Thank-you from the Underground

Soc Med FdC

Above all to my (now) wife Suzanne, thank you.

On the evening of Sunday the 18th of March 2018 The Underground Library won Best Theatre Production for Children and Young People at the annual Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards. I was told I accepted the award and made a speech, but all I can remember is how hard my legs trembled.

From reports it seems I stuck close enough to my notes. If you had seen them, you would have read one sentence writ large across everything: There are too many people to thank them all.

Here then is my attempt to rectify that.

Tara Notcutt announced the award and that was very appropriate – she was the person I first pitched the idea to 4 years ago in Grahamstown. Tara, thank you for encouraging me from the beginning.

I wrote the first draft in early 2015 for a radio play competition (I didn’t win). Thank you to the people who read and gave me feedback: Marc Kay (who did win), Jon Minster and Melissa Loudon (who called my hacking scene ‘vaguely plausible’).

From there the script was adapted and submitted to the African Youth Theatre and Dance Festival hosted by Artscape and Assitej SA. Thando Doni directed a staged reading with a group of students. Thank you for your time and for firing me up in the talk-back. That festival was the first time I met Victoria Gruenberg, an American intern who gave me thorough, insightful and challenging notes, and my introduction to the roll-up-your-sleeves-and-work attitude of US writers.

From that festival it was selected to be a part of New Visions / New Voices in the USA – an opportunity created by Assitej SA and the Kennedy Center in Washington DC. Most costs were covered but I still had to raise money for flights.

As part of fund-raising we hosted a reading of a new draft at Alexander Bar. Jason Potgieter directing Faniswa Yisa, Mvelisi Mvandaba, Callum Tilbury, Richard September, Sive Gubangxa, Maggie Gericke, Cleo Raatus. You can listen to that early draft here: alexanderbar.co.za/undergroundlibrary

Fundraising for New Visions / New Voices (NV/NV) was an outpouring of support from family, friends and peers. Thank you all so much: Ma and Pa, Helen and Fumi, Malc and Jill, Sarah and Simon. Sanjin Muftić, Jayne Batzofin, Carla Lever, Andrew Whiting, Jennifer Downs, Karl Haupt, Aleida Heyns, Sandy Jeffery, Fred and Joy Boerlage, Ann and Jannie Wiegman, Blythe Linger, Melissa Loudon, Gaëtan Schmid, Helen Moffett, Wenda Redfern, Natasha Norman, Simon Cooper, Teri Davidoff, and Suzanne Duncan – who 2 years later is my fiance and my wonder every day.

(I may have missed donors, not every deposit had a decipherable code. Please let me know if you’ve been skipped.)

That got me to America for the first time in my life. The process was split into 2 parts, both rigorous examinations of the script. I lost track of how many drafts I was on by the end of it. I need to thank the fellow writers I went on the journey with: Vinati Makijany, Deepika Arwind, Sunil Bannur and my South African peers Tamara Guhrs, Lereko Rex Mfono, Mojalefa Samson Mlambo, and Koleka Putuma – whose talent as a poet and theatre-maker I am in awe of.

The experience was made possible Assitej SA, the Kennedy Center, The University of Maryland. Thank you people n all the organisations who made it possible: The leaders, the administrators, and the directors, dramaturgs and actors who gave notes, perspectives and their voices to bring the plays to life. Thank you Kim Peter Kovac, Patrick Crowley, Moriamo Akibu, Jeffrey Kaplan Lew Feem, Justin Weaks, Teresa Fisher, Karin Serres, Scot Reese, Meg Lowey, Faedra Carpenter, Deirdre Lavrakas and more, more, more (I want to name *all* of you individually but I didn’t keep careful enough notes.)

Returning I applied for funding supported by Maggie, my fearless assistant in all things bureaucratic and tea-fuelled.

We received funding from The Department of Arts and Culture and everything was on track to put together a full production at ASSITEJ International’s World Congress in 2017 at the Artscape.

