Mr Muftic speaks!

Hello dear readers. Yesterday I posted about the GIPCA symposium Directors and Directing: Playwrights. I expressed some frustrations and reservations about the focus of the platform and whether it really spoke about playwriting in a significant way. Sanjin Muftic has pointed out that I missed his presentation at the final panel (the burger I got in lieu attendance were tasty though… ) and so I can’t really sum up the symposium. Of course I can (I argued) after all the panel was New Directions and featured only one playwright. So Sanjin sent me his presentation. Check and mate by Mr. Muftic.

Here follows Sanjin Muftic’s presentation at the symposium:

I must start by saying that I feel that I come to this presentation as
a bit of an outsider. I am not South African. I am a Bosnian refugee
who found himself in Ethiopia during the war of the 90s, and managed
to study in Canada as an immigrant before arriving to this country
when I was 22.  But I have spent the last 8 and half years in Cape
Town – which has recently become the one place I have spent the most
years in my life.   Having started out as student in theatre, I now
spend most of my time as a drama lecturer, I feel as if I might have,
just like most of you, made little footprints in the sand that is the
theatre industry of South Africa.  And my concern, just like yours, is
to work towards doing my part to contribute to the future of this art
form, as a lecturer and director, even if I am not of this land.

My concern for this “New Directions” panel is for the future of this
theatre role that we call the “playwright”.  From this weekend’s
thoughts I have found that a playwright covers everyone from the
director/auteur, the facilitator of a workshop production, to one who
feels compelled on their own to put words on a page.  Thus for me a
playwright, is anyone who writes down a blueprint for a future
performance and playwriting is the craft of creating that blueprint.
With that in mind, my question is where are the future playwrights of
this country going to come from? From where will come the scripts for
future directors? I am concerned about this because I feel that there
are not enough true craft playwrights around and not enough new texts
being produced today to inspire the playwrights of tomorrow.  I
believe we need to find ways to improve that.

At this moment, and it might seem like a bit of a generalization, but
we proudly claim that everybody can be a playwright.  If you have a
story, and have we acknowledged that all of us have stories, our
stories that we want to say- write it and you might end up a
playwright.  However, some playwrights are better than others, more
supported than others, have more education opportunities than
others…so we are not all equal playwrights. While experience and a
certain amount of incubation can help you tell your story, it won’t
necessarily make a good play, no matter how much the actors, directors
and producers contribute to its development.  It seems to me that what
is missing from our focus on playwrights, and perhaps all of ours, is
the issue of working on and developing our craft.  Not enough
attention is paid to the training and the improvement of each
playwright, ensuring that their end product on the page, their script
is as much art as the sum of their experiences.  For all the talk of
live productions, and even in this digital age, where it is much
easier to capture the visuals and somewhat communicate the experience,
it is the script that is the starting point for many a creative
process.  Playwrights outlive the actors and the directors, future
generations pick up the pieces of paper they set down and realize them
into life, much as we do with Shakespeare today.

So how do we go about improving the playwrights and also increasing
the number of playwrights? We celebrate the notion that to survive in
this industry you need to be multi-talented and multi-skilled while
many of us play different roles in order to survive.  A lot of
students are trained with this logistical necessity in mind – being
responsible for everything from writing a script, rehearsing it,
designing it and even performing it.  This is indeed a series of
remarkable achievements and many artists are fantastic examples of
this multi-skill set.  However, while it is necessary to have an
overview of the whole theatrical process, general exposure doesn’t
breed mastery in any one of those crafts.  We need to set up
structures, especially for future playwrights, which would allow them
to focus only on that aspect of the theatrical craft.
Playwriting needs more South African opportunities to be taught as a
craft, and those that are passionate about setting words on a page to
take place on stage, need to be given the space and the time to have
their interest and talent nurtured.  To my knowledge, no higher
education programs in this country, offer focused playwriting
programs.  We struggle with the education system at a basic level
because reading and writing are not supported or encouraged as much as
we would need to have future playwrights, and students not held
accountable for not gaining proficiency in each one of those skills.
But we must fight this trend even at an undergraduate level with
playwriting and dramaturgical classes that look at the writing and the
development of a theatrical script. We don’t need to have an aversion
to written words, but in order to conquer it we need to be wrestle
with them from the very start of our training.  The training should be
continuous, forgiving, multi-voiced, multi-styled, personal and
practical.   We don’t need to prescribe a certain method of writing,
but rather take students through various approaches, using examples
from South African and from the rest of the world – thus allowing for
each voice to find its own style. A playwright does not need to wait
until a certain age to begin writing or to be considered as a
playwright, it is not only experience that makes them one, but also
the mastery of their craft, and that can be trained.  Playwriting
needs to be taught at more South African tertiary institutions, more
student playwrights need to be signed up, more attention must be paid
to them, more scripts need to come out, more scripts need to be
performed and developed. And thus more scripts may exist for us to
pick up and direct in the future.

