It’s always easier than you think it’ll be. Than I think it’ll be. Sorry, that’s a thing I do. Universalise. See, I want to say, ‘it’s a thing we do.’ Meaning humans. People. But it’s not universal. I mean, I know I’m not alone in doing it. There’s eight billion other minds on this planet. There’s probably about a million people exactly like me just in China. Mentally like me I mean – obviously they’d be Chinese and speaking Chinese. So I could say, ‘it’s a thing we do.’ Me and my million Chinese twins. But I think that’d be a lie, because it’s really not what I mean. I mean all of us. And that’s not true. Because I’m not like you. I could be – no, uh. I mean you could be. Like me. But it’s very unlikely. So when I say that it’s always easier than I think it’ll be, it’s probably better for us all to remember that it’s not universally true. It’s always easier for me than I expect it to be. But you might discover that it’s far, far harder than you would have guessed. If you’d even want to try of course. Murder isn’t for everyone.
The clock chopped seconds off her life with an implacable rhythm. In the darkness, her mind made the sounds into bursts of colour – like bubbles popping. Like fireworks. It wasn’t something she did, it was just the way her brain worked. It was something she had assumed everyone experienced, and when she discovered that she was unusual she struggled to explain it. Fortunately, there was a word for it. Unfortunately, the word was synesthesia, which felt like moving marbles from the front to the back of your mouth without choking and didn’t really explain what it was.
She didn’t really have to though. Just as she had been unaware that other people didn’t see sound as colour or any of the other things she perceived, so they could be unaware that their words bubbled out in rainbow ripples and their footsteps echoed greenly to her. It was a pity for them. Mostly. She liked the colours, liked them more when she learned they were hers. But there were things she didn’t like. The bruise purple of machines humming. The slick of yellow left by squeaky white board markers that took so long to fade. And the blood red bursts of a clock ticking, like an alarm going off. An alarm for time crumbling away.
She got out of bed as quietly as possible, a faint green rustle of sheets. He snored vermillion once, but settled again unaware. With a soft crimson pop she removed the batteries from the clock. She sat for a moment in the almost perfect black silence. She would apologise in the morning, if she was still there. Perhaps even explain.
Every time I handed a wine bottle down to him there would be a soft clink of metal on glass. His wedding ring. I was elbow deep in the hall cupboard, helping my father to unpack a lifetime of dinner parties from the shelves. My lifetime specifically, as we had lived in this house since before I could walk.
I pulled bottle off the rack, wiped off the crusted years of dust with a damp cloth, and passed them down to my father to sort into boxes. ‘Spoiled’ – the corks flecked with mold. ‘Good’ – wine that would presumably find a new cupboard in my parents’ new house in Cape Town. ‘Jonathan’ – wine of dubious merit but probably fit for consumption. Wine meant for me to take. On many of the bottles there’s a label written in my father’s well practiced hand, a name and a date – the wine’s provenance as it pertained to my family: who gave it to them, and when. He has always been a note taker, a recorder of data. He has charted decades of rainfall and temperature on our little farm. He records daily life not in journals but in letters, most sent to my sister who lives abroad. An orderly mind that projects order on his world. “James, 1998” – my father reads aloud. Does this summon the memory of that night? He nods to himself and files the bottle. ‘Good’.
She said, “You’re easy to love.”
Her tone was a simple statement but boredom and condescension creased the corners of her mouth in ways he could only register unconsciously, so her words left him with a sense of unease at odds with their content. Rather than look at her he looked out over the trees of the complex’s garden, his fingers gathering round the warmth of his mug like vagrants around a fire. She wasn’t looking at him either, her eyes were directed at the city lights but her mind was farther away than that. The wind caught at the smoke of her cigarette and the cherry glowed bright for a moment. It was going to be one of those nights when the wind tore through the streets of Vredehoek. One of those nights when the wind screamed at every crack and shook every window and door. One of those nights when the city lay restless, harried by furies.
“Would you like another cup of tea?” he asked. She hardly touched hers while she smoked so it was still high in the mug. He was nursing his. It was a useless offer. It was a craving for comfort. She didn’t answer.
