Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Tag: theatre (Page 1 of 4)

The Proper Death of SA Theatre

Last February, before we knew what was going to happen with COVID, I had a conversation with a theatre owner and friend about how I felt like my heart had twice been broken; one by my personal circumstances and one by theatre. I felt like I had suffered a theatre breakup and it had been devastating, messy, and deeply painful. I struggled to articulate it at the time, but what the breakup was about was me losing faith in my ability to carry on regardless. You need a seriously thick skin to do theatre. And my skin had ruptured.

Then COVID came and nailed closed the coffin for all theatre makers. While the restaurant and tourist industries were spoken about and bemoaned, the theatre makers, stage managers, theatres, directors, FOH teams were in their own tiny circle of hell and I couldn’t ever really figure out why theatre got so little attention.

The NAC and the department of Arse and Culture did, and continue to do, what they usually do. Mess up. Theatres that were dark have now closed permanently. The closing of The Fugard was announced earlier this week, with much sadness, and even anger. But who is fighting for theatre, and begging for it, and needing it, and wanting its resurrection?

I think it is only the theatre makers who want it to come back. And here sits the uncomfortable, hideous, miserable truth on a pointy rock that is its own hard place. Unless theatre goers; uninvolved, unconnected, true audiences passionately want, longingly yearn for, and are even prepared to lobby, fight and beg for the return of theatre, it really cannot, and won’t return from the dead.

Alcohol, yes. Cigarettes, yes. Restaurants and bars, yes. Theatre? Naah. Not so much.

Unfortunately, the desperation and totally illogical passion of theatre makers has obscured the most basic and obvious reality. The person in the street couldn’t give two Hamlets and half a farce for theatre.

In a weird way I am pleased my breakup with theatre happened a year ago, and I have been able to lick my wounds in the privacy of my own home. I will make theatre on demand, or not at all, from now on. And only if there is an audience who really wants it.

Why I can’t watch theatre online

This is just me here. This is not a philosophy, or an instruction, or criticism. It is me. I don’t want to watch theatre online. I make exceptions for National Theatre Live productions because they are filmed brilliantly, even during live performances in front of an audience, and also, I will never get to see these productions live.

But if I can choose to watch stuff I am going to choose things that are made for screen. And there is so much to choose from. Series, films, doccies, music, animation, to name a few. And there is so much out there, by so many brilliant and even famous people.

I don’t enjoy watching recordings of live theatrical performances. They make me sad, and frustrated, and empty. They don’t do the performers and writers and directors and lighting designers any justice.

So I am going to wait until I can go back into a live theatre space. And then I am going to go back with a vengeance.

Reviewing my situation

Cue Fagan earworm for the rest of the day.

A particularly complicated space I have managed to carve out for myself is that of reviewer in the field in which I try to have a career (word used because there isn’t a proper one to describe the all over dabbleness of what it is I actually do). It is between a huge rock of irony and a hard place of communal despair (universal and timeless when it comes to theatre that isn’t in New York City and On Broadway) that I put myself. Because I write about other people’s theatre work to get people into the theatre. And I am honest (even though it comes at a terrible price) because I want people to be able to trust me, and get to know me by my likes and dislikes.

But it is a dance, and I suck at the choreography of innuendo, and politic, and getting comps, and being part of the system, and being outside of the system, and having to rely on the same when I put on my own work, and then seeing something that is brilliant that isn’t getting audiences, and then feeling like I can’t get my own work into the spaces because I am more valuable as an external voice, and then seeing something terrible and having my heart fill my mouth and make me wordless, and then straying from the pack and doing something different that nobody sees, and appreciating the effort and hating the result of something, or seeing through the hype, or believing my own hype, and around the mulberry bush I go, mostly at 430am in the morning.

So, I am going to say it here, and test it out on myself. It’s good to be writing from meganshead again.

Art as Life

As an artist who plays in many different forms – performance, writing, directing, marketing, facilitating, teaching, I am always preoccupied with whether the work of the arts can make a real and powerful difference, and can bring about fundamental, systemic change.

Art, especially theatre, can be a potent way to deliver commentary on the human condition. The arts change, often with the use of emotion, how audiences think and feel about many things. It’s what happens to those thoughts and feelings afterwards that I am interested in.

This current version of the world is full of distracting fake everything. It is a rigmarole to find out who really said what, and when a thing happened if it, in fact, ever did. It is distraction of the highest order and it makes us feel bogged down, immobile, and also unable – dis-abled. In art we are unburdened by whether something is a fact; we are made to believe the ‘what if it were true?’ notion of things, and then we see the consequences of it, as if it were true.