But what can we do today? It is a very idealistic view to say that the
increase in playwriting programs will generate plays and more
individual stories, and perhaps allow for a wider reach for our
audience. I also understand the difficulty in setting up such programs
especially with the personnel required to teach this new stream of
playwrights.  But how could we go about setting that up and what would
we teach?  The idea of introducing dramaturges has come up, and others
have mentioned mentorship as something that young artists need to
improve their craft. Both of these, I believe, are something that can
be done anytime from tomorrow, if we open up our creative processes a
lot more than they are at present.  A dramaturge is somebody who is
trained in the art of developing plays, but why can’t that role be
outsourced to other theatre practitioners in the country? Why can’t we
serve as each other’s dramaturges, offering our point of view (as we
have shown that we have) about scripts, rehearsals and productions?
Can we also be humble enough to understand, analyze and act on it?
Can’t we crowd-source the training of playwrighting until we build up
those who can teach it? Is it possible for current playwrights to
offer courses and workshops to be aligned with higher education
institutions to mentor those who show interest and promise in the
craft of writing? Can those be set-up in some kind of continuous
engagement?  Is it about increasing the accessibility and transparency
within our methods of creating art? Can larger theatrical institutions
and companies take on recent graduates or promising writers to align
them with resident practitioners who can offer advice, support and
work experience? Should current South African playwrights make their
texts more accessible to a younger population, allowing them to study
and investigate their written words and how they would be put on
stage?  Do we need to investigate new methods and formats of writing
down script? Does writing now also include curating and archiving as
some of its activities? Do we need to move away from the belief that
writing something down claims authorship more than it allows for easy
dissemination among people?

For all the discussions and opinions that have come out of the GIPCA
symposiums such as this one, and how they force us to confront the
experiences and the craft of the art we practice, we must leave these
sessions with some kind of plan. What is that each one of us can do to
further the development of theatre in this country?  The development
of new writing voices has to be placed into our teaching curriculum,
lifting the playwright to a more stable and proficient position within
the South African theatre society.  It needs to be celebrated,
respected and taught as a craft of its own. Performing your story is a
transaction between you and your immediate audience, but creating the
blueprint of your story is a transaction between you and a future
audience.

Photos: Owl in the Intimate

So yesterday while we did our first run with light and sound, Sanjin brought in his camera and took this and other great pictures. And also eight thousand other pictures (just kidding man).

 

 

I’ll post more when I can, we’ve got a big day today, since we preview tonight.

See you all soon,

JK

Poster for Owl – the first draft

So. First draft of the poster for Owl (which is the play I spent 2011 writing and is my first directing experience in 5 years).

Shot on Friday by Boniswa who was standing on a chair snugly fitted over Briony (you can still the legs on the right, I’ll have to sort that out).

I’m going for what in my mind is a slightly retro feel, balancing warm wood and desaturation. Briony was very patient and fun during the during shoot (and just looks amazing too) – rehearsals have also been suspiciously easy. Maybe we’re just not working hard enough.

We had a good get together with the entire team and got profile shots and Sanjin took video and interviewed us (once again I proved that I can say any number of reasonably intelligent things until there is a record device pointed at me).

The email address is real but totally changeable. What do you think, fun or forgettable?

I’ll be working on it more this week and should have a beautiful and completely different one in a couple of days.

Cheerio,

JK

Countdown to iQonga

I’m living on avocados and toast. Also coca-cola. My flat is a spectacular mess, covered in rogue glue sticks, peelings of latex and foam chips. My kitchen counter is an electronics chop shop. My neighbours think I’m building an android. One caught me dancing around dressed as a demonic crow. It’s these awkward balconies that face each other – honestly, who designs buildings like this?

This morning I was elbow deep in the guillotine, trying to get its winch working. These projects have forced me to learn more than I’m comfortable with – latex molding, carpentry, compromise. I sat down and thought about all the skills I’ve learned and how generally I never get to use them again. That’ll change in the coming year. Although I’m borderline broke right now I have work lined up into January with London Road and a little something at the Baxter – between this and the piles of funding applications I’m filling out I’ll be able to do some juicy projects of my own.

Because if there’s one thing about iQonga I hate it’s that it’s once off. It’s an interesting and much needed platform for independent artists in Cape Town and hopefully the work will live again after Saturday, but we work in an uncertain industry in an uncertain time. Often our work gets one shot. It probably doesn’t help that I’m easily distracted by new styles and ideas and that I love so many different media. But I’m OK with that, it’s one of the elements that set theatre apart, it’s ephemeral: for it to live – for it to spread – it has to be reinterpreted constantly.