They watched the wind shake the branches, turning the leaves into susurrating ocean waves, neither wanting to be alone.
A rambling bunch of thoughts on culture that made an impression, I’ll try to stick to categories. But I won’t be successful.
My year in culture was not really 2016. You see, I never really stopped being the child who refused to eat his vegetables and so, for this probably problematic and deep-rooted psychological issue, I tend to get around to ‘essential works’ rather late if at all. The more important and essential the work, the greater my antipathy toward it. This is why I haven’t watched ‘Breaking Bad’ yet. I recently dug out an old essay from varsity on ‘Thelma and Louise’ – I never watched the film. That’s me, contrary.
2016 was the year I got over myself (but not the year I watched ‘Thelma and Louise’ – 2017, fingers crossed). In part this was due to becoming a film lecturer at CityVarsity. As a student, I was comfortable being a fake – but the responsibility of teaching was a different matter. Ironically, I was a better student when I was a teacher and I began to plug the gaps in my curriculum.
The film that most stood out during this re-education was Spike Lee’s 1989 joint ‘Do the Right Thing’. It’s a stylish but visceral piece of work that remains chillingly relevant. Decolonisation, gentrification, racial justice, and police brutality. It could have been made in South Africa this year. It left me shaken and shattered. When you come across a piece of art from another time and place, you hope the recognition of the unchanging essence of human nature will stir an optimistic sense of connection. After ‘Do the Right Thing’ I was left wondering if we can ever break that thread.
A more recent film that I caught up with this year was ‘Whiplash’ (2014). I had heard a lot of praise for J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller’s performances, and they really were superb. The script was sparse and driven by image as much as by dialogue – a mark that Damien Chazelle is a master of the interplay between both arts. The movie became a favourite conversation for me – viewers had a wide range of interpretations of the ending, and the subject of the morality of art and the pursuit of excellence is a rich one.
Most regrettable confession is that I only saw ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ (2015) this year – that would have been amazing on a cinema screen. I had low expectations for a fourth entry into the franchise, and when people were raving about it I became more wary. Trust issues. But ‘Mad Max’ taught me to have faith. The painstakingly composed cinematography, the deep worldbuilding we’re thrust into, story and character revealed through action and reaction. ‘Mad Max’ is an action movie but distilled down to its essence. It’s a relentless race.
The whole year wasn’t catch-up for me. ‘Arrival’ came with a lot of praise and this time I listened. It’s the kind of scifi that’s too rare in film: a thought provoking ‘what if’ with real characters at its core. Amy Adams gives great centre to the film. My feelings about the movie fluctuate though – is it a great story, or just an unusual one that makes clever use of the language of cinema to pull off a neat trick? Watching it a second time the manipulations are more obvious. I may be reacting as a contrarian but ‘Arrival’ is a fascinating and flawed film.
It’s truly a golden age of television, maybe even platinum. Or palladium. I don’t know, I’m no metallurgist. Tara finally convinced me to watch ‘Bojack Horseman’ – a mix of deadpan absurdity and brutal psychological realism. How can I say that about a show centred on a 90s sitcom star who is an anthropomorphised horse? How can I relate to him? The eponymous Bojack is a bad person, more so than most but it’s a difference of degree and not of kind. He’s perpetually just breaking the surface of self-awareness, taking a despairing gulp of air and then being swept under by his id. In this Bojack has a doppelganger in another favourite show of the year, ‘Fleabag’. Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s show is almost too self-aware but that’s a misdirect, the character is as trapped in her own patterns as Bojack. The knowing glances at the camera – at us – should give her an ironic distance from the disaster of her life, instead they become a cry for help. Waller-Bridge’s writing is funny, obscene, and deeply empathetic. One monologue from a side character captures a masculinity in crisis more beautifully than anything else I’ve seen this year.
Something that I didn’t expect to like so much was ‘Stranger Things’. It was a joy. Balancing charm and chills. I loved that it didn’t lean so heavily on JJ Abrams ‘mystery box’ formula that is so exhausting without being satisfying.
