Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

The Fabulous Finkelsteins, and me

1351_the_finkelsteins_are_coming_to_dinner_photo_nardus_engelbrecht_4(Photo Nardus Engelbrecht)

This little lovely play has been a lifesaver for me on so many levels, and as we turn towards our final week of this run (it has flown by with joy and delight) I am beginning to reflect on some of the secondary enjoyments of being an actor person in a successful production.

Being ‘just an actor’ doesn’t come naturally to me. I am a bossy, over compensating publicity maniac, a used car salesman of the theatre, hell bent on begging, pleading, cajoling and sometimes even paying for an audience to come and see our work. But The Finkelsteins are Coming to Dinner has managed to get its own audience for us to enjoy. I haven’t had to nag anyone. When I default into thinking about who hasn’t come and who has said they would but haven’t I quickly change that old worn script, because, who cares?

I look out into the audience (I only allow myself to see actual faces during the curtain call) without knowing who is there, and it is a surprise and thrill to find out at the end that there were people in the audience who I know. I am able to receive the love and warmth of strangers and friends alike, and I am completely able to play utterly unselfconsciously on stage without thinking about who is there.

I can check up on our bookings and delight in how well they are doing without panicking about the few nights that are still not sold out. I can allow myself to not check up on bookings at all. I can walk into the space knowing that I will be generous and present and do my best (and hope it will be the best night ever, every time) and honour the work, without thinking about any single aspect of production, or admin, or technical, or publicity.

Yes, it helps that the Alexander Bar team have created the perfect venue for these perfect gems of shows. Yes, it helps that I share the stage with two, true superstar men, and let me name them again, Andrew Laubscher and David Viviers. Yes, there is a brilliant debut playwright Richard Kaplan whose play I was lucky to have been cast in. Yes, I can’t help but think of the future of this play and whether there is one, and then I have to stop myself; it’s not my job right now. Right now I live in the luxury of having a day off before our final week of eight shows, and I am going to love every single moment of them.


Do I dare disturb the (theatre) universe?

With deep apologies to T.S. Eliot.

Last night I attended a second round of double bills in Artscape’s New Voices season. Once again I sat with a small (first play) and then further dwindled audience (second play) in the deathly hole that is my favourite theatre in Cape Town, Artscape’s Arena.

So, first to everything (no not everything, because that would take me my whole entire life) that was wrong with Artscape last night. I will only do one night. I arrived and there was a 50 person strong queue at box office, with 3 minutes to go before the show I was attending was to begin. People were texting other people to tell ushers and door people that they were struggling to pick up their tickets. I didn’t even try. Luckily I smashed into someone dashing to the venue who had a ticket for me. The usher at the door knows me. He hugged me and whispered in my ear that he missed me, from decades ago when we would improvise in On The Side, a fringe venue that we made, that has disappeared (one of many, many). We dashed up the stairs to join the tiny audience gathered for the first double bill. (More about the plays soon.) We came down at interval, when half the audience left. No music in the bar. No nothing. Bleak as hell. Ten minutes later we traipsed up the stairs with holes in our hearts for the actors and director of the second play, who had to start the show at 8.45pm to the fifteen of us who had remained. After that show we exited into a closed and silent bar. I had to go backstage to talk to my friends in the show. There was literally nowhere to wait for them. Ironically, that was probably for the best, because both of them live in the townships and have to rely on public transport and it was getting very late. I left through the foyer tunnel. I noticed hundreds of posters for shows that I had not heard about anywhere else. You know what Artscape? You need to do proper publicity. I looked for information on the website. It was outdated by months. You know what Artscape? You need a regularly updated website.

So, Artscape, let’s talk about this scheduling thing. I am delighted that the work is trying to appeal to a larger, blacker audience, but how about making it easier for them to actually attend the work. Why a double bill? How can you justify it? This is not the Alexander Bar; a niche venue with 44 seats and an audience with private transport or access to Uber. Why stick with this completely shoot-yourself-in-the-foot scheduling nightmare? Ityala Lamawele was also on last night. From what I have heard, attendance has been dismal. Why? Scheduling. I saw it on its last run. It was on a Sunday afternoon and the main theatre (500 seater) was full. That would surely give you a clue about scheduling wouldn’t it? So help me understand what you are trying to do here please.