I’m going a little off track here but –

Theatre is paradoxically accessible and exclusive. Exclusivity as a concept is generally anathema to theatremakers so we tend to down play it, but exclusivity is also the foundation social and cultural groups and we acknowledge this when we talk about target markets. It is accessible because it can be made anywhere for anyone by anyone, it’s limited by imagination. But it will always be exclusive because there is a limit to how many people can see it. Damn you Time and Space!

In marketing terms we have something that could be framed as a negative or a positive: it’s difficult to see or it’s a rare experience. People want to feel special. Too often people trying to sell their show frame the exclusivity as something to overcome, “It’s worth the effort” – instead of emulating the slick marketing of a music event, “One night only – don’t miss out”. Same idea, different frames.

What was I saying before?

Right, messy flat, mad skillz, own projects, etc.

Right. Exactly. Tonight I’m rethinking the multimedia. Although a more honest statement would be that I’m stopping thinking about it, I’m doing it, realising my bad assumptions and doing something else that works.

Sanjin and Amy just walked in. They have declared me mad. But they seem happy.

So… iQonga, Saturday 10th September, The Little Theatre.

1 night.

6 short pieces by some of the hottest theatre talent in Cape Town.

Book via Computicket because seats are limited and you don’t want to be hearing about how great it was over Twitter.

Ink Black Water

I can get carried away when describing what I see happening on the stage inside my head. I’m used to the concerned and slightly confused faces I sometimes get and I’m excited by the intrigued and engaged faces I get. What I’m getting when I describe Ink Black Water are the extremes: utter smile-and-back-away or pure wonder. The next question is always the same: How? And my answer is to whip out a notebook or grab a napkin and draw diagrams that no one understands. Except me, of course – I have faith in myself.

Ink Black Water is the collaboration between Sanjin Muftic and me for the iQonga platform at Out the Box (for more on my involvement click HERE). I’ll be building on the techniques we first explored with Under the Stars, Above the Tree in 2008 and then developed with Crowsong earlier this year. Just your typical light table, multiple projector and lamp with shadows and ink set up; also some interesting new experiments with different fluids and a couple of unlikely mechanisms. But all that is slightly lower on the priority list than the fish puppets – and the crows, can’t forget the crows. These are carved out of foam, meaning that my flat requires constant sweeping – the tiny scraps of foam are more tenacious explorers and spreaders than the 17th century Spaniards.

The piece is a dream; of floods, of deserts, of birds, beasts and fish; of crumbling cities and shaking ground. It’s about loss and longing – maybe not for the thing itself, but for the traces of it, the memories you should have. Sanjin and I decided to approach it visually (similarly to how Jason and I worked out Crowsong) and so I’ve been creating storyboards to capture the action – omitting the manipulators at this point, and also the multimedia – mostly because I’m a bit overwhelmed to create that detailed a storyboard (it’s a bugger to draw text layered over cracks and silhouettes of towering heaps of books behind a school of fish playing with a submerged performer).

Most exciting for me though is the chance to work with an old collaborator, the incredible Brydon Bolton. He did the music for my master’s final production (together with Niklas Zimmer) and for Under the Stars. It’s been way too long since then. His compositions are awesome, dark and layered, perfect for the surreal dreamscape.

I’m really excited and damn nervous that my work will be seen up on the Little Theatre’s stage. It seems like a step down from the Artscape Opera House where we did projections for the Flying Dutchman in January, but this piece is much, much more personal.

Ink Black Water is on at the Out the Box festival as part of the iQonga line up on the 10th September 2011. Bookings are open on Computicket.

How to get a head

Yes, out of all the possible titles I opted for the most obvious pun. Guilty as charged – etcetera, etcetera.

In my slim defense I have been somewhat sort of almost high on the rich aromas of liquid latex and cough syrup; the earthy smell of clay is just layer of the crafty bouquet of my flat right now. What have I been caught up in that my flat should be put through such punishment?

iQonga. Which probably just deepens the mystery, since very few people seem to actually know what iQonga is. In brief it means ‘platform’ in Xhosa, and that’s the goal of the project curated by Handspring’s Jason Potgieter, to give artists working with puppets and in visual theatre a platform to show off their style. Six or so companies and individuals each get to produce a 10 minute piece, once off, with some money and support from Handspring.

I’m lucky because I get to work on two. And I didn’t even get my proposal accepted. Kim Kerfoot (that mysterious cipher of a theatre-maker who produces work all too rarely) and Sanjin Muftic (my Bosnian buddy and long time conspirator) both wanted a slice of the Keevy. So now I’m designing and building for Kim and fully collaborating with Sanjin.

