Reflections X – mea culpa

posted in: Production | 0

Production week – the first week of the new term – approaches, and an opportunity to reflect upon the process.  There are some things I wish I had done or had been different.

Hearing the wonderful Dominican choir was a major factor in luring me to Johannesburg. For me, the glory of the choir has always been their sound, and the emotional impact this has created.  As a result, I had assumed the songs could be fitted in without regard to their words.  Not understanding the language, the words have no meaning for me, but of course they would for the majority of the audience.  Consequently, it has not been easy to find appropriate ones (nor the time to adapt them), and it looks like there will be far fewer than I would have wanted.

A smaller issue illustrates a wider cultural misunderstanding of mine.  The production needed a simple three-legged stool, and I had assumed such a thing would be commonplace (betraying an attitude approaching racism on my part); not so. In the end, it was of little consequence – the stool has been replaced by a plastic crate, covered in card and painted.

Another lack of awareness was of the school’s reliance upon learners taking ownership and control.  I retained control myself, and so marginalized the role of the stage managers, leaving them confused.

Some difficulties over which I had no control: an inflexible rehearsal schedule;  a lack of total commitment by some performers; the virtual national strike against the government, emptying the school and robbing me of vital rehearsal time. And some things I remain pleased with: the collaboration with Viloshni and Lucky; the talent and good humour of the learners; the script (of which I remain inordinately proud).

And the final product?  Well, let’s see…


posted in: Life in South Africa | 0

Maboneng is the name of one of Johannesburg’s trendiest areas, a refurbished couple of blocks of former warehouses.  It is only a couple of miles from where we live, though we have never walked there, and is our regular bolthole, usually once or twice a week.  It has lots of excellent and not expensive restaurants, and is home to Arts on Main, a network of studios, craft shops and stalls, as well as a large area which is car park during the week, but then transforms into a terrific food market on Sundays.  Maboneng is also home to POPArt theatre, our regular Friday night destination, the Bioscope, a small independent cinema with seating entirely comprised of old car seats, and the most fantastic second-hand bookshop.

It is probably the clearest example of the coming back to life of Johannesburg: a vibrant and exciting multicultural honeypot, attracting custom from all over the city, especially at weekends.  And it is continuing to grow and expand, new restaurants opening, new street art appearing, and spreading outwards, one block at a time.  It is not without its critics – gentrification is always controversial – but to our mind it is a sign of Johannesburg’s, and South Africa’s, growing optimism.

The (lighting) plot thickens

posted in: Production | 1

With the school empty due to Freedom Day, I took the opportunity to steal into the Hall to work on the lighting plot. Irritatingly, evening darkness revealed that they had not been focused as well as I had thought; I need to wait for the return of Dayle and his men in order to sort them out. Mostly, this is simple enough, as nearly all can be reached from a stepladder on stage, but the worst culprit is out front, and this can only be accessed via a scaffolding tower. I am going to have to do some serious grovelling…

Tick-a-lish (not for the squeamish)

posted in: Life in South Africa | 3

I’d had a small scab on my hip for about a week, but had assumed that I had scratched myself, or even (rather more worrying) that it was a rogue mole, especially as it wobbled a bit. It was only when Val took a closer look, that she told me I ought to see the doctor, as she thought it might be a tick, picked up on safari.

The school arranged for me to be driven to the school’s doctor, Dr Leong, who operated out of a delightfully old-fashioned surgery. No appointment necessary, I signed in and was seen immediately. “Let’s have a look,” she said, and then “Ughh! It’s still there!” She told me she had never seen such a healthy, living specimen, so she took a photo of it, before attempting its removal. “It’s giving me the heeby-jeebies,” she said with a shiver. “He’s a stubborn little bugger!” but then, out he came. It was something of a surprise when she popped him into a specimen jar for me to take home, but it means you can see him too – he’s about a quarter the size of your fingernail.

