A hit! A palpable hit!

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Pre-show pep talk

Two performances today, though they could scarcely have been more different.  In the afternoon, we performed to the Safe Zone kids, unaccompanied minors who have recently arrived on Lesvos, housed at Moria Camp in the first instance, in the hope that they will soon be moved on, either to Athens or to supervised housing in Mytilini.  Gekko has provided afternoon lessons for these young people for some time.

Being a matinee performance, there were a couple of necessary alterations.  Most notably, no live music, as James and Iman were otherwise engaged.  We also had no young Michael, as Bashir was away on a trip, but Hossein Ali slipped seamlessly into the role, a remarkable achievement for a previously shy and reserved young man.  More positively, as the audience was almost exclusively Afghan, I encouraged the cast to use Farsi as much as possible, and I very much enjoyed this new perspective.

Far less positive was the response of the audience.  I should have anticipated this, as young people everywhere are far keener on seeing their peers mess up, and these young Afghans were no different.  They did all they could do, in a fairly surreptitious way, to disrupt the performance – even trying to trip the dancers – and it is to the cast’s great credit that they were consummately professional.  When they came off, however, most of them were black with anger – “Animals!!”

It was a totally different story in the evening, with an absolutely packed house, and people queuing up an hour in advance in order to get to see it; somehow, we squeezed everyone in.  The cast responded with absolutely their best performance yet, virtually faultless, and rightly provoking a standing ovation at the end.

This was to be the final performance, but because of the demand, we are putting on an extra performance tomorrow.  I don’t think I have ever had such a hit, which is nice for me, but even better for the cast.  They deserve every cheer.

The last time

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The trouble with a two night run is that (to adapt a quote about America) it can go from nervousness to self indulgence without any intervening period of brilliance. It was, nonetheless, another thoroughly enjoyable performance.

The best way to describe it is through pictures not words: via this link to the utterly wonderful set of photos taken by Paul Horn, DCS’s irreplaceable photographer, pianist, It guru.

Plus this link to the video trailer, shot and edited by Brighton Ncomo, art teacher, drinking buddy and Man City supporter…

A hard day’s night

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Quite a day. It began with weekly mass, our final opportunity to attend, so mildly disappointing that it was rather low-key, with the singing somewhat lackluster. It was followed by a school assembly; we had been scheduled to perform an extract of the play, but when assembly over-ran, it was probably just as well that our slot was cancelled. It can be a thankless task performing without lighting, costume, or context, to a pressed audience (and all the more so when they would be deprived of some of their break.)

School had acceded to our request for additional rehearsal time during the rest of the morning (vital, after yesterday’s dress run.) And that led directly into two performances, more or less back to back. The first was to a packed hall of enthralled primary school learners… though they too had to evacuate en masse when the time came for their buses to leave. The performers on stage were left somewhat bemused by the exodus of virtually the entire audience.

And then on to our first night. The performance went very well, and was received with enormous warmth and enthusiasm, but I have to confess to mild twinges of disappointment. A director is always going to be aware of the details that are not quite right. The audience loved it, I know; many of them told me so… but I still want it to be better.

“Dress rehoisals is supposed to go wrong…”

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(“Dat’s what makes for a great performance!”)
And heaven knows I’ve sat through quite a few in my time. Though rarely, if ever, have I had a third of my cast disappear two-thirds of the way through, on account of the fact that otherwise their bus home would leave without them.

On the other hand, there were glimpses of what might be. For example, check out the video. Two of the three sisters are determined to murder the other one, but then discover they are all pregnant. These three, let me remind you, were given their roles yesterday, and just look at them. They make my heart sing.

Though before I get too carried away, the scene was a disaster, and is in need of serious work before we get to perform tomorrow, first as a matinee to the primary school, and then to our first night audience.

The beat goes on

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The inclusion of drumming and marimbas to illustrate, accentuate and punctuate the play has been one of its most exciting and welcome elements. I have indeed been fortunate to have Lucky (pun intended) as a colleague; no-one could be in any doubt as to his energy, expertise and commitment.

All the same, with two days to go there are no grounds for complacency. The longest of the plays, The Three Sisters, has undergone a forced root and branch re-casting overnight; and during today’s all-day rehearsal, I found myself reading in for three roles, including a most unlikely Demanzana/Gretel – one of our babes in the woods. Miracles happen – I know they do – especially with a dress rehearsal and a primary school matinee still to come, but they need to as well.

Reflections X – mea culpa

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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…

The (lighting) plot thickens

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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…

Wedding dance

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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…

Safari sunset

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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

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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.