holes that ache, one would presume.) Ingrid said nothing of this to Damian or Anna, and instead dedicated the slow hours of her week to finding out more about her husband’s secret sexual indiscretions.

Damian had never been much of a lover. In fact it was Ingrid who suggested perverse adventures in the bedroom. Damian would occasionally be tipsy enough to follow her commands, but the alcohol would wear off and he’d end up spending himself with two grunts while engaging in a missionary position hump. She’d pat his back, wipe his drool from her collar bone and open her book in preparation of a late-night read. He’d sweat in the night, get up to pee once or twice and always, in the darkest hours of the early morning find her awake, reading books he neither understood nor wanted to understand. Theirs was not an unhappy marriage, but not much more than a facsimile of a happy one. In the week before Ingrid’s birthday party, Damian did not sense a change in his wife. He could not see her studying him as if he were brand new; not quite shiny or interesting, but the way one would investigate the motives and nature of a lizard perching on a branch, dead-still, seemingly without the concern for time passing. Damian also didn’t realize that Ingrid had, by some miracle act of private investigation, managed to track down the bevy of women he’d been seeking and receiving sexual congress from.

The first woman she found was an administrator for an amateur theatrical company. Her name was Frannie and she had the thinnest hair Ingrid had ever seen on a woman. The auburn color made it seem fuller at first look, but upon closer inspection one could see her scalp and the little fluffy tufts that endeavored to conceal the patches of naked, barrenness. Frannie tried to hide it by pulling her hair back in a tight bun, which gave her the look of a frightened child, which in essence she was. Not in terms of age, but in composure. When Ingrid introduced herself and explained who she was, Frannie didn’t cry but grinned with such terror that Ingrid would’ve preferred it if the tiny, slightly round woman had broken down in tears. They spoke about Damian and the length of the affair (two years) and they shared a laugh when the subject of Damian’s habit of complaining about the malfunctioning printers at his office had come up. Ingrid asked Frannie whether she knew Damian was married, and with a sheepish nod and a subdued whisper she admitted that she did, but found out only recently. Her loneliness had prevented her from objecting to seeing the only man who wanted to spend a significant amount of time with her. Ingrid and Frannie parted ways without agreeing on a course of action and it would later occur to Frannie how strange it was that Ingrid sought only information for the sake of knowing it.

The third and fourth of Damian’s lovers used to work with him and the affairs only started after they had left his employ. The two women, Alice and Shandra, knew about each other, but never saw Damian at the same time. Ingrid had to admit disappointment when she realized that she had not uncovered a salacious threesome and confessed this to Alice when the subject came up. Alice fessed up that she had suggested the idea to Damian, as she had doubled up with Shandra on men before, but Damian appeared uninterested. They spoke it about it only once it was never brought up again, Damian apparently being happy in the way he and Alice fucked, which by all accounts mirrored the way he and Ingrid bedded each other: moments of adventure and spice, but closed down as quickly as it had arisen. It was only with Shandra that Damian appeared to let himself explore the boundaries of his sexuality. Shandra told Ingrid that Damian requested every so often that she insult his manhood by shoving her thumb up his rear and call him names like “Faggot Boy” and “Mommy’s Little Bitch”. This made Ingrid giggle and when Shandra joined her, the two women ended up laughing hysterically for what seemed to be the whole afternoon.

The fifth and final woman on Ingrid’s list was a widow living a half-hour outside the city. She had no idea that Damian was married and began to cry when Ingrid told her who she was. When she’d calmed down and had a cup of sweet, milky tea Ingrid made for her, she informed Ingrid about the nature of her relationship with Damian. They made love, but only on special occasions like birthdays and promotions, but what they did most of the time was watch television and eat meals that Damian would prepare for them. Ingrid shared her surprise about Damian going anywhere near a kitchen with the widow and was even more surprised to learn that the widow considered Damian to be a great cook, if not quite a chef. Damian had never cooked for Ingrid, and the thought of him doing so for someone else caused her an unusual amount of pain. The widow swore she would never see Damian again, and Ingrid left her by saying she didn’t care much either way. Ingrid had treated the widow with more cruelty than she did the other women, but she knew she did this only because it was easy to do so.

Ingrid had found and interrogated all of Damian’s lovers within a week and by the time she arrived, on Damian’s arm, at “Saigon” and greeted her friends with either a hug or a peck on the cheek, she felt at ease with the new knowledge about her husband, her marriage, her sexual proclivities, and her plan for the future. Upon first viewing there was nothing strange about either her arrival or her decision on where to sit and where to place her friends. She positioned herself far from Damian, but made sure that he and Anna were close enough to feel uncomfortable but apart enough as to not give the game away. She placed her family on the other side of the long table so as to not have to deal with them and she surrounded herself with the people she enjoyed the most. She seemed to pick a random place among the intimate group, but it is in this narrator’s opinion that she had a plan all along.

When the second bottle of wine arrived along with the sweet duck wrapped in thyme pancakes, Ingrid Ballflower placed her hand on my thigh and smiled at me over a raised glass of sauvignon-blanc. As the evening progressed and my hand found her exposed thighs, she parted her legs and allowed me to finger her under the table. Our affair didn’t last long and we never really spoke about it afterwards, but one moment we shared gave me an indication as to her motives. We were making love in the back of my blue-grey 2001 model Honda Civic and when Ingrid reached climax, she said with a shudder of pleasure, “One down, four to go.”

The End

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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