Val was less surprised, as she told me she had seen him wiggling his legs that morning, but had kept the full truth from me to prevent me throwing a wobbly. Or fainting.

South African bont tick Amblyomma hebraeum (adult male)
Apparently, this one is most commonly found living on a buffalo’s hide!

Wedding dance

posted in: Production | 1

Not the easiest of rehearsals – we summoned the entire cast in the middle of their holiday, but it had been announced from the very start of the project, so it was disappointing that we were missing some key players.  On the other hand, we achieved a lot, and the scenes where the crowd come to life with energy and enthusiasm really have the potential to raise the spirits – mine, as well as the audience’s.

Just over a week to go now, and always the point where one has serious concerns about reaching the prize (as I know only too well, having been there more times than I care to remember.) But there are hints of what might be achieved, and too much talent for us to fail.  That old “it’ll be all right on the night” cliché is not to be relied on, but does possess a certain truth…

Family safari

posted in: Uncategorized | 1

We promised a safari sunset (to match the production backdrop) and sure enough, after a tremendous thunderstorm and downpour on our first day in the park, we were rewarded with exactly that. Click on The family on safari for the full story.

Safari sunset

posted in: Production | 1

The picture is of the backdrop for the production, as designed by Debbie, the other half of the DCS art department, and painted by her team of learners. It also possesses a certain significance, as it represents the sort of view we hope to be seeing for real over the next few days.  The Walters family are off to visit a couple of game parks for the next week or so, and so it is likely that any blogs posted over that period will be spasmodic at best; with technical difficulties intruding (as well as giving ourselves the chance of a break.

See you later…

Marimbas and cannibals

posted in: Production | 0

A relatively difficult rehearsal this afternoon, after school finished for the term: a slow start after clashes with closing ceremonies, and lots (unsurprisingly) missing.  But glimpses, all the same, of some moments of theatre.

At long last, and with no blame intended, their attendance limited by timetable commitments and illness respectively, I had the support of Nathlani (Lucky) and Viloshni.  Nathlani oversaw  the marimbas, and they are starting to produce the sound of the production, colouring entrances, transitions, movement.

Thabang is the charismatic young actor who is playing Zim the cannibal (and yes, I did have problems with writing a cannibal into an African play, lest I be found guilty of cultural stereotyping, no matter how much I might protest that he was in the original story.)  Thank you, Viloshni, for adding the idea of him having his own musical signature.

The staff room

posted in: School life | 2

In many ways, the DCS staff room is reminiscent of many that I’ve encountered throughout my teaching career: the random collection of furniture, the tea/coffee area with its collection of assorted chipped mugs, the way certain seats are sacrosanct – I would not dare to sit in Rosa’s chair, and would feel most uncomfortable taking my place at the young women’s table. And of course there is the photocopier, occasioning a familiar frustration and despair whenever it malfunctions.

Some things are different. It is more well-used than most, especially for the daily morning briefing (which also contains prayers, of varying lengths and styles as they rotate through the staff). It is also friendly and welcoming – happy birthday is sung regularly, and there are monthly break-time feasts. Just about everyone says good morning to everyone else, and, best of all, the mark of a most excellent space, it is frequently consumed by laughter.

Be my baby

posted in: Production | 0

All of The Three Sisters have to give birth, but we wanted to avoid anything too graphic, so I turned to a technique a friend of mine had once borrowed from a National Theatre production of The Mysteries, in which Mary “creates” the Baby Jesus.

This is how Mick described it to me in an email: “Instant baby. You make it in layers. Muslin is the best material; we used cheesecloth. You lay down layers, 2ft by 3, no more than six. Make the shape of a bloomer loaf with wadding wrapped in a single sheet, and place it in the middle of the sheets long ways up. Fold alternate corners over at an angle so the top of the bloomer has the appearance of the face.  Bend the baby to give it a bottom and bobs your uncle. Good luck”

All we had to do was multiply this by three, and back it with an African lullaby.