Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Out of Order – we are.

As part of the London theatre carrot that might be in a place that it shouldn’t be right now I want to see as much local, new, fresh and exciting theatre as I can. With that in mind I popped off to The Intimate last night to see The Space Behind the Couch’s Out of Order. This is a two-hander written and directed by Beren Belknap (and performed by him, and teched by him) and performed by James MacGregor and Gabriel Marchand.

What happened to me last night was directly influenced by the week of pure theatre magic I have experienced in London. What happened to me broke my heart.

Beren, this is not a review of your work. This is a heartfelt response to the horrible way we are forced to make theatre in this country. And to be honest, I don’t even know where to start. When I was in London everyone referred to me as a playwright. This is a title I have never allowed myself to have, even though I have actually written quite a few plays. We all call ourselves theatre makers here. That’s because we always have to do everything. We are not really allowed to specialise, to be one thing. We can’t. Who will direct the plays if we just write them? What will we direct if we are just directors? Why does a brilliant performer like Nicola Hanekom have to write, direct and perform the things she makes? In London nobody has heard the term theatre maker.

Last night I got so angry Beren. I got angry that you have to do everything. I got depressed that you had to be a theatre maker instead of a writer, or a director, or a performer. I got sad when I thought about a process you needed and did not have the luxury of accessing. Imagine if you had had somebody older and experienced to be your mentor. Imagine if you had had the time to develop your script. Imagine if you and your actors had been able to play around for a couple of months, find things, throw things out, explore, develop the work. Imagine what could have happened then.

Things happen in such a rush here, and we are in such a hurry to get things in product form, in front of a tiny audience for such short little runs. We have no time. We have no money. We have no support. We piss on our own batteries here, because there’s nowhere else to piss.

Out of Order is such a brilliant title. We are Out of Order. Our theatre is Out of Order.

So, I want to congratulate you Beren for making theatre under these conditions. You shouldn’t have to. It shouldn’t be this hard, and this thankless.

Here’s what I thought about the piece. In my opinion Out of Order is a brilliant idea, with brilliant things in it and two brilliant performers, but it is not ready. It is not a product yet. It looks like it is, because there are the fab technicals and animations and set, but it isn’t. And for me, what was a potentially coherent, hilarious and outrageous piece of historic fantasy, Goon show style, was marred by one tiny mistake that permeated the piece. This was the dumb Afrikaner. The dumb Afrikaner is a bit of a racist idea, and it needs better treatment, either from a characterisation point of view, or from a language point of view, or from an ideological point of view. I was uncomfortable that the Afrikaans character was just a dumb Afrikaner (whose actual Afrikaans was not good), and that the kommandant spoke to his men in dumb Afrikaans accented English. The English character had so much to him; he was mad, and a coward, and a traitor, and filthy mouthed. He was a character. And he spoke in his mother tongue.

There is so much that is brilliant about the notion of this piece. At a time when the Boer war offerings of Deon Opperman laud Afrikanerdom and sow division, there is huge space for a different look, a fantastical reinterpretation of it all, and one that has the hope of the message of Out of Order. What will help make the message clear is if the Afrikaans character is not simply the dumb Afrikaner, but more. Someone we care about. Someone who deserves more than an accent and silly mispronunciations.

Beren, I think you are amazing, and brave and creative and talented. I think that Out of Order deserves time, and thinking about, and a bit of process. I keep thinking about War Horse, and how its creators spent 18 months developing it. I think about your performers, who would shine so much more brightly, and confidently, with more discovery time; more rehearsal time. And I imagine you, the writer, or director, with only one job at a time, being able to pour everything into that specialist thing. I wish that for you. And for all of us damn theatre makers.

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5 Comments

  1. Beren Belknap

    Megan… Thank you very much for your response to Out of Order… What you say about how we are forced to make theatre in this here town is very true… Being a theatre maker here feels somewhat like being a lone ranger… You against the world… If you don’t write that script/build that set/rig those lights/direct those actors/sew that costume… then no one else will.
    Is this just because of money? Do we not have enough to support large companies and so we just do it all ourselves? Or is something that runs deeper? I feel like there are some support structures in place here and there to mentor young writer/directors (all those bursaries and whatnot)… But, unfortunately for me, it seems no one is interested in extending these opportunites to (dare I go there) a young white male… I accept this and understand the reasons behind it… And so I endeavor to go about the path of the lone theatre maker as best I can…
    And this show, in particular, has been a challenge… An incredibly fun challenge… But a challenge nonetheless, as we put this show together (script, set, rehearsals, everything) in the space of three weeks… I am glad that the production values are up to scratch and look polished and I am quite proud of the script (being the first all out comedy I have written)…
    The notion of the ‘dumb afrikaaner’ does distress me… Being very much an english boy, I was worried about the character veering in that direction… It is always worrying when one steps out of ones own voice when writing… But I decided to take the chance… Several people on the production team are young and Afrikaans… So I kept in constant consultation with them to make sure I was not being in anyway offensive… While they always responded positively to the character, I understand that not everyone will… We are trying to allow the comedy to come more as a result of the language barrier that exists between the the two characters rather than from an afrikaaner steriotype… maybe this is something that would have been more evident had we had a longer time to rehearse and develop the character… And move him further away from the cliche…
    But, then again, most young Afrikaans speaking people who have seen the play thus far have laughed hysterically and thoroughly enjoyed James’s performance… So maybe it is just a matter of opinion and ones own propensity towards being offended…
    This play will have more time… It will go further… I believe we are lacking in theatre that is just pure fun and enjoyment but that does not compromise on artistic inventiveness… This is what I always strive to create and will continue to do so… Hopefully, along the way, things will become more structured… the Space Behind The Couch will grow, someone might just decide to give me some mentorship (or money… That would be nice, hey?) and eventually I will be in a position where I don’t have to do everything by myself in three weeks… But, hey… I’m young… I’m in the trenches… and right now this is what I have to do… And at least I’m having fun doing it.
    Beren Belknap
    THE SPACE BEHIND THE COUCH

