Stop! … in the name of love

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As mentioned before, every Thursday morning the entire primary and secondary school treks across the road to St Anne’s, the nearby Catholic church. It is something of a logistical nightmare, ensuring that all make it safely across, by dint of stopping the traffic at regular intervals and with the aid of pupil supervisors of all ages (some in high viz jackets, some with whistles and all with smiles) the task is accomplished smoothly.

This whole exercise does highlight one of the schools real strengths: the way the learners take responsibility for any number of things. There is naturally enough, a prefect system, including responsibilities for a whole school assembly without a teacher in sight. Others play their part too, managing choir and dance rehearsals, running fitness classes at 5am, saying grace at mealtimes, and so on.

It’s all hugely impressive and I hope to benefit from it too, sooner or later, delegating rehearsals for the production.

Reflections III – stages

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(as in, things people perform on.)

We have been to the theatre three times in eight days – an astonishing increase on our normal pattern. We’ve already commented on Woza Albert! at the magnificent Soweto Theatre – a brilliantly performed/written/executed piece of theatre. But my personal appreciation was ever so slightly tinged when I subsequently read the script, and discovered that what we had witnessed was a move for move re-creation of the original 1980 production, even down to the exact repeat of those costumes and set.  Not museum theatre, for it had a vitality and energy of its own, but even so…

Two nights ago we went to Johannesburg’s world-famous Market Theatre (where Woza Albert! originated) to see The Meeting, concerning the fictional encounter between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King.  We had been looking forward to it, but I was ill, Val had had a frustrating day struggling with work, and we were both exhausted. A wordy play which we strained to hear clearly proved a trial, and even though we were seated on the front row of their small studio theatre, we found it hard to keep our heads up.

And then, last night we went to the tiny POPArt theatre in Johannesburg’s trendy Maboneng district, old mining warehouses converted into restaurants, studios, loft apartments… We saw Isithunzi, another two-man play, which focused on the utterly appalling “Reitz Four” incident. It resembled Woza Albert!, being a thrilling, intense piece of physical theatre. It too dealt with, and showed, the tension between black and white – you can’t get away from that in South Africa – but it had a vibrancy, an urgency, an exhilaration in the power of theatre that was bang up to date.

Bewilderingly, we were two out of an audience of three. As I recall it – painfully! – the convention is that if the actors outnumber the audience, they are entitled to call the show off, so I guess we only just made it. But apart from the fact that this deserved to be seen by a far wider audience, in a way this only added to the sense of privilege we felt. This was the best of the lot.

The world is your Ostrich

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Rehearsal and the usual anxiety – who would turn up? But for the first time, all the people I’d asked to come did come. (Eventually, it’s true, but hey…

We were rehearsing The Three Sons – a sort of folk King Lear, but with sons rather than daughters. Most encouragingly, they got it. All three sons were sharp and quick witted. while Lear himself had all the power and authority I was hoping for, with an added slice of self-deprecatory humour. Well, see for yourself…

Valentine dinner

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Belated valentines dinner for the boarders. Despite everyone being allocated a partner, the photos on the lawn started with boys and girls in separate groups, getting together to go into dinner.

Hey! Taxi!

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Online taxi company Uber is controversial the world over, largely because of its impact on existing local taxis. Each time we climb into one, I feel a pang of guilt thinking of Joe, our best man and London black cab driver (now picking up fares in heaven.) But it makes our life here manageable; trips to the shops, swimming pool, anywhere really.

We do enjoy watching the little car head toward us on the map, sometimes apparently making handbrake turns and slaloming sideways.

It’s fun to meet the drivers, who come from all over Southern Africa, so far including one woman and one white guy. Only once have we felt nervous, late at night with a driver playing gangsta rap on the radio.  “You’re gonna die tonight!” proclaimed the rapper. We didn’t.

There was one tense incident outside Park Station, when our driver was accosted by two angry local taxi drivers. Thankfully, two Afrikaans policemen intervened to calm things. We walked alongside the Uber as it drove to an agreed place down the road, and then climbed in.