Koleke Putuma led the creative team as director. Merryn Carver designed and made the wonderful costumes. Philip Kramer built the steel set. Dylan Owen did sounds and score. A special thanks to Shen Tian, whose otherworldly command of LEDs gave us a unique lighting feature that pushed the play into the dystopian future (10/10). Dara Beth was a excellent stagemanger to herd the talented cast: Thando Mangcu, Tankiso Mamabolo, Kathleen Stephens and Dustin Beck joining Maggie and Cleo from the first reading.

And the audiences who came to watch. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

So much of this process has been made possible by Assitej South Africa. Yvette Hardie and her team (special shout out to Yusrah Bardien and Jaqueline Dommisse) have built up theatre for young audience in this country and made a mark globally. Through their opportunities I have visited Rwanda, Sweden, Austria, India and the US. I have made new friends, found inspiring collaborators and insightful peers. I have been supported in the creation of new works – some of which continue to generate income for me.

It is in recognising how much I have gotten from Assitej SA that I pledge the prize money to them. I believe that we need organisations that grow and develop new writers, directors and performers. We need more theatre because theatre can change lives. It has mine.

Thank you for reading.

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Owls and Krakens and Bears, Oh My!

I’m writing from an artists’ residency in Berlin that I am crashing. It’s called HomeBase and is all about bringing together artists from around the world together to work on notions of ‘home’ – I am not one of those artists, I’m just visiting. It’s a really interesting project and you can find out more on their Homepage.

For me it’s a nice space to type out emails and write press releases and go out of my mind worrying about the up-coming National Arts Festival. It is right around the corner (at this point some of you will nod, mutter about how true that is, stop reading and switch tabs to get back to working on your own productions), and it’s going to be a tough one.

Mostly because I’m trying to wrangle Krakens and Owls from another continent (OK, so that accounts for two thirds of the titular menagerie… where do bears fit in? Well, the bears are a symbol of Berlin. There. Mystery solved.)

This first half of the year has been a roller-coaster, with highs like Alexander Upstairs and the amazing response at Brighton Fringe for A Girl Called Owl, and lows like my collapsed lung (a month in and out of hospital and the recovery period) and the low turn out for Get Kraken despite amazing reviews. I’ve made a lot of declarations about what I’m going to focus on, and then made a whole lot more declarations stating the opposite. The most important lesson is just to keep working; good things happen if you don’t give up.

Practice. Practice some more.

The difficult should become habitual, the habitual, easy, the easy, beautiful.

–          S. M. Volonski quoted in Stanislavski’s Building a Character

 The path to mastery is one of practice. As a kid I had this hope that I’d try something for the first time, pick up a javelin or a puppet or something, and I’d be great. I’d find that thing that would mean I was special. I still harbor that fantasy sometimes. It’s a common hope and it sells a million lottery tickets every day.

Whether I’m kneeling on the mat at aikido, trying to discern the movements of the sensei’s hands and feet or trying to explain story mechanics to twenty eighteen year olds, I am hoping that an epiphany will happen. That this time it will be easy, maybe even beautiful. And then I realize that at least this has stopped being difficult. When you’re climbing a mountain it’s important to stop half way up and enjoy the view before you carry on.

Thank You

I spend a lot of time being cynical about the theatre industry. There is a lot to be cynical about – whopping great piles of fuel for the furnace of anger – but a great deal of why I am cynical is my purely selfish frustration. I want people to come see my work, I want to be able to spend more time writing and less time hustling, I want opportunities handed to me, I want people to recognise my talent and nurture it. I want. I want. I want.

My mother had this to say to a 6-year-old’s tantrum: “I want doesn’t get”.

Whether or not you deserve recognition is not a relevant question. I know it’s hard work. I know it’s probably harder for you because I know that the degree of support that I’ve been given, support I didn’t earn or deserve, is a rarity. We are all born into this world naked and crying in need. At that red and wriggly point in our lives we have done nothing to deserve what follows except be.

Good things have been happening for me this year. I do not know how much I deserve, but I do know that everything I’ve done was made possible by the love of my Ma and Pa.