Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Tag: theatre (Page 1 of 3)

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 It was outdated by months.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.

A funny thing happened on the way to the theatre

This is a post written with a particular friend of mine in mind. Rudy has been a major influence in my life, not only because he has been in it since I was 18, but also because he has had a prescient knowledge of me, and my abilities, loves, hates and talents.

When I was at drama school he told me that I would make a good director. I was furious. I wanted to act. Nothing else would do. He told me to have this conversation with him again when I turned 40. I did. He was right. When I was 40 he asked me when I would become the teacher I needed to be. I was furious. I hate teaching. I only teach when I absolutely have to. It is my worst. He told me we would have this conversation again.

And yesterday, when I bumped into a student of mine from 12 years ago, I realised I had been doing this thing I hate, and loving it in secret, for a very, very long time. Granted, in the same free-lance style that is my usual life, but still, teaching, on and off for more than 20 years. I have also been realising, slowly, like a spreading blush, that I adore my current students (AFDA Live Performance honours students) even though I am not officially teacher, but more coach, facilitator, and kind of director. I am working with them on their workshopped production for the Grahamstown festival, and even though I do more than my fair share of complaining, I love them, and the work we are doing. Who would have thought?

So, I guess, as long as we don’t call it teaching, and it is all part of everything to do with theatre, and drama, I pretty much love it, along with everything else I love about theatre.It is scary how right you have been all along Rudy.

 

Acting

These are just a few thoughts, because I am deeply in love with my current cast, who are busy performing an industrial theatre roadshow , and I am reminded how extraordinary actors can and should be, when they are the real deal. And, I consider myself an actor of sorts, an actor amongst other things, but I do think I am in a good position to see what works, and what doesn’t both on stage and off.

Acting is proper teamwork. Unless you are in a one person show that you have written and directed yourself, you have to work as a team, and your goals and desires are shared and the same. Your intentions are all aimed at the same audience and you should have each others’ best interests at heart.

Acting is sharing; usually sharing something special and important with an audience. It is the actors’ job to share that.

Acting is doing something that somebody else told you to do (playwright, director, possibly client) as if it were you that thought it up. This is an amazing thing.

Acting means being sensitive to group dynamics, on and off stage.

Acting is shining a light, but not more brightly than the other members of your cast. Acting is listening to the others, and responding to them, but not during their thing.

Acting is remembering that you are in the business of magic, and the suspension of disbelief needs to be bought into by the whole cast, all the time.

Acting is storytelling, only it isn’t your story and nobody can know that.

Acting is fun, but it is also hard, and if you are a diva, you are doing it wrong.

The Cursed Audition

I held auditions at the beginning of the week. I am the best person to audition for (I think) because I really understand how it feels; how agonising and hideous it is, and how ridiculous a thing it is to do. I really try hard to make people feel comfortable enough to give their best shot, and to leave feeling like they did well. I also try and tell people that if they don’t get the job it isn’t because they weren’t good. There are so many factors to take into account.

This week I saw the best and the worst, the bravado, the nerves, the talent, the need, the disappointment, the energy, the hope and excitement, the expectation and the fear. And I am grateful and full of appreciation for every single last person I saw.

Now, I’d love to send a few little hints out to actors who will spend many more hours in front of many more directors, auditioning for stuff they may or may not get. 1. Always be open. Listen before you do anything. Instructions are there to help you be safe. Sometimes actors are so nervous about the impression they create that they completely forget to listen to what is needed of them. Listening to those first bits are very useful and can even help the whole thing slow down to a more manageable speed. 2. Take notes from the director. Remember, they want you to be good too. 3. Ask questions if you are unsure, but don’t get too complicated. 4. Ask to do it again if the way you did it the first time made you feel horrible. 4. Know that there is the possibility that even if you do your best you might not get it, but don’t decide that until you have tried your best. 5. Be honest. If you are not available for the dates, don’t audition. 6. Don’t harass the director afterwards. You will always be contacted if you got the part, and mostly, the director will say by when. 7. The industry in Cape Town is very small. Make sure you have a good reputation, and people enjoy working with you. Talent is only part of the package. 8. And finally, remember, the director has a big picture.