Now to the plays themselves. I am going to be hard. Three out of the four New Voices productions were particularly bad. Seriously, individually, uniquely bad. The first one was a hideous combination of industrial theatre, soap opera and school play and it was embarrassing. The second one was an unrestrained agony of misplaced internal feelings attached to a nonsensical discourse around identity, that left me reeling. The third one had lots of potential. It needed a mentor, a dramaturg, a coach and director to remove all the added on, trite, pseudo cabaret, generalised wankerage, and to get to its core story which was beautiful, and even well performed. I suggested to a friend in the know that a mentor would have been useful. She said each production had one, at great expense. Oh dear theatre gods, you have sold us down the river of theatrical hell. The last one (seen only by the few hard core die-hards) was beautiful. It was gorgeous, well conceived, moving, engaging, intelligent, original and theatrical. Not 100% so, but in comparison it was the surprise upgrade to premium class. And, it must be said, and I will mention names, Thembekile Komani and Ntombi Makhutshi you were both outstanding and a joy to watch on stage. It must be asked of the other shows, what the fuck were these mentors doing?

Now Artscape, if you are going to be spending the money, then at least do it properly. Experimental work is a must, and it is a great programme, but don’t make it so high risk for your audiences, who are making a huge effort as it is. Come on. You have a huge responsibility here, and you have a magnificent opportunity too. Please let us make this work. Mandla Mbothwe I want to help. I want theatre to win.


More than enough has been written about the student protests, and I have probably read too much, said too much, and gone around the Mulberry bush with this one. However, a couple of chance conversations and the overhearing of another one have led me to understand the utter reality of the divide between white and black, with such crystal clarity, that I thought it bares repeating.

The first conversation I had was with a white someone who works as an academic, a teacher, a lecturer. It was a brief, rushed conversation and I need to make sure I don’t read too much into it, but one of the last things that was said by them was, “what about me?” All the bells started ringing as I walked away, thinking, “uh, no, it’s not about you.” This is so often a white response, and it is  genuine one, a confused and hurt one, a response that innocently puts that person’s needs at the forefront of the thing. And it remained with me. That is the exact opposite of what the black students are saying. It isn’t about them. It is for, and towards a better system. It is against the status quo, it is in spite of terrible personal loss, it is so things eventually get better for all.

The second conversation was with a white mother whose child will be studying overseas next year. Personally, I think this is a brilliant option for white children who can afford it, although the ironic misconception is that so many children believe that they have to get a university education to live and be. Legacy. My feelings (and I have the ability to have steely clarity on this without the burden of ‘what about my children?’) are that if you are in a situation that needs a really personal response, then that response needs to be made so that it isn’t at the expense of anyone else. I acknowledge that for these parents there is a terrible agony (and I wonder if there is also guilt?) but the country and the majority are not playing with right now, because the rules have changed. It has been so slow, and subtle, and so tiny, the changes, but they are changed. So, white people can’t just do what they have always been doing, and white parents don’t get to make the rules of engagement around university education in this country anymore. Scary for them, but true. At the core of it is the truth that white kids’ parents have spent and are spending oodles on their kids’ university studies (kids who can’t get bursaries or funding) and they are pouring their cash down the drain. It must feel so horrible, but different choices need to be made, and once again, the irony is that every white parent, and white child is still better off in the ‘making choices’ department.

The final conversation that I was a fly on the wall to was one between three white female students who were drinking milkshakes at a restaurant because uni was shut down. They were complaining about how doing their stuff online was boring and slow, and how there was nobody to support them, and how, because they had missed other lectures during the year there was no way to catch up properly, and they were bitching about the inconvenience of it all, and complaining that they were probably all going to fail, and they didn’t once look at the waitress, their age and working, who listened to their whole conversation and shook her head, and watched them throw cash on their table without even making eye contact, as they left to go shopping. I have no idea what these three were supposed to be studying, but they were so completely unconscious about their privilege, their position, their moronic responses, and who and how they are in the world, I felt a physical reaction to them.

These are just three things that happened to me. I know that there are shades of everything in this story of education. I know that at its core there is total frustration and it has nowhere to go and nothing to meet it. I am with the students and opposed to them in equal measure. I am proud and disgusted, I am involved and separated out.  I am trying to understand. I cannot take any of it personally. I want it to change and be better for all.

Another Jewish Mother – Sybil Sands

I have just come home after another delightful performance of The Finkelsteins are Coming to Dinner at The Alexander Bar. We have just completed our first week of our three week run there and I have loved every second of it. Tonight’s audience was warm, vocal, responsive and so sweet; complete strangers came to congratulate me afterwards. I was also lucky to have a really old friend and his wife in the audience and I hung out a bit with them afterwards.

