Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Month: July 2011 (Page 2 of 6)

Voice

Once again I have returned from a Liz Mills voice class inspired, delighted and excited. I was reminded today of how influenced I have been by the work we have done; I spent the Grahamstown festival listening to many of the actors’ voices and seeing how consciously they were working with them.

Many actors are stuck in their voices. Many actors have bad vocal habits, over stress, or have developed a very small range of expression. I saw an actress who, because of her huge physical size, had chosen a teeny voice to compensate. I heard actors who were not being kind to their voices with harsh stresses and sore throats. I heard actors whose voices were not in their bodies. And I heard actors who were getting their voices, their unique, individual sounds to really work for them.

I was lucky to see the results of Liz’s work so acutely in Mark Hoeben’s performance in Sadako. Mark, who was at drama school with me, has also been attending these awesome classes, and the work has so paid off. Because he is a puppeteer in Sadako all his performance is through his voice. And what he produces is an almost unrecognisable pitch, vocal quality and range, giving him a sincerity, compassion and connectedness without being an inch sentimental. It’s as if he has taken all the work, all the notes, all the observations and put them directly into practice right there.

So bravo to Mark and bravo to Liz.

Real Rose

When all is said and done, it is absolutely blatantly obvious when a piece of theatre or storytelling is amazing. Rose, written by Martin Sherman and performed by Fiona York at The Kalk Bay Theatre is just that; a performance that crept up on me (it had time to; it was two hours long) and had me sobbing and sniffing onto my sleeves again.

On a wooden bench (she is sitting shiva), Rose tells the extraordinary story of her life; a Jewish peasant girl growing up in a village in the Ukraine where she feels like she doesn’t belong, to her escape as a young girl to meet up with her brother in Warsaw. She tells of her time during the war, in the Ghetto, her rescue and final convoluted trip to Palestine that ended up in America, with a second husband, and the feisty creation of an interesting, unusual life.

Punctuated with delicious humour, strange little details, and of course the terrible facts that Rose has trouble ‘remembering’, this is an engrossing story told absolutely brilliantly.

Again, I wasn’t sure about whether I was going to like this one. At the heart of the tale sits a Jewish holocaust survivor story. As I have said before, been there done that. But the character of Rose navigates an original take on this, making its horrors fresh and personal. I was also uncomfortable about how the whole Palestine/Israel issue would be handled. It is no secret that I have very strong anti-Israel occupation of Palestine feelings. Well, I don’t want to give the story away, but this was for me the most moving, tragic and brilliantly resolved moment of the whole thing.

Rose sneaks up on you, and her mannerisms, cowardice. quirks, bravery and foibles become totally endearing. You want a happy life for her, but what you get is a real life, told in the simplest, truest way.

It is always interesting for me when somebody who isn’t Jewish plays someone who is. It is an interesting debate. It’s not like a specifically black character. There is the issue of colour. It wouldn’t be believed. But can you tell whether someone is Jewish? Fiona York does a brilliant job because she plays the person, not the characteristics. I had one or two moments where I found her accent a bit weird, and her pronunciation of chuppah made the u sound like ‘cup’ instead of ‘hoop’, but I am nitpicking as only a Jewish somebody could. (If my fingers weren’t typing they would be making hand gestures.)

If I could be like Fiona York when I am in my later years I would be so happy. I aspire to be her, and do her kind of work.

PS. It is going to be so, so interesting to see if this production is accepted by the Jewish grapevine here in Cape Town. Of course it should, but will it be politically challenging?

Rose tinted theatre glasses

After a self-questioning week, I’ve thought a lot about theatre, theatre reviewing, and the problems that both face. I’ve got some pretty radical ideas about how these little worlds play out, and I’ve decided that however dependent they are on each other they are also responsible for each others’ downfall. Let me explain.

A couple of months back I had a confidential chat with someone who sees a ton of theatre and writes about everything he sees. I must point out that he is independent, not writing for money or for a boss. He also puts out press releases and operates as a platform to generate publicity. I see him at every opening night I’m at. (He goes to them all, I’m sure. I only go to the ones I am invited to). This man confessed to not being able to write a review in which he said that the production (or even aspects of it) were bad. He just couldn’t manage the bad publicity this would create and he doesn’t want to be responsible for any production’s lack of success. So he writes good stuff about whatever he sees. I think that this is bullshit. The whole point about reading someone’s opinion, a review, a crit, is to get a sense of whether that person thought the thing was good or bad, or even in between. I tried in vain to make my point. As far as he was concerned, there is so little theatre and the theatre-going audience is so small they should be encouraged to see everything.

I left the discussion fuming. I could not possibly recommend that others see something that is, in my opinion, rubbish. And that comes with its own price. I am known as harsh, a bitch, and even somebody who hates everything she sees. Which of course is totally untrue; in general I like much more than I don’t, and mostly there will be aspects of a production that I like and stuff that I don’t.