‘Game of Thrones’ had a return to form with season 6 and HBO decided to double down on the sex and violence with ‘Westworld’ – but it was HBO’s other pick of 2016 that grabbed me. ‘High Maintenance’ had a life as cult web series before HBO brought it into the fold. I wished I’d seen it sooner. A slice-of-life series about New York City, the chapters play more like vignettes than full stories, eschewing strict narrative structure to play out with the same relaxed serenity as ‘the Guy’ – the weed dealer who loosely links the tales together.
‘High Maintenance’ seems like a good place to bridge from TV to new media platforms. There’s some kind of miraculous blooming that happens in your head when you read insightful essays and articles; this year Youtube became more than a time-sink for me, it became a place of fascinating insight. The video essay has matured thanks to time and support – revenue from Youtube and Patreon allowing people to make a career out of it. Embracing many subjects and styles, my favourite channels are Cracked, Nerdwriter, Every Frame a Painting, Extra Credits, Cinefix, Now You See It, Mark Brown, and Channel Criswell. Nerdwriter particularly has infected me with a distinctive voice after the manner of Attenborough or Louis Theroux, so that at times when I’m trying to sound insightful I’ll take a millisecond pause midsentence to gather the breath to emphasise the point. To be honest I’m not sure if this is imitation or mockery, and if so whether the Nerdwriter is the target, or I am.
Sticking to ‘media consumed via my laptop’, this year games became more than a pastime. I began writing material for Free Lives’ new game ‘Genital Jousting’ and being immersed in discussions about games and their design led to a deeper appreciation of them. I was introduced to new games, and new ideas of what games could be. One that stood out was a five minute experience: ‘the end of us’. Try this playful and heart breaking game for yourself right now. No really. 5 minutes.
‘Oxenfree’ is a ghost story about teens trapped on an island. The art style is beautiful, simple but haunting. It’s the storytelling that’s really interesting – with a dynamic conversation system that makes the dialogue flow really wonderfully allowing you to be immersed in the moment.
‘Dishonored’ was more my usual kind of game. A first person stealth challenge set in a richly textured and surprisingly responsive world. Like many other stealth games you can take a non-lethal approach, unlike many other stealth games this radically affects the outcome. I’ve noticed pacifism disappear from popular culture over the last half decade – no, actually it’s deeper than that… I’ve seen the moral dilemma of killing erased. Nolan’s Batman replaced by Snyder’s. Killing is assumed to be the only path forward. This not just bad for society’s soul, it’s also bad for our stories. Multiple, contrasting viewpoints fuel conflict and are essential if art is to have something to say. Blockbusters have consistently failed on this front, with possibly the exception of Marvel’s ‘Civil War’.
While in Washington DC I saw ‘The Nether’ by Jennifer Haley at Woolly Mammoth. Few plays handle the moral questions of modern technology so well. The concept is simple – a virtual world where players can enact paedophilia and murder. It’s not real of course, but does that matter when it feels real? Something between a techno thriller and the classic story of the detective deep undercover, ‘The Nether’ was deeply unsettling.
On the same trip I made it to New York and saw ‘Sleep No More’ – the famous, immersive theatre production riffing off ‘MacBeth’. Its grand design and intense choreography were overwhelming. I enjoyed looking for secret moments away from the rest of the silent, masked audience, and found a tiny room of towels down a tunnel we had to crawl through to access. The whole experience cross-pollinated with my evolving thinking about games and their volitional exploration.
In December I saw the Fugard’s production of ‘The Father’ by Florian Zeller directed by Greg Karvellas. I was impressed during the play, I enjoyed the clever writing and staging and the great performances. I walked out feeling satisfied. In the foyer someone asked me what I thought and as I opened my mouth to reply I started to cry, to sob. The titular father is struggling with dementia, the story bypassed my brain and clenched a fist around my subconscious. I walked straight out of the Fugard and into the night to wander aimlessly, ending up in some bar to have a whiskey to settle myself before returning to the opening night festivities. Such a visceral reaction.