The Soup dance

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After last week, Chris was determined that in today’s rehearsal everybody would be kept busy. But his careful plans were thrown asunder when, amongst other things, netball trials and football training meant that at least one key character in each play was absent.

Ah well – the show must go on… having come along just to take a few photos for the blog, I suddenly found myself stepping in to read narrator and lead role (the spider) in Anansi.

My reward was to accompany the cast of Soup (salt, pepper, sauce, onion leaves, spice and dripping) to their first dance rehearsal in the multi-purpose hall, with Mr Lucky Ratlhagane and his ace marimba band. And what a treat – just watch and listen!

Reflections II – black and white

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Our regular trip to the shopping mall (by Uber taxi – we did try the bus once, but it never came – takes us past Jeppe (pron. Jeppy) Boys, which appears to be lifted straight out of a 30s English school story (think Jennings or Billy Bunter): a stately red brick building with manicured playing fields out front, on which boys wearing caps(!) are playing cricket. But just to upset the stereotype, it is Jeppe that is the government school (though one of the best in the country), while just a stones-throw away, DCS, without a playing field to its name, is Independent (though also one of the best in the country.)

South Africa is famously defined by black and white, but it is nothing like as straightforward as that sounds, even without including the various shades of brown and yellow. DCS’s learners are almost entirely black, but are drawn from many tribal groups, speaking several languages. The teaching staff is remarkably diverse: the black teachers from almost as many different cultures, the white ones split equally between English and Afrikaans- speaking. They are mostly strong Catholics, but include Hindus, a Muslim, agnostics and atheists – all fiercely proud of and committed to the School’s Dominican ethos and tradition.

South Africa undoubtedly faces challenges: 50% of its young people are unemployed, and the scars of the past will take generations to heal. But to our eyes (just three weeks in!) the future is full of hope. At least in the middle class shopping malls, black, white and brown are seen living, working, socializing together. Nkosi sikelel’ Afrika…

Weeping willow?

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The advantage of having six different plays with largely separate casts is that they can be rehearsed simultaneously; the disadvantage, even with just two plays, as was the case this afternoon, is needing to be in two places at once. So I found myself running back and forth between the two ends of the Hall.

For a first rehearsal, it went about as well as could be expected, but, with final casting decisions still being made, I found myself up against the emotional turmoil of my young cast.  Most of the characters in The Tree, are described as simply Children; they were nearly all desperate, to the point of pleading, to be chosen as the one called Child who has an additional couple of lines. I deferred makng a final decision on the spot… (Coward!)

Woza Albert!

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A theatre trip to the stunning Soweto theatre this afternoon: 37 learners, Val, Viloshni and me.  The learners were in full school uniform, something their English counterparts would have reacted against with outrage, but the young people here do seem to take a genuine pride in their uniform… but what do I know?

The production, of a modern South African classic (written in 1980 during Apartheid rule), was fantastic: just two actors in joggers and football socks conjuring a vast array of characters. It dealt with the worst excesses of apartheid – whites indicated by pale clown noses – stunning physical theatre with added wit, humour, edge, humanity…
We thought it the most exciting theatre we’d seen in years (and the learners were almost equally impressed.)  It would have been a privilege to see it on any stage in the world, but to catch it in Soweto…

We are the champions

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Pretty much all schools have an annual event like this: the public acknowledgment of its students’, pupils’, learners’ achievements. At first, the proceedings at DCS were familiar: a procession of young people marching onto stage for a handshake and a book or certificate. Rather like the nations entering the stadium at the Olympic opening ceremony – vital, but you sit through it to get to the fun part.

The subtle differences began to emerge with the announcement of the Head Boy and Girl. The latter was clearly an immensely popular choice, announced by half the audience leaping to its feet for sustained cheering.

Then came the choir, and the increasing Africanisation of the whole event, culminating in the final song which had most of the school on its feet joining in.  If only all speech days were like this…