  2. Epiglotis

    Is it really that the Dumb Afrikaner is offensive, isn’t it just that it’s really over-used? Easy laughs don’t justify an easy choice.

    Looking forward to seeing it grow.

  3. Simon Cooper

    For those of sensitive disposition. this is a warning – this comment contains some political rethoric that some may decide is racist because it is anti the ANC but then the ANC is going down – it’s a matter of time before the populace turn on them and good riddance to a bunch of corrupt incompetents who care precisely fuck all for anyone else but themselves. Oh and by the way I will use bad language so if that offends you, click close right now.

    I pause to note that even this latest Protection of Information Act or whatever the fucking thing is called can’t stop me [yet] from writing this. Want to bet they try [not me but generally] in the future ?

    I have been in my spiritual rejunvenation place [Bushman’s] for week because apart from a few business things, I needed to get my head cleared and thinking. Tonight read Megan’s Head for the first time since the lady got back from London and freaked over this thing about “Out of Order”.

    Now I haven’t seen Beren’s play and this is not about it – it is about the wider issues that Megan raises. The reason why Beren and others have “to do everything” whereas in the UK there is some money and time for people to do what they do best is simple – in the UK there is not a culture of ripping off public money for private benefit, and not with standing debt crises and spending cuts, there is some money for the performing arts. Because they realise how important it is !!

    Let’s face it Zuma and Zuma’s government is not about “by the people, for the people”- it is all about self enrichment. Now have a look at what South Africa needs – money [yes that stuff what is being “diverted”] for housing, education, police and crime fighting, job creation and so the list goes on.
    But the bastards in power steal – and that reduces what is available for the real needs and if the real needs are short, where the fuck do you think theatre comes in the pecking order ? Very far down the list. Yes there are some people who plough money into the performing arts and god bless their cotton socks, they perform miracles. But what we need is an understanding and a culture that the performing arts are an important part of life and need support.
    I seldom say this out loud but I speak as someone who puts his money where his mouth is and I have had an incredible return – not in profit but in emotional capital. I have had the privilege of working with some incredibly talented people, some immensely dedicated people and by fuck, have we got talent and dedication ? Yes and yes again in spades.

    What’s the answer – I don’t know. But don’t expect it to improve for a long time and the only thing I can say is, ironically, “la luta continua”.

  4. Caroline Calburn

    Yip, we are out of order. The theatre industry is a disaster. I’m sensing an upswing, and that upswing lies in the notion of us helping each other. And it’s new, I’m feeling the seed of it now in all sorts of ways. For too long we have been pitted against each other, competing for money and who gets to decide who gets the money – whose work is of worth and whose isn’t. And those that get it – get to create, and those that don’t try that damned best to bring ideas to life. For BLACK theatre makers and for WHITE theatre makers. It is hard for everyone. While I know it is lonely out there Beren,it is not exclusive to colour or gender. It is not just white male actors who do not feel recognised or feel that there is work for them. There are virtually no opportunties for young black performers – and heaven forbid their training has been in the community. Let us not fall into the trap of dividing this industry further by drawing racist lines. We have to hold together, support each other and route out the racism in the industry. We can only do this by recognising that it is not because of one’s colour or one’s gender that one is not getting opportunity. It is just that there are too few opportunities to go around. That is the problem. The only people who can change this industry is us by acknowledging that it is not just white actors who are prepared to work for nothing, but that black actors are too – just to be seen and recognised in the hope of another job. We have to help each other, give each other opportunity and not just work with friends. We have to cross over to the other side, whatever that side is. Beren, I will always support your work regardless of whether I could give you a bursary or not. I will always support your work because you’re focused, talented and make work happen. Celebrate that. Don’t get sucked down a tunnel of feeling a victim. In this industry we are almost all victims – regardless of who we are – race or gender or age.

  5. Trevor du Buisson

    I love this review. I love these thoughts, these reflections, these observations. Brilliant Megan! I agree completely: Rushing the creative process is fatal.

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