This is a picture of me, taken by Jonathan Taylor, at the Grahamstown festival in 1990, twenty one years ago. I am sitting on the Village Green, helping Melinda Ferguson and Chevvy sell their stuff. I can’t remember if I also had stuff to sell.
Melinda and I had driven my father’s Toyota Cressida down to Grahamstown from Jozi with her mobiles, the sets, props and cozzies for two shows, and our other stuff piled in. We were performing the anarchic sequel to Live Technology (created by Melinda and Peter Hayes) called Dead Technology (by Melinda and I) and a little miracle of a co-production with artist Margaret Roestorf, called Live Art Exhibition. It was in a carpeted sunny room at the Monument that is now the Fringe office! It was exactly that; a live performance of Margaret’s and our writing in a room filled with her paintings.
I absolutely loved that festival. I’m not saying it wasn’t hard. At the last moment Melinda and I had a fight with the person whose cousin we were going to be staying at and our accommodation fell through. Chevvy reluctantly agreed to us staying with him in his commune and we lay on a concrete floor in our sleeping bags for a week. There was no hot water. Everyone else in the house were traders, not performers, and were very stoned and loud. Melinda and I would pack bags with our various costumes and leave them in the boot of the car while we went to the market in between shows.
But our shows were fantastic, and we were passionate and obsessed. And we jauled like there was no tomorrow. Most late, late nights we would end up rolling around on the stinky carpet in front of the fire at The Settlers Hotel opposite The Monument. Or we would dance and scream at the late-night ‘club’ in a side street I can’t remember. Most nights we stayed up as late (or early) as we could because we couldn’t face that concrete floor. We smoked millions of cigarettes and hung out with all the performers and critics and musos and even traders (there was cross pollination in those days). Late night cabarets and music and even movies were always full and only the start of the night’s jaul.
Sunlight and the Village Green was recovery and thaw out time, while we collected an audience, sold craft and ate that same Hare Krishna food. We had just discovered it. There were outrageous reggae buskers. There was flaming Ian Fraser, dissing everyone at his sold out comedy slag-offs. There was weird rock at the Graham Hotel, and venues the size of tissue boxes. There were house parties where people were so trippy they literally floated.
Now I’m getting ready to make this pilgrimage again and I must confess to wishing some of the stuff could “be like it was.” I know I’m romanticising. There was the festival in 1993 when I performed The Rhino Woman when I was so, so alone and sad the whole time. There was the time in 1994 (the only time I was ever part of a completely sold out show with added performances) when I was miserable and angry the whole festival. In 1995 I was involved with Journey, directed by Peter Hayes; the only time I was part of the main festival. It was a wild one, dangerous and crazy, the year James Phillips had his accident. I was in love with about ten musos that festival (including Brendon Jury) and I was secretly involved with someone and so was my best friend.
There were festivals where I performed TheatreSports, festivals where I directed beautiful, completely unattended work, festivals when I knew that the work could have been better, when I could have been stronger, festivals where I performed my own bizarre creations. In 1997 (I think) I did The Return of The Rhino Woman, and I was so, so happy; and drunk every night of the festival, with my ‘technical manager’, my friend Justin, who I had roped in to help me.
I must confess, The Long Table is fun, but it’s a different kind of hanging out that’s done there. Somewhere in the 21 years that I have taken to become this person, who is this age, everything has changed. I just am hoping that this festival, where my own fest identity will be completely different because I am going solely to see work and write about it, I will get that feeling. It’s the slightly mad, almost dangerous, a little out of control, manic magic creative electricity. Bring it on.