And finally: Books. I used to think of myself as a reader. It was central to how I saw myself in the world. That’s not true anymore though, and the moments that I recognise it are moments of mourning. The books of last year were too few. They were continuations of series from Peter F. Hamilton, Brandon Sanderson, and Joe Abercrombie, or the page turning pulp ‘Breakers’ series by Edward W. Robertson. Largely I blame my own stalled novel, as though every completed book were a rebuke of my failure to write for over 200 days. Of course that’s not entirely fair. I did write. I wrote plays and I wrote a computer game. I had a full, productive, and creatively challenging year. I just didn’t write it.
This is a first draft list of opportunities for South African Playwrights featuring Local and International opportunities. We’ll be adding more as we research them. (Most overseas opportunities don’t make it clear if they’re open to submissions from afar. So we’ve been emailing to confirm.)
What follows is a starting point for South African playwrights – if you have stuff to contribute please email email@example.com (Errors and suggestions, leave a comment)
Artscape – New Writing Programme
Description: The Programme accepts manuscripts. These scripts are sent out to professional readers for assessment. Reports are fed back to the playwrights. Once a play has been identified as having promise, the playwright works with an editor to undertake re-writing. The play may be given a stage reading, and if successful, will be considered for a full production. A central part of the programme is playwriting workshops. It is targeted at adults and high school learners.
Guidelines: Any manuscript in isiXhosa, Afrikaans or English.
Who can submit: Anyone
Find more information: http://www.artscape.co.za/new-writing OR contact Beth Jeffery, firstname.lastname@example.org
Imbewu Arts – Scribe Writing Competition
Deadline: The closing date for entries is in late July and the winner will be announced at the beginning of August. Annual contest.
Description: The Imbewu Trust is running a playwriting competition. The prize for the winning script is the production of the relevant play by the Imbewu Trust, which will be staged at a venue selected by the Imbewu Trust. In addition, should the entrant so require, the Imbewu Trust will make a professional director available to direct the production.
Guidelines: Scripts must be written in English but may include portions written in one or more of any of the other official South African languages. There may be no more than 5 characters in the play. The length of the play may not exceed 80 minutes.
Who can submit: All entrants must be 21 years or older and be South African residents currently residing in South Africa.
Find more information at: http://www.imbewuarts.com/scribe-writing-competition/
Play For Voices – Radio Play Contest
Deadline: Submissions will be accepted until July 31, 2016.
Description: Calling all literary translators, radio dramatists, and international radio drama enthusiasts! Play for Voices, in partnership with the lovely online journal of international literature Words without Borders, seeks radio play scripts in English translation for our first contest.
We invite submissions of translated radio plays of all lengths and from all languages. The Play for Voices producers and Words without Borders editors will select the winners. The winning play(s) will be produced by Play for Voices and published in Words without Borders.
Guidelines: Plays must be written or adapted for radio. We are not currently seeking unadapted stage plays or other literature. Plays can be of any length, and translated from any language. Multiple submissions are permitted. Please email submissions to email@example.com.
Who can apply: Anyone
Find more at: http://www.playforvoices.com/submit/
Instinct Theatre – call for Full Length Scripts
Deadline: Early May, Yearly
Description: Instinct Theatre is a London theatre company who are looking for new, full length play scripts to produce. They champion new writing, produce topical work and aim to reach out to people who might not consider themselves conventional theatre goers.
This opportunity gives writers a chance to workshop and develop their play with professional actors and to see the play staged in a full production with the cast.
Guidelines: Instict theatre calls once a year for submissions, usually with a deadline in early May.
Find out more at: http://instinct-theatre.co.uk/
Luna Stage Submissions
Description: At Luna Stage, we are committed to nurturing excellence in playwriting, in all phases of development. We are interested in works by diverse voices that have clearly been written for the stage, as opposed to other mediums. We look for well-told stories, in all shapes and configurations. We are attracted to writing that has a depth and a texture in its language and characters, and/or a novel use of structure. We produce material of all genres, but look for work that transcends its immediate story to resonate with audiences on many levels. On the second Monday of every month (from October to May), we hold a New Moon Play Reading. We often select work for further development from these readings.
Guidelines/Who Can Submit: Luna Stage accepts script submissions from playwrights who are currently represented by a theatrical agent, hold an MFA in playwriting, or are currently enrolled in an MFA playwriting program. If a playwright does not meet the criteria listed above but still wishes to submit a play to Luna Stage, we will accept a script if it is accompanied by a letter of recommendation from the Artistic Director or Literary Manager of an Equity theatre or a professional organization that focuses solely on the development of new works for the stage. Additionally, Luna Stage will accept open submissions from playwrights who make their permanent residence in the state of New Jersey.
