Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Tag: Brett Bailey

Brett and Exhibit B

I have been properly unsettled by the many thoughts I have had over the banning of Brett Bailey’s performance art piece Exhibit B at The Barbican in the UK. I don’t think any art should ever be banned. But no, that isn’t entirely, 100% true. A starving dog was once on exhibition. That needed to be banned. I was convinced that the pig-cutting-up exhibition could have done with further curating. So I have blurred boundaries too it seems.

I need to say that I have not seen Exhibit B. I have seen (and loved and hated) lots of Brett Bailey’s work. I have experienced his work in turns as extraordinary, brave, outrageous, creative, radical, passionate, inappropriate, scandalous, successful, flawed, beautiful and even boring. His work is controversial. So is he. He likes challenging an audience. I like that too. I know that Brett is brave and strong, and when he makes work it is to shake things up a lot, especially notions of colonialism, black politics, identity, slavery, Africa and women. His interpretation of Medea was magnificent. Big Dada might have been one of my best ever theatrical experiences.

So, should we take Brett’s history into account when we talk about Exhibit B? Can we? Does the work need to stand (or fall) on its own? Is his work different in a South African context? If it is, is this its flaw? These are just questions I pose without answers, and here is the reason. You can’t tell people how to feel. I know that Brett is heart sore that the very people he was hoping to represent, to express, to give voice to in his piece are the ones that have formed the angry mob against his work being seen. Young, black and angry, some people in this mob have not even seen the piece (although, contrary to a lot of Facebook rage a lot actually have). And here is the deal. They don’t like what the piece says, for or about them. Should this make it banned? I don’t think so. It destroys any possibility of robust debate. it destroys any freedom of expression. It destroys the possibility of actually calling Brett on his stuff; intention, result, execution. It means that the artists (performers) do not get a chance to speak for themselves, outside of the silence they uphold during the exhibition. And we don’t know what they would say, in answer to the outrage, the accusations of racism, the calls for Brett’s scalp.

So, we don’t get a chance to decide whether the work is great or terrible. We don’t get a chance to analyse, debate, criticise, disagree. We effectively don’t get a chance to engage with the artist at all. What a waste.

But, I there is one thing that keeps niggling me and that is the nature of the work. It isn’t theatre. It is an exhibition. There is no story. So the audience is required to interpret, to give meaning to this thing. There is no actual narrative, no beginning, middle, end, no journey of characters traveling. It is in the eye of the beholder. And, certainly in my experience, you can tell (and show) people how you feel, but you can’t tell people what and how to feel. They will feel things, and it may not be what you want them to feel. With Brett’s other work, what he feels and the journey he is taking you on, however obscure, is still more visible, deliberate, accessible. That’s because it is theatre. There is a story. I wonder.

What do you think?


MedEia MedEia

A show I saw twice. A show I loved. Seeing it again was like listening to that album that you heard only once but loved, again. It was like watching a story you know well, and the inevitable ending, and seeing it play out, and remembering while watching.

Brett Bailey’s MedEia is beautiful, spectacle, style, sound and word. That’s the part I love the most. It is word music, word story, word image. I will write this how I saw the show. You know the story. I will tell you why I loved it.

I loved it because it was like watching/listening to Laurie Anderson tell/speak and I love Laurie Anderson. I loved it because it starts with flames and a cover of David Bowie’s Wild Is The Wind. My best David Bowie song. It has a sad sad song later on, when things go pear-shaped and people start hurting and dying, a song I know and don’t know the name of that I recognise from my own sadness even though I don’t understand the words, but it is the right song for me, and I love that song and its sadness. I loved those three black goddesses Indalo Stofile, Mbali Kgosidintsi and Namhla Chuka, in white who speak, and move, and send out woman emotion as the chorus, bound by beat, bound by word, bound because they are the helpless chorus, but powerful, powerful. I loved Faniswa Yisa as Medea, her voice, her crazy, simple, emotional everything. I loved Jason by James MacGregor who is the snake in the garden of Eden. I loved Apollo Ntshoko because his dancing made me ache. I loved Frank Paco who drums the soundtrack and heartbeat and brain freeze of the story and keeps it from going anywhere except the end. Mostly I loved this text, this  Oscar van Woensel collection of words in this way to tell this story, like this.

For sure this production is not for everybody. It is for the opposite of everybody. It is bold choices. It is style instead of outpouring. It is song lyric. It is mpepu and baby powder dust and black and white and inevitable. It will be lost on many. It will find some hearts. It is the most dangerous kind of theatre for this country because it isn’t made for us, or about us, but it tells a story of one of us, as woman, as stranger, as the one who stays in love.

Post GIPCA thinking

I will steal Juliet’s numbering system (stealing was a theme too) and put down some random post GIPCA Directors and Directing Playwrights thoughts here. You are welcome to add your own in the comments section. One of the best parts of the GIPCA forum is that it engages such lively debate; both on and off the floor.

1. It is totally different being a participant. Different, exiting, good, complicated.

2. I love the talking, but still, ultimately, I love watching performance more.

3. I love the range of work on offer and the many voices that make them.

4. I am amazed that there  is a genuine market for this sort of symposium. Who would have thought?

5. Jay Pather is amazing.

6. Malcolm Purkey, Mark Fleishman, Penny Youngelson, Mandla Mbothwe, Myer Taub, Brett Bailey, to name a few off the top of my head, are very clever.

7. I love that Tracey Saunders and Marina Griebenouw attend the whole thing.

8. I am surprised how frustrated I get when people’s questions are inarticulate or rambling, and then mine end up being that too.

9. I am shocked at how uncomfortable arrogance makes me.

10. I am shocked at how badly I need feedback.

12. I am intrigued about how different the male and female voices in theatre are.

13. I am amazed that the struggle, war, debate is the same.

14. I like GIPCA’s catering.

15. The event has an amazing organisational team, and Adrienne and Themba in particular rock.

16. The theatre world is not generous enough.

17. Actors, directors, writers and academics are very complicated.

18. I have a group of magnificent and supportive friends.

19. It is easier to perform if you know the words.

20. Improv is a huge love.

21. I admire Amy Jephta. She is always so clear.

22. Sunday mornings are not an easy time to perform.

23. Brett Bailey is king of design.

24. You can watch good theatre in any language and understand or be moved. Thando Doni’s Eutopia was fabulous.

25. Our world is different now that there is a GIPCA symposium accepted as a yearly reality.

26. Nicholas Spagnoletti is hilarious.

27. We all know each other, mostly.

28. I am torn between continuing writing this blog, and not writing it. Is it helpful, damaging, bullshit, useful? Let me know.

29. I made new friends and I am a fan of more.

30. I conclude that theatre is not for sissies. (I have no idea who it is actually for)


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