Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Tag: Artscape (Page 1 of 4)

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 It was outdated by months.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.

And Chomi

chomimainLast night I went to Artscape again, making it two nights in a row, to see another of the season of new writing’s offerings, Chomi. And it was an absolute treat being in the audience. The play is a young, black, gay, South African stage version of Friends/Sex And the City and it was cute and funny and moving and generally entertaining and delightful. The performances were good, the direction was very solid indeed, and the sound and lights were spot on. But the absolutely best part of the show was being in that audience. 1. It was a totally mixed audience, reflecting a much lovelier and more authentic Cape Town than I have generally seen in Cape Town, and certainly at Artscape. Yay! 2. They/we were so vocal. It was almost interactive. People oohed and aahed, laughed and expressed their disapproval, even said ‘amen’ at the end of a prayer. It was fantastic. 3. It was an audience who, for the most part, were exposed to pretty raunchy, sexy and gay stuff, and there were deep breaths of conservative shock that turned into acceptance while we sat there. Now, I think that is what makes true, meaningful theatre. The kind that after one hour  might shift opinion, change minds, and open hearts forever.

Chomi is on for two more shows on Friday so check out the Artscape website for details.


undonemainA lovely thing about the Artscape Season of New Writing is the energy, time, money and commitment given to brand new work. Thank you Artscape for these many years of actively growing local theatre.

Last night was my turn to see Wessel Pretorius’ Undone (previously ONT in Afrikaans). And it was very, very, very good. Here is a tiny rambling, stream of conscious ream in praise of this masterful solo performance.

That tub, that case, a musing face a naked form, emotion storm, both tense intense, can we un-sense, a mother father jacket un-packet. You learned to drive, a muscle taut, un-dead alive.

Alfred Rietmann has also made total magic with lighting.

Although this work is entirely different from Sue MacLaine’s Still Life, there are many similarities; even just the obvious ones. Solo performance, nudity, poetry, form. If you can, go see it. The only challenge is the mystery of when it is on. The scheduling is a huge, jumbled Artscape secret.

Cute as Bear Shit Champ

I am one of the didn’t-see-it-last-timers. I had been kicked off Artscape’s New Writing Programme’s opening night invite list, and I was in production with something else and I never made it; but obvz I had heard all about it, and was amped to see it last night. I even managed to beg to be invited to its opening at The Fugard, and I am so glad I did.

Champ. 3 actors dressed in bear suits and their demented hippy manager/director are having a particularly crap day at the Mall and their kiddie’s entertainment is being sabotaged by the pissing monster child, 6 year old Rodney. Things go from very bad to very worse when they score six bottles of Stellenbosch whiskey. That is all I am saying.

Champ is Mark Elderkin, Nicholas Pauling (who are completely amazing, show makingly great) and Oliver Booth (a little less completely amazing) as the bear suited actors, Pierre Malherbe as the completely whacky and bizarre Waldo (I love Pierre Malherbe a lot) and Jenny Stead, the Minnie Mouse from hell of Mall Management (who managed to pull off a final monologue like a maniac). Champ is also filthy mouthed playwright Louis Viljoen (who already won the Fleur for Champ for Best New South African Script) and director Greg Karvellas. And amazing Julia Anastosopolous designed the gloomy and grim looking set (I loved what happened to it during the Horror).

Now I am not scared of swearing. This is good, because there is a lot of it in Louis’ fast and hectic dialogue, and some of it is very explicit and creative. I am also not (very) scared of the predicament of under employed actors, and I know their (our) type very well. It should probably be said here that I spent two years working weekends at The East Rand Mall (in a job so indescribably hellish I cannot even do it here), and I spent about two years performing dramatised school tour walkabouts at the V&A Waterfront. Yup. Fo shizzle. So, Champ was pretty familiar territory for me. And I guess, that’s what made it (stripped of every second expletive) damn funny and cute.

Champ is a fast, fun, filthy frolic through the hells of malls, acting, and fucked up relationships that produce offspring with the worst parents. I had a good laugh out loud time.

PS. I also loved the pre and post show music, and I was also jealous. I want to be in a play like that and speak that dialogue.

Jazzart’s Boring Biko’s Quest

I admit I had second thoughts about going. Dance is not a medium I feel comfortable with, and I certainly don’t really know what I’m talking about when it comes to writing about it, although, there have been a few occasions in my life where I have watched dance and been moved completely out of myself. Also, Biko’s Quest is directed by Mandla Mbothwe, and, obviously, it was based on Steve Biko, which were two good reasons to see it. But, really, I was terribly underwhelmed.

First of all, Artscape, you really don’t help make it a fun night out. The foyer of the main theatre was gloomily dark and deathly quiet when I arrived. I was skeefed by two of the nerdiest looking old queens as I crossed the terribly uncrowded foyer to the bar. There were five of us waiting to be served by the three stooges, who had no idea how to serve drinks, take money or give change. It was chaos. They are obviously entirely not used to actually having customers.

