Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Playing with clay.

With feeling like I am going to wake up tomorrow and it will already be February... and I will be opening Making Mandela... I am spending my evenings feverishly mask making. Panic. I seam to be changing direction constantly with what I think this piece is stylistically. But masks have remained a constant. So. That's good. But with style it feels like it can be anything - or rather it can be many things - until slowly it reveals itself and then it really can't be anything.  I am in the phase of many things. An exciting and slightly scary space.  We start rehearsals on the 1st Dec. For two weeks initially. Then a small festive break and we crack on again in January. So right now it's just me... and the clay... and my dog... And sometimes my cat... in my studio.  Playing. 

Shaking up The Snow Goose

So one night walking out of the Market Theatre, the ever brilliant Yvette Hardie gave me a seminal piece of feedback on our show The Snow Goose.  She said... 'I want to see more of the goose. It is called The Snow Goose after all.' And this bore a hole into my head. Because I knew it.  I knew it was true.  I then spent the next few months working with the super talented puppeteer Alida Van Deventer making puppets... or proppets (puppet props) as she likes to call them. Alida had already made me a few things for our first run in Grahamstown which I hadn't used in that first version of the play. But by our Kalk Bay Cape Town run we were ready and they were in. For example the dead duck Frank brings home after a successful hunting trip to the marsh...

James Cairns as Rhayader with the birds and the hanging sky... or the sea... or his paintings. 
The other thing very important thing that happened was I spent three weeks watching the most wonderful theatre in Denmark... (The April Festival thanks to Assitej Demark & South Africa and the Theatre Arts Admin Collective Cape Town)... and I saw how they take their time to create an image. Allowing the image to arrive... and settle... before they move on. This gave me more confidence to really make the decisions I was only playing with. And I'm so glad I did. Here are a few pics taken by Dex Goodman from our Kalk Bay Theatre run. Next up... we will be coming to Auto & General Theatre on the Square in the first quarter of next year... Super excited.

Taryn Bennett as Frith under the twinkle of a string of fairy lights. 
So we got to making flying goose sculptures... hanging a blue sky canvas backdrop... contructing little paper boats... attaching many a goose to the end of many a dowel stick. There is a lot to be said for 'lick & stick' brown parcel paper!

I painted the whole set bringing colour onto the stage. There was something nice about the raw wood... but it was rather bland.

I made a few new masks.  Yay.  One of them ended up sneaking into 'Hamlet!'  Played by the same actor in very different ways... funny.  What necessity allows.

Oh.  And I ordered WW2 helmets on line while in Denmark.  That was exciting.  Vika - who ordered them for me - now receives regular emails from 'epic militaria.'  Ah the places theatre will take you.

So lots of changes.  Thats the thing about theatre.  It really does take time.

Our first run was really much more about script, structure and mask play.

For this second run there were minimal (but very important) script changes... with loads more design elements.

I think watching the show from backstage with the amount the actors have to do is a show all on it's own.

Thanks once again to our producers Simon and Helen Cooper of KBT Productions for affording me these changes.

A painted set behind two dancing actors.
New masks for the soldiers on the beach.

Me... boat making on Vika's floor of her Copenhagen apartment... boat making and wine drinking!

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Poster to sell your Show.

Designing a poster.  For a show that is not actually made yet.  Is difficult.  I know people do it all the time.  But while you may have a strong idea about the style... you get on the floor and that changes... and then so would the poster.  Gr.  Here are two idea's I really like as inspiration for the Making Mandela poster.  We'll see.  On Wednesday - I believe - from the designer.

Designed by Cristiana Couceiro found on Pinterest via Miss Modular

poster by Tunnel Bravo found on Pinterest via Design Work Life

Monday, October 27, 2014

A bow tie to go out in.

This weekend marked the first meeting for our new play Making Mandela.  It was a very exciting moment - since getting the funding to write the script way back in 2009.  Some 6 years later and we have our first reading of the production ready script.  Wowser it has been a long journey and yet it is still, somehow, only beginning.  The script has gone from being a rather long history lesson of 100+ pages to where we are today... our favourite scenes coming in at 40 odd pages.  Editing was interesting.  To let go of what you think you should be doing and doing what you want to do.  What interests you.  Why do you want to tell this story.  But somehow with this subject matter and dealing with a real life story that has been much more tricky.  It is the story of Nelson Mandela's childhood.  But I read a great article on historical writing and he said that it is the same as any writing... tell the story that interests you... find the themes that you like.  In that way it is no different.  I really wish I had the link to that article.  Thank you stranger in the world.  So Nick Warren and I got to work with editing editing editing.  And there is still a lot of 'room to move' as rehearsals start in December.  So it's going to happen.  We're on at the State Theatre the first two weeks of Feb 2015.  Thanks to the NAC for the initial script funding and start up production funding.  Thanks to KBT Productions and Simon and Helen Cooper for coming on board. 

