11×11: Three Complaining

March was a bit of a win and bit of a loss, but overall I’m leaning to calling it a success.

The month started off a bit crazy at Alexander Upstairs and got progressively more crazy as it went on. In addition to the regular work I got a number of design jobs for people’s National Arts Festival productions. Then there was the BASA/British Council fellowship, which included workshops and a conference in Joburg where I spoke on a panel and pitched for funding.

All of which is to say I have many excuses and they’re not completely unreasonable. Sort of the point of an excuse isn’t it? But I don’t buy them either. I don’t buy that me taking on more than I can handle is a reason not do the thing that I promised myself. Being there for other people is important. So is being there for yourself. Finding the balance is the most important.

This month my writing was a short play for Anthology, opening on Tuesday the 7th (this evening). It’s called Bullet Points and is a classic con story: two characters manipulating each other with layers of tricky deception. The dialogue is full of detours as they chase down the quirky reasoning and get distracted by little things. They’re not very good cons. Or are they?

I also added a lot of new material and substantially rewrote parts of Every Beautiful Thing, my January play. A lot of writing got done in March; enough that I could call it 3 down, not enough that I feel like I deserve a high five.

Lessons:

  • Regularity breeds creativity. Don’t try to squeeze all the juice in snatched moments and odd places; that’s notebook time.
  • Rewriting is an art unto itself, fear and respect it.
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11 x 11

There’s a pleasure in symmetry, a pleasure in pattern. Rituals and habits are reassuring. Looking at 11 x 11 with its palindrome promise, makes me think it doesn’t stand for anything out of the ordinary. It can’t represent anything challenging or impossible. Can it?

As a matter of fact it can. 11 x 11 is a project I’m embarking on, a gauntlet I’m throwing down against my common sense. It stands for something a bit ridiculous in its audacity: a promise to write eleven plays in eleven months. One play every month from January to November.

This year I’m not producing any shows. I’ve produced eight shows in the last five years (four of which I wrote) and it is time for a break – time to rethink my strategy. What better way to do that than to rewire how I think about writing? If you’re like me you’ve got a folder of ideas and bits of scenes lying around, maybe a couple of promises to write the script of an idea that your table of drunk friends came up with. If you’re like me you’ve got the material, you just sat on it.

11 x 11 is about quantity, not quality. None of these plays needs to ever be produced. The goal is not the stack of pages but the experience and the practice. What does it take to be prolific? How will my process change? What will I learn from this?

The rules are simple. I have to finish a play by the end of every month. It should be about an hour (or more) so if it’s a one hander then over 20 pages, and if it’s dialogue over 30 pages. So I’ll be writing between 220 and 350 pages.

Best of all? I’ve already started and have 8 pages to go to meet my target by the 31st. This is possible and I am going to do it.

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