Although I didn’t say so at the time I privately dedicated tonight’s performance to Sybil Sands. I know she would have loved this play and I am so sad at her passing. Sybil was a Jewish mother and grandmother to the whole of Cape Town’s acting fraternity and I so was deeply connected to the part of mother tonight.

Sybil was the essence of what it meant to be that Jewish mother; she was kind and concerned, proud to show off the successes of all those on stage (we all inherited those silver beaded star keyrings from her), and pushy as hell for those on her books. She worried about everyone’s aches and pains, was connected to the grapevine, and unbelievably committed to seeing as much theatre as she possibly could.

She would always pat the seat next to her for me when I saw her at events or opening nights, and we would have a quick catch up. She knew everything about everyone in the show and would always tell me what she thought. Her favourites could do no wrong and she took great pleasure in them being her favourites, although, to be fair, she had many, many favourites.

Sybil Sands, tonight’s beautiful show was all for you.


Smell Memory

I have smell memory. I woke up with it today. I woke up remembering the smell of my childhood kitchen dishwashing liquid and I was taken back to that sunny kitchen with its grey and black lino squares on the floor, fat glass bottles of yogurt, and sticky tomato and cheese spaghetti that Lilian Mpila used to make for us.

I remember smells from my childhood all the time. I long for those strange grey squares of chewing gum in pink wrappers that had the best smell.

Winter smelled of Badedas and Fenjal.

Summer smelled of those pungently sweet and sickly daisies that don’t seem to grow in Cape Town, or I have outgrown the response to that smell.

I have smell memory for burned out, old fashioned light bulbs. They don’t have that smell anymore. I have smell memory for Pratley’s putty; a standard go-to for my father, that I haven’t used in decades.

I have smell memory of people’s skin and bodies. People who have gone.

An open letter to my friend and ally Brett Anderson

Dearest Brett

I thought of you today. It was a constant thought that ran parallel to my most extraordinary experience, and so I am writing to you, and for everybody else to see.

I’ll start with the facts; with what happened, and then I will tell you what it has done and how I feel.

I went to the periodontist’s hygienist today for my regular teeth cleaning. I go every five months because I am prone to gum disease. It is the one area of my health I am vigilant about. Life is weird. I have a good relationship with her; she chats to me a lot while she scrapes the plaque and tartar off my teeth. I have heard all about her kids and their lovelinesses and she knows I have a niece of a similar age to her daughter. I like her very much, this young, hard working, serious, kind hearted, sensitive, religious, intelligent, white, Afrikaans woman.

Today the conversation swung in the direction of the student protests and she sighed out how disappointed she was in the violence and burning that to her mind was so counter productive and inappropriate. I hesitated for one tiny moment before deciding what to do, and then, I breathed in (it helped that her fingers were in my mouth, which gave me that extra nano-second of refection) and asked for her permission to hear my radical point of view. She said yes and I started explaining.

At first her responses were lots of ‘yes but’s and I persisted. She told me how hard she and her husband had worked for what they have. She told me how her 25 year old brother, who has a degree, is discriminated against and can’t get a job. She told me about her mother who had grown up with absolutely nothing in an orphanage. And there was my way in. I said, “When your mother was in an orphanage there were only white children in the orphanage.” She stopped and said firmly, “Yes, poor white children.” And all I said was, “there were no orphanages for black children then.” Her mouth opened. A tiny penny dropped. I took the gap and changed the subject. I asked her how many cars her family of four owned. She said two. Basically, a car per adult in the family. And then I told her how she was in the less than one percent of the richest people in the world, who owned their own car. I told her about the many millions of people in the world who would never ride in a private car in their lives. And her brain clicked. I saw it happen.

She bravely held back and stopped her white tears. She thanked me. She thanked me for talking to her. She told me she would never, ever see the world in the same light again. She confessed how naive she had been, how insular, how shortsighted. She thanked me, and I received her thanks.

I spoke to one white person today who utterly, totally heard something for the very first time ever, and she will never ever unthink those thoughts. And I am so excited and moved and inspired. Oh yes. It can be done. One person at a time. One engagement at a time. One white person at a time.

So, Brett, I thought of you, and how you do things, and what you hope for, and how usually I am the one with zero patience or tolerance, and today I must have channeled you, and it worked.

I am not reformed. White people’s ignorance of their own privilege pisses me off beyond explaining, but something tiny happened today, in the right direction and it is as teeny as the furthest star, but it is a shining light.

PS. I just thought you should know.

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