Then the show. I will say at the outset that it looked like I was the only person who didn’t like it. Inspired by a photographic exhibition and weaving together bits of historic information, visual references, personal responses and historic contexts, the show ended up being a series of pieces strung together with a school girl/Hector Pietersen look alike/narrator. The interpretation felt quite literal; violence, torture, protest, proclamation. This was obviously very clear and important and moving for most of the audience but I have to confess I found it rather trite.

I am of a generation where the tragic and hideous story of Steve Biko, his arrest, torture and murder are very well known. When I was growing up this was the pivotal incident that changed everything, even though it took so long. It was the point. It is possible that for a lot of the audience there last night (because they were young) this was an expression of history not told before, and in a new way. So, maybe the bottom line is that I was outside the range of the target market, and this left me disconnected, unmoved (by what I consider to be the most moving and heartbreaking story) and often bored.

I know, I said it before, me and dance are not best friends, but over the last 30 years I have seen mind altering productions by Jazzart in particular, where the concept, or talent and skill, or diversity, or artistry, or content has been awesome. Not here. There were moments or sections I did like, but on the whole I absolutely did not get taken up by this production.

I loved the fact that most of the company was on stage pretty much all of the time and I really enjoyed the use of the stage space, but I found the dancing of a pretty low standard. I found the piece disjointed, even though I loved the narrator and thought her to be the most powerful of the performers. I was bored by the terribly repetitive choreography, and had to shake myself awake a couple of times. And one of my biggest problems was an overflowing of emotion from many of the cast of dancer/performers. I don’t want to watch you feeling all the stuff. I want you to make me feel it. This is often a problem when tackling subject matter with such emotional density, and it is a trap that non actors can fall into with ease.

So when it all came to an end finally, imagine my total surprise when the crowd sprang to its feet and went ballistic. I slunk home, feeling unsatisfied.


Brothers in Blood

I have to say it was creepy parking in the almost empty parking lot behind Artscape and traveling though the empty building to get to the Arena on the other side last night. Just up the road Cape Town was pumping with the jazz festival, but where we were was a dark, lonely little piece of town. Again, the silence of the Arena bar was depressing, along with the exactly four bottles on the shelves and the wrong glasses. It does make it hard for us to feel like we are there because we wanted to be. We were actually there for Brothers in Blood, Mike van Graan’s play, directed by Greg Homann and performed by David Dennis, Kurt Egelhof, Conrad Kemp, Harrison Makubalo and Aimee Valentine. And, before we took our seats I considered the possibility that I shouldn’t have had that single Jack after all. Everything felt a little bit taboo, knowing what I did about the subject matter.

Brothers in Blood puts a Muslim father and daughter, a Jewish doctor, a Somalian Muslim refugee and a Christian reverend in the blender that was Cape Town during the height of PAGAD action in the late 90’s. It’s all quite complicated. Their stories are woven together and then folded into a bag of interconnections that double back on themselves, for further connecting. And they all have very similar losses, and painful histories that bring them to this mixed bag of need and blame and anger and conflict.

There were moments during the 80 minutes of the play that I was deeply moved, mainly by the really superb performances of the cast, across the board. They were very, very good and fabulously directed too. There were a couple of scenes that were breathtaking and riveting and deeply touching, in spite of the fact that I found the style and form of the play quite difficult to come to terms with. It’s that funny thing where the internal monologues have to serve a triple purpose to expose back story, subtext and opinion. We pretty much get told everything about our characters and then see how this plays out when they interact. And I think it is a pity that they don’t just get to be.

The story of PAGAD feels to me to be an old one. There was something clear and committed and passionate about the struggle against gangsterism and drugs then. Last night I felt I was watching a slice of history, and it is almost that what the play was predicting didn’t come to pass here. In Palestine maybe. In the Middle East differently. In Somalia much worse than we ever expected. The irony is that in present day Cape Town intolerance of this nature is defined as Xenophobia and it is pretty much confined to black communities.

This is my story. I live in a little street in Woodstock. My house, that was originally owned by a Jewish woman, was rented out to Muslims when she was ‘forcibly removed’ when this area was declared ‘coloured’ in the 60’s. Now we own it; one pro-Palestine Jew and her long white non-Jewish husband. The corner shop is run by Pakistanis who can hardly speak English. The threat of the revival of PAGAD enters our conversations on the street corners when all of us feel frustrated by the scourge of tik and petty crime and the ineffectiveness of law enforcement. Our neighbours to the left are deeply religious Muslims. Our neighbours across the road are deeply religious Christians. Mo is a lapsed Muslim, now atheist, married to Milly, who goes to church every Sunday. At the bottom of our road are a family of coloured hippies; more socialist than religious. We have children in this street called Dylan and Aaliyah and Faizel and Summer and Aaron and Blaize and Mikhail, and Robyn, and Fahiem and Yasser.

I have gone off track, into my real world, grateful it hasn’t ended up with the ‘usual suspects’ behaving in predictable ways. Go and see Brothers in Blood. See great performances. See how sometimes we need terrible things to happen before we are changed. But sometimes, luckily, we just do change.

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