For More Information: http://lunastage.org/submit-your-script.php
MPAACT Call for Submissions
Description: MPAACT (The Ma’at Production Association of Afrikan Centered Theare) consistently produces a season of outstanding world premiere productions. With a vision focused on creating new work and collaborative art, MPAACT produces and educates with the goal of increasing understanding and appreciation of the realities of Black life. MPAACT exposes audiences to stories seldom seen on America’s stages. and strives to develop opportunities to nurture and sustain artists of all disciplines.
Guidelines: Plays should be submitted electronically.
Who Can submit: : MPAACT is seeking submissions of full-length original plays by African American and African Diaspora playwrights for its 2017-2018 season. Female identified playwrights strongly encouraged to submit.
For More information: Questions about our programs can be directed to Demetria Thomas, Literary Development Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.OR visit: http://www.mpaact.org
Original Works Online – Call for Submissions
Description: OWP receives a large number of exciting new plays, all of which are closely evaluated. Please give us a minimum of three – six months to respond. Currently accepting full lengths, one acts, ten minute play collections, monologue shows, fringe festival hits, individual ten minute shows. OWP receives a large number of exciting new plays, all of which are closely evaluated. Please give us a minimum of three – six months to respond.
Guidelines: For Full Length Plays: OWP now only accepts plays that have received eight (8) or more performances in a production run and have been reviewed. All Other Lengths: Do not need 8 performances or review, but still must have been fully produced. OWP does not accept unproduced submissions under any circumstances. OWP does not publish adaptations, translations, musicals, or works for younger audiences.
Who can submit: Anyone
For more information: https://www.originalworksonline.com/Submit
The Overtime Theatre – Call for submissions
Description: Devoted solely to producing new and original work, we are particularly interested in bold and innovative plays that are challenging and entertaining.
We are seeking unproduced original work, adaptations of films and novels, translations and adaptations of classic works, musicals, comedies, tragedies, melodramas, kitchen sink musical comedies, operas, light operas, operettas, soft rock operas, heavy metal boulevard farces and many other forms hitherto unknown. Currently we do not have a stipend for playwrights. Writers, directors, cast and crew are all compensated through an equal share of audience contributions and other donations to the “love bucket” which is divided at the end of a production’s run. Artistic staff and the board of the Overtime are all volunteers.
Guidelines: We are open to any genre, with a special emphasis on genres that are often neglected in theater such as science fiction, adventure, superhero epics and cross-genre works, immersive environmental plays, or pieces that are truly “uncategorizable”!
Who Can apply: While we are looking to nurture and develop local artists we are also open to giving voice to artists across Texas and to other artists national and international.
Find out more at: http://theovertimetheater.org/get-involved/submit-plays/
Royal Court Theatre
Description: The Royal Court programmes original plays that investigate the problems and possibilities of our time. Occasionally, we also present revivals. We are looking for outstanding plays which are formally or thematically original and are unlikely to be produced elsewhere.
Guidelines: Before you submit a script to us, we suggest you familiarise yourself with the Royal Court; come and see the plays being produced in our Upstairs and Downstairs spaces, and look at the archive and reviews of recent productions. This should give you a better feel for what we are looking for.We do not accept one act plays or multiple submissions. Please do not send us screenplays, novels, collections of poems or radio plays as the Royal Court does not programme adaptations from other forms. We will not read historical and biographical plays unless these resonate strongly with contemporary life and are unlikely to programme new musicals unless these have been commissioned by us. Unfortunately, we cannot consider resubmissions or new drafts of plays we have read and responded to, unless we have specifically requested a new draft.
Who can submit: Anyone
Find out more at: Contact email@example.com and http://www.royalcourttheatre.com/playwriting/literary-office/
The Spill – Call for Plays
Deadline: Ongoing, depending on their staged reading schedule.
