Tag Archives: plays

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.

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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.)

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.)

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?

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

29 Aug

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

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

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

As a writer I shudder and reach for the gin.

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

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

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

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

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

No one could answer her.

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…

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