Word of the Weekend: Problematic

I missed the final panel of GIPCA’s weekend long symposium Directors and Directing: Playwrights. Kim Kerfoot and I ducked out to grab a carnivore’s lunch. We never came back. We were too busy arguing about the keynote speeches we’d just listened to. We ended up going back to my place to continue the debate over tea and then wine as the day corpsified into night. It ended a weekend of being smart very appropriately.

I skipped the Friday stretch of the programme so I missed the opening addresses by Lara Foot and Mike van Graan, fortunately GIPCA seems to have been recording everything going on so I’ll be able to catch these when the video is uploaded. As for Waiting for the Barbarians, I’ll have to hustle a ticket to it sometime this week (unless they’re uploading that too?). Saturday was a marathon; I arrived at 8.30am and the day ended at 9.45pm after Kragbox at the Arena at the Artscape. Sunday I overslept and only just arrived in time to catch Mark Fleishman delivering the first of the final keynote addresses of the weekend.

Playwrights were supposedly the subject of the symposium, but Director’s and Directing trumped it, with Dramaturgs coming up with regularity too. Last year a question came up over and over: where are the writers? Well, here they are apparently. Satisfied? OK, back to directors.

I found the first panel particularly frustrating. Five writers in turn got up and introduced us to their work. Only Juliet stirred my brain with her 30 thoughts about writing. I think it was because I came to hear about writing, about why there’s a perception that the writers are missing, about who our mentors are meant to be. I came to hear about what it means to be a writer. I came for some real opinions please. Last year I heard Athol Fugard speak about what it meant to be a writer; that moved me, messed with my head a little. That’s what I wanted and what I didn’t get.

Regardless of what I wanted though, I had one major problem with what I got. It wasn’t a big statement, no one presented a fat theory that I felt I needed to deflate. It was in the way people were talking about subjects. Kim disagrees with me about this, but hasn’t convinced me I’m wrong. There was a recurrence of phrases and sentences that equated passivity with action. “Not engaging” became “silencing”, “not using stories” became “denying a right to be heard”. The simply being was to be the obstruction. In a moment of supreme irony that one of the audience members pointed out, Brett Bailey raised a point about the constituency of a panel at a European festival he was presenting work at. The panel was all white European men bar a lone white European woman.

The audience at GIPCA was mostly white. That is a problem. It is not a problem that I was there. Should I do a reversal and frame the non-attendance of black theatre-makers as an active rejection of the academic institution it represents? I could. But it’d probably be better to ask how the event was marketed. We first must make sure people have a choice before we frame their simple absence or presence as statement – or even more problematically, as a unified statement. We tend to frame actions in groups – in masses – but they are the choices of individuals and that act of framing them as an overarching political narrative is worse than silencing or denying the rights, because it does these while it shifts the discourse from the concrete solutions to practical problems of access. The solution to the problems of individuals rest with the decisions we can and some do take as individuals.

Alright, that’s enough of the politics. Here are some quotes and some things I liked in a list (just like Juliet, and Megan, and Gabriella):

1.)    It was more difficult to buy tickets for this from Computicket’s website than it was to buy tickets for my flights to and from Joburg next week.

2.)    “The form demands familiarity” – Juliet Jenkin on playwriting

3.)    “Writing, like dancing, is to expand yourself through space and time” – Juliet Jenkin again

4.)    James Ngcobo on politics and debate: “There’s a place for that – it’s called parliament”

5.)    “Work must be made in a place of joy” – James Ngcobo again (of all the speakers I felt he really loved theatre)

6.)    “The obsession to make the perfect theatre, kills theatre” James on letting go

7.)    Malcolm Purkey described our industry by referring to a documentary that showed chimps and crocodiles so desperate for water that they fought to death, the chimps becoming vicious carnivores.

8.)    “more love or more resources are needed to resolve it” – paraphrasing Malcolm on integration in theatre

9.)    Thando Doni’s merging of performance and music is beautifully done.

10.) Kragbox balances the joys of youth and the fear of a gangster movie perfectly.

11.) “assert order on a maelstrom of language” – Brett Bailey on tackling the text for medEia

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About Jon Keevy

Jon Keevy is a writer of stories and plays and also runs Alexander Bar's Upstairs Theatre.
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