Here are the actors... 
Jaques de Silva
Mli Zondi

Barileng Malebye
I found this amazing little shop at the Oriental Plaza called Haffajee's Cash Bazaar (011 834 5509)...  The shop owners are delightful, talkative, incredibly helpful women who have clearly been runing this shop for a very long time.  I felt transported into a scene of a art movie.  Amelie.  Perhaps.  The shelves are stuffed with beautiful quality clothing... and they had velvet bow ties.  A bow tie with which to go out in.  

Monday, October 20, 2014

It's great when you Play.

After saying goodbye to our show Sunday Morning...  It popped back up again.  In my inbox.  As an email invitation to the Edinburgh Festival.  As part of the official selections for the South African Season.  A collaboration between the Assembly Festival (not to be confused with the Assembly Rooms) and the SA Dept of Arts and Culture.

James and The South African Season.

We said yes, and then... why hello again Sunday Morning.  We were very excited, and somewhat intrigued, to bring this show to an international audience.  It is not a show overtly about the hardcore realities of living in South Africa... racism, crime, cultural conflict.  In fact it is a feel good show about a guy struggling with one could say 'middle class' problems.  Of course the writing is brilliant and James' performance is wonderful... but we don't follow the story of the woman who under horrific circumstances does something hectic (we assume).  No.  Instead we follow the story of the man who happens upon the scene after the woman, who has done something hectic, has left... without any trite explanation, without any contrived insight, without any moral judgement, nothing.  This incident is the turning point of the play and his story moves on.  As it is his story.  Not hers.  And his story is as real as hers.  Because life throws a curve ball at an ordinary guy out for a run.

James and I on the day we arrived.

We had a quiet start to the month long run in our teeny tiny venue (a double width shipping container) and as is often true with art... it grew and grew and grew.  James, being alone after a week with me helping get the show in, at a festival that boasts something like 3000 shows, it is terribly easy to feel overwhelmed and very very small.  The turning point arrived after about the 5th show with two people in the audience one of whom had fallen asleep that James decided that this really wasn't working.  He wasn't having fun.  The audience wasn't having fun.  Not when 50% of them are asleep!  So really, if no-one is having fun, what is the point.  Go home rather.  Do a corporate.  Its much easier and pays more.  And he decided to find the fun again.  The sense of play.  And he did.  There was no option to come home.  So to die or not to die... every day at 12:40 for a month.  He chose not to die.  And the show turned around.  To the point where James was sad when the month was over.

The Box... our fabulous shipping container venue.


1.  High ENERGY level
To be totally present you have to have a high energy level.  This means you can't have 'floppy arms' when you talk... in other words when you make a gesture you drop your arms back to your sides let them hit your body and then sway there by their own momentum.  You need to be fully aware so that one gesture moves into the next and there is no parasitic movement.  Parasitic movement = movement of your arms, swaying, feet etc etc that you are totally unaware of.
2.  Keep it FRESH
It may very well be the 100th time you have performed this piece... so you cannot say that it is the first time you are telling it.  No.  That would be a lie.  And you can't believe a lie.  But, it is the only time... on this day, in front of this audience...  If you think of it like that then it is impossible to do it exactly how you did it yesterday.  Shake it up a little.  Read the audience here and now... audiences are different.  And if you have the right level of energy your listening can (and will) tune into them... And you are able to make subtle shifts in how you deliver a line... when you clock... how long you hold a pause... how long you play a moment etc etc...
3.  Have FUN
If you are not having fun.  Then the audience is not having fun.  And then there really is no point.  Having fun is a decision.  Decide to have fun and then you will really have fun.  Its a bit like that laughing exercise - force yourself to laugh until eventually you are really laughing.  The easiest way, I think, to really really have fun is to make it not about you... but about the story.  It is important for the audience to receive this story... and not to see how brilliant the actor is or the director is or the line is written etc etc...  You have to try to remove self consciousness and serve the story.

The rules are simple... and difficult.  And sometimes easy to forget.  But they are always there to come back to if you have lost your way a little.

So, Sunday Morning found a new breath.  A renewed energy.  A brand new audience.  I feel very happy for the show and really very proud of you, James.  Thank you... It's great when you play.  Rock on.

And now a few pics from the beautiful city of Edinburgh... 

This really appealed to James' sense of humour.

A