Kim’s piece is called Guillotine and is about [SPOILERS!] a Guillotine. The biggest challenge of this project is the severed heads. Which are also puppets. After a good chat with Janni Younge about the process I dove into a bucket of rapidly hardening plaster of paris. I would be working with materials that were new to me and with clay, which I haven’t seriously played with in years. I’ll put the whole process into a tutorial (including where to buy the good stuff cheap) and post it after iQonga, I promise.

The clay was like coming home to Sunday lunch. I didn’t even know how much I’d missed it. I first made about 10 ‘sketches’ in plasticine and then Kim picked the characters he wanted. I sculpted them full size in clay and cast plaster molds. I messed up a couple of times and ruined one bucket before I nailed the process. I like working alone and at my own pace. I’m a slow learner, but a tenacious one.

So then the latex went in. It smells disgusting. Like ammonia. Like week-old urine.

But when I peeled the dry faces out of the molds I was stunned. I knew it was meant to be an amazing material – I just sort of assumed I’d have to have a few duds before I got the hang of it. It is such an easy material to use, as long as the clay and the plaster have been done right.

They need to painted and dressed, but I’m feeling pretty pleased right now.

Guillotine is on at the Out the Box festial as part of the iQonga line up on the 10th September 2011

Crowsong: the Thank You list.

On the 16th and 17th of March we took over Theatre in the district with a theatre experiment called Crowsong. Here’s who I’d like to thank for making it possible.

Caffeine: Jason Potgieter frightens me. He’s a force of nature that sweeps up medium sized trees and Korean cars and rearranges furniture. So when Jason says you have spare time to put on a show, you have spare time. Or you make it. Because otherwise you’ll have missed out on something that’ll change the way you think.

So we met and bounced ideas and sat in bars with inappropriately large sheets of paper and koki pens. We doodled and shmoodled and made a script with stick figures and arrows. I was the builder of devices and Jason was the dynamo – arriving at the theatre in the district after a full day at Handspring but bringing the sound and fury with a dash a of significance.

The story started out as ideas about mad puppeteer-alchemists. Jason gave me a stack of photocopies of kabbala mysticism, medieval mythology and astrological charts. I gave him China Miéville’s Kraken. Together we scavenged lamps and clamps and cables and tables and all kinds of goodies to make magic with. We came up with the story an ordinary man who loses his lover. And tries to bring her back. So he seeks out the services of specialists.

Freaky specialists.

So we needed an actor to join us.

Gumtree: James MacGregor has been around the block too often for one so young. So he must be talented, surely? Doesn’t really matter, we told ourselves, the part is easy.

Turns out we were wrong. The part is difficult. And James isn’t talented. Talented is what your five year old nephew is when he builds a sand castle higher than him. What do you call him when he installs working elevators and a suspension bridge? What ever word you decide on, that’s Jimmy. He hurled himself at this for no money. The lights? He did ’em. The music? He did… Well, he found and edited it while Jason and I were quibbling over pleats.

I have seldom been so impressed with an actor on so many levels. He’s committed, passionate, funny, talented (or whatever) and he manages it despite being forced to live life as a ginger and looking a bit like Matt Damon. If you have the right light.

Happy Crate: The Theatre in the District is cool in that way that only not caring about being cool is cool. Do you follow? It cares about art and community. Brian and Trish Notcutt have made an amazing space to work. With almost no money we were able to rehearse and perform and transform a real theatre into our mad lab. We hung brown paper all over it and strung up cardboard crows.

Bosnia and Ethiopia: Sanjin rocks. Nothing surprises him. He comes home to find wheels being fitted on to the coffee table and doesn’t even blink. The flat is covered with torn paper, sawdust and offcuts of plastic. The painful shriek of a file on wood destroys his quiet enjoyment of the world cup. But he bats not an eyelash. He leant us the camera and projector gratis despite the danger of oil, ink and noodles. And lets not for get who first thought up live drawing…

He also filmed the show. Here’s a clip he posted on Youtube and the CT Live blog:

Genetics: To furnish the space with crates and rope and stools and bits and pieces required more theft than expected. Fortunately our parents rarely press charges. But that’s a minor part of why I have to thank the folks. I would not be able to make my own theatre without them, without their support. And I know how rare that support is for people. Thank you.

Corner Store: Dillon and Beren, they came in, ate some chicken and drank some coke and called it even for lifting, rigging, pushing buttons, taking donations, getting people seated and striking the set. Well, we’re not even. I owe you guys some grunt work. You know where to find me.

The final thank you is for everyone who came to watch or sent support to 3 crazy theatremakers. Especially to all those who spread the love on facebook, their blogs and face to face. And a super big one to Jesse Kramer for bringing along her magic camera. I’ll sign off with one of her shots. You can get a hold of her on her website.