We test things out in this artist space. We examine these ideas – and they can be anything, from how to rise above childhood trauma, to the apocalypse, to politics and their intersection into community. We rewrite the common view of history, we invent people to go through hell on our behalf, and we make radical choices and ask our audiences to make decisions based on what feels right. The theatre, the gallery, the darkened cinema is an emotional dissection space where politics, science, history, psychology, and the deeply personal are portrayed in a such a way to elicit a response.

This is powerful stuff. This stuff is the emotional juice of any revolution. It is the potential glue of genuine uprising. It is how Vaclav Havel rewrote the history of the Czech Republic. It is how Woodstock was the expression of a shift in the new world order and a total discarding of the old narrative.

Right now fake news on social media, manipulated by big business politics, is our greatest distraction because it keeps us locked into an outrage that feels both helpless and impotent, and then we suffer outrage fatigue. I believe ostrich head in the sand or even true despair and depression come next. We don’t see the point of voting, participating, or even telling people to pick up their litter. In this state they have us where they want us; we are consumers. We consume their information and their products.

This is where art – theatre, film, literature, stories can be the great shifter. Art can introduce a new possibility. It is the least we can do.

 

What Audiences Want

I know this has been a recurring theme in my work and writing. I asked the question more boldly when I was young. The Return of the Rhino Woman asked it directly, with me as performer refusing to come out of the dressing room until the audience declared their interest and commitment to the performance. I have been posing it differently since then, and more subtly, but I really do want to know this more, and better.

A result of wanting to know this has been me switching from writing about theatre I see, here, in my deeply personal and uncensored way, to writing about theatre in a more official review style for Weekend Special. My writing there has a much broader audience, especially since it isn’t only people who know me and my blog. I believe the WS readers are mostly Capetonians who want to find out about good theatre in the city, and productions who can use positive words and phrases for publicity. But is it? Are they?

I went to see The Cenotaph of Dan Wa Moriri on Monday night and wrote about it immediately when I got home. It was a most beautiful piece of theatre by an incredible performer. I loved everything about it. All I wanted was to do the piece justice and to make people want to see it. My review went live on Wednesday morning and I can see it has been read a fair number of times. But has it made a difference? Have people read my review and gone to see the show?

If you are reading this, and you read my review, did you go? Have you made a plan to see it? Please let me know.

Advice for recent Drama Graduates

This is an open letter to all recent drama school graduates who are trying to enter the profession, from a very experienced, not always successful, long time fighter in the field.

Dear almost made it,

Firstly, congratulations on completing the introduction to what will be a lifetime of learning, practicing, hoping, developing and waiting. Drama school (I include all of them) is the very beginning of your journey and, if you are anything like I was when I finished my diploma and degree at UCT, you have only just started to understand this world. Yes, it is a great start, but that is what it is – an introduction.

What next? Some of you will wait to get work, hope to get an an agent, go to castings, become bar tenders while you wait. Some of you will tech for other shows, stay part of a theatrical community, do courses, get drunk with your friends, or give up entirely and make a different choice for your life. One or two of you will land that job, make a name for yourself, fill your calendars, win awards and glow and succeed.

Some of you will be bold and take the initiative to create your own work. You will be both praised for this and warned; it is so tough on every level. It is tough to work with no money, and to get others to work for no money, it is tough to publicise a show with no resources, no name to go on, no past history to rely on. It is heart breaking to perform for tiny audiences. All of this is true. So, if you do decide to put on your own work, even with all these things conspiring to make it the hardest thing to achieve, you need to make sure you do the work.

Learn your lines. Rehearse. Rehearse more than you ever did at school. Make sure that you respect the space, the playwright, the director and most importantly, the audience, because there will be people like me, who have been there and done that, who will be sitting in the audience and who will know. We will know that you just haven’t done the work and you are trying to get away with it. Your raw talent, and recent knowledge of voice warm-ups will give you false confidence, but it isn’t enough to pull the wool over our eyes, and you do yourselves a terrible disservice.

Honour the theatrical space by giving it the respect it deserves. Honour your education by knowing that all those things you learned need to be put into practice. Make a commitment to putting on great work, and failing, rather than trying to get away with shit work, or no work.

Whatever you do, do not present shit work, half-baked work, work that shows you up as a chancer, as someone who doesn’t really take their craft seriously. I recognise talent, but I can tell you right now, I have only once ever casted someone because they were talented, even though I was concerned about their reliability and commitment, and I made the biggest mistake.

We see you, those of us in the tiny audience who know how it works, and we know exactly what you are doing. And your friends and family might not tell you the truth, so I am going to. Do not do the barest minimum of work and try to get away with it. It will not serve you.

I hope you know that I have your best interests at heart. I want you to succeed, make beautiful theatre and be brilliant. That is what I want to watch.

Megan

 

 

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