Description: The Spill organises quarterly rehearsed readings at the Old Red Lion Theatre of the freshest new work from the most exciting of contemporary writers. They are now looking for new plays to programme.
Guidelines: Please send your submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject heading ‘ARTS COUNCIL – PLAY SUBMISSION’. Play length at least 1hr.
Who can submit: Anyone
For more information: The Spill seeking scripts for rehearsed readings https://www.facebook.com/TheSpillORL/
New Visions New Voices
Thoughts and thanks by Jon Keevy
I arrived in Cape Town back from the US on the 17 May. I felt invigorated despite the forty hours of traveling it took to get home. Maybe it was the jet-lag rewiring my brain, or the cold slap in the face of Cape Town rain – but I doubt it. Instead I’m fairly certain it was the journey and processing everything I’d seen, experienced and learnt in the US as part of the Kennedy Center’s International Playwrights Intensive at the New Visions \ New Voices festival, and as a traveler in that strange country.
It’s taken me too long to write this. As soon as I got back to Cape Town it was back to the theatre and following up on the business cards and handshakes I picked up on my trip.
It started off with quite a lot of intense work (actually it started off with snacks and local brews, but the work came along soon after meeting the team). The University of Maryland based team had us foreign writers earning that title – rewriting and rewriting our plays for the full reading at the end of week one. I found it really rewarding to have a robust, opinionated engagement with my play from such a thoughtful group of dramaturgs, directors, actors and writers. I can also say that the down time spent talking theatre and life through the early hours with the other writers on the program was thought-provoking and at times utterly hilarious.
My team at the University of Maryland – such excellent notes on the story from these champions.
Moving over to the Kennedy Center in D.C. meant less work and more time to check out the cultural side of the city (not enough time though, DC has a vast number of museums, parks, monuments, galleries and theatres – we hardly cracked its shell). We had four days of rehearsals and minor rewrites in preparation for the festival itself. Knowing that this would be presented to professional playwrights, companies and producers ensured that I bit my fingernails down to the quick as I poked at the final cut of the play.
I was lucky to be invited to speak on a panel discussing theatre ‘on the edge’ and got to punt my views on technology expanding the possibilities of theatre – from access to content, administration to collaboration. Access and diversity were on everyone’s minds not just as an area theatre had to improve in, but also as an area rich in creative potential to spark new theatrical vocabulary.
The festival itself was a big success – we only did extracts of our plays but there was a lot of interest from attendees. It’s these connections that are difficult to make outside of settings like festivals and conferences and while attending them is essential to building a career in any field. I’m still following up on these connections and I hope to have exciting news and more to thank you all for in the near future. In fact I got some exciting news while I was there: the National Arts Council approved my funding proposal for The Underground Library – so I’ll be able to present it in 2017.
I spent the last week of the trip in New York staying with friends. I saw some great theatre, places and people, and bought scripts to start building a little theatre library at Alexander Bar. The highlight was Sleep No More, an immersive theatre experience remixing Macbeth with dance and film noir. And of course every trip to New York needs a visit to Yankee stadium to see the bleacher-creatures and pinstripe pride in action.
I arrived back feeling inspired and fired up for the mission – tell more stories in more ways and make space for others to tell theirs.
And all thanks to you and the support of Yvette Hardie and ASSITEJ SA, The Kennedy Center, and The University of Maryland.
In my appeal I also promised to pay you all back somehow, and the options are taking shape:
- We’ll be doing another reading of the updated Underground Library soon! All contributors get comps.
- I’ve been sketching and doing watercolours again – hit me up for requests
- My macaroni cheese is incredible. Come for dinner.
- I’ll be running two courses in August/September – one on Playwrighting/Stories based on my workshops on writing and conflict; and the other on producing and marketing theatre. (Because the fundraising was so generously supported I will also be paying it forward and making sure that any young writer or theatre maker who wants to do either of my courses but can’t afford it will still have a place in the program.)
- Theatre tickets! Comps to my upcoming shows, like Anthology: After the End, Dirty Laundry (sequel to Dirty Words featuring Alicia McCormick and Danieyella Rodin), or Every Beautiful Thing.
- A monologue on anything at all…
Thank you all so much!
Here’s a last pic…