I am often astounded by what I call “Emperor’s new clothes” reviews. These are reviews where it feels like the critic has been star struck or is in awe of one or other famous star, the director, the management, or even the writer. It’s as if there is no possibility that the production could be anything other than amazing and so therefore, it is. Two productions (one which I saw and one which I didn’t) got rave reviews across the board for these kinds of reasons. The production I saw was horrible, and the one everybody secretly spoke about sounded like hell and boredom combined. Because it feels like everybody in this town is too shit scared to own up and write that a production was bad, performers and directors believe that their mediocre, or unoriginal or boring work is good enough, and then they attack anyone brave enough to say anything against it. When I write an honest, harsh review about something I don’t like, and justify it, I am the baddie, not the production.

This is so dangerous because people believe what they read. Our industry is a fragile one, and I want to be sure people know what they are getting. I hate the idea of the ordinary somebody going so see something that has been given glowing reviews, and they sit there thinking, is it me? Am I dof? Am I the only one who thinks this is boring/bad/ridiculous?

If reviewers and critics aren’t owning up and telling the hard truth then what’s the point of them at all? Might as well just print the self-promoting press release. Oh, wait, somebody actually did that in Grahamstown, and passed off chunks of the press release as their very own review. They saw in the show everything the press release said about the show. Now the actors think they’re conveying it. Those in the audience who aren’t seeing it either feel like idiots or bitches. And they all follow the first arsehole who stands.

It makes me depressed. And sad. And gek. There is a good part to this though. Whenever I say I loved something, or even liked something, or even part of something, whoever reads what I wrote will know that I mean it.

 

Margeaux on the Festival

I am delighted to report that Margeaux is back, with an interesting take on the Grahamstown Festival.

Beautiful, versatile improv work

As part of my pro-bono work I was asked to come and spend some time at The Homestead, a shelter for boy street children, and play some improv games with them. I was a little reluctant and unsure. I had no idea how much of the stuff they would respond to and what kind of concentration they would have. I arrived yesterday afternoon and found a motley crew of mostly teenage boys colouring in mandalas, an inspired project introduced by Debsalem, their whacky and awesome social worker.

I shouldn’t have worried. We gathered in the room after pushing furniture aside, and played and played. Yes, there were concentration lapses, language hiccups, and moments of frustration, and self-consciousness but hey, they were a bunch of twelve teenage boys and their social workers. I chose easy, fun games, lying games, physical games. Once they got the hang of it they started being creative. After about 40 minutes (about the length of a school period I guess) they were pretty much done.  When they were asked what they enjoyed about it one of the younger boys said he just loved laughing. And I guess that’s a big deal for street kids.

After doing a little debrief with Debsalem in her sanctuary of an office, she walked me to my car. Three of the boys were outside, washing her car. She turned to me with a huge smile and said, “they must have loved the session. Whenever they love anything they thank me by spontaneously washing my car!”

I left with a huge smile on my face. I realised that these boys had helped me overcome certain insecurities I had had about their access to this work. It really is positive, amazing stuff, for anybody. You just have to say yes!

 

Shock

In a shocking turn of events today I discovered the very real possibility that what I was trying to do here on my blog was not only not appreciated, but that there were people (friends and colleagues included) who, although they haven’t said anything, feel that me being directly involved in theatre, knowing many of the people I write theatre stuff about and even being good friends with a lot of them, is a conflict of interest and that I shouldn’t be doing it.

I am the first one to acknowledge that meganshead has had its moments of being controversial, out there, outspoken and even a trend bucker. There has been stuff that I have loved that others have hated and visa versa, although I have always felt that I said why. I have taken my share of flack from those who disagree. I have even been threatened, hurt and accused of horrible things, all of which I have handled, sometimes with more grace than others.

I feel like I need to remind people that this blog is independent and unsponsored, and I do not make any money from it at all. In fact, if it weren’t for the hours and cash put in by Big Friendly there wouldn’t be this blog. I go and see stuff on my own time and write about things on my own time, although I do get offered comps and, more and more I get invited to opening nights. I also want to remind people why I started meganshead and why I have persevered with it for almost four years. I felt that there was a serious lack in both the number and quality of reviews for theatre in Cape Town, and also that they came out so long after a show had opened. It seemed that I became part of the publicity of productions, and that on the whole this was seen as a good thing, regardless of how I felt about the show. That’s the risk of having anyone write anything about theatre.

But up until today I thought that this was a tacit agreement. I now see that there are people who really think I shouldn’t be doing what I do. And I’d love to throw open the debate. Are you a friend? Do you just read my blog? Do you have an opinion about this? Do you think I can write honestly about stuff even if it includes my friends’ work? Is it a problem that I too am involved in the industry? Please let me know your thoughts and opinions, and be honest. I need to decide how to move forward.

 

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