In my experience these are the things that count as much as talent when I am casting. 1. Reliability. When I am directing something for a corporate client I need to take it for granted that you will be at rehearsals on time, not miss any of them, be at the airport very early, and be constantly available to me by phone. If you aren’t there is a problem. 2. Team work. You have to get on with the rest of the cast, on and off stage. If I am casting for new characters to join an existing group of people I will always check in with the other cast members to see if they like the idea of working with you. I will always listen to them. 3. Reputation. What do other people in the industry say about you? Recently, I had my eye on someone who I thought was really talented and suited to a part. I asked around. People shared some interesting feedback and I realised that using her might be more work than I was prepared to take on. I trust my instincts. There are projects where I am completely prepared to take the risk and those where I am not. 4. Social behaviour. What are you like when I bump into you at a function or party? 5. I know this one might sound silly, but, do you know who I am and what I do? This is not about flattery. If I have done my homework on you, you can just as easily have done yours on me. Have you googled me? Checked me out on facebook? Do you understand the work?

I really hope this rambling post helps.

Expectant

Last night I went to see Expectant at Alexander Bar, created and directed by Penny Youngelson (part of Rust Co-Operative) and performed by Rebecca Makin-Taylor. It was the final performance there, but they have a tiny run at TAAC soon (just so you know).

I was pretty taken up with this quite extraordinary  piece of theatre. This is not a review of Expectant. At this stage of its showing I doubt that it needs that. This is me trying to explain why I liked it so very much, in the best possible way.

I really liked this piece of work because it is entirely itself. What that is, is complex, funny, challenging, self absorbed, self conscious, indulgent, clever, critical, big, slow, crazy, full of promise, washed with disappointment, lots of beauty, and articulation, and sound, and pointlessness, and wacky character and carapace/constriction/period dress, and weird big hair, and glass cups and red tampon-like string things. It is South African, and a clue to what young clever people are thinking and feeling, and it nods to my past, and indulges my whiteness and it made me feel again how I don’t have children (a deeply personal moment of powerful and unintended connection). It is long and complicated and verbose and full, and try as I might, I missed stuff and laughed and missed the next thing and then was taken by surprise by the next thing.

This piece made me excited for another big reason. It is made for itself. It is made to speak its own special stuff, with its own voice. It has not been made with an audience in mind, because if it had been it would have been very different. It is theatre that reminded me that theatre can be made without imagining who will see it, and pandering to them. And there will be people who will get it, or at least enough of it to count. This is brave theatre. It is probably full of its own heartache, but my sense is that the young women who have made it are pretty strong.

Let’s be honest

Dear Nikki Froneman, it was so wonderful to have a frank, exciting, challenging, inspiring theatre chat with you last night. It made me feel brave, and it inspired me to continue to be loud and honest about an industry that, quite frankly, isn’t.

I loved what you said about how people live, talk, read, debate, engage with and participate in theatre in Argentina, and I am jealous that we don’t. I am frustrated every day by the smallness, pettiness and bullshit of the South African theatre industry and community in general, and Cape Town in particular. I am always angry at how it’s so easy to wrong and offend people, how ungenerous people are around both giving and receiving criticism, and how the tininess of the industry pool makes us in or out of a nasty little boys’ club.

I hate the fact that people lie to each other about their work and then bitch behind their backs. I hate that even I am often silenced by the certainty that it will be seen as me rather than what I say. I hate the feeling that people are not honest and brave and challenging with me, and that they rather bitch behind my back. I am frustrated that we are not united in the common goal of building beautiful, meaningful, challenging theatre AND audiences. I am angry that we are not allowed to fail, and be held by each other when we do. I am enraged that we continue, in our timidity, to not have the debate, the honest discussion, the ‘here’s what I think’ bold statement.

It terrifies me that people have all pleaded with me to continue writing about theatre and that I should do it anonymously. As if I would be saved from being associated with my opinion. We are playing a horrible, dishonest, full of blame, trumped-up success, desperate and spiteful game here. And it makes me sick and sad.

So Nikki, when I want to say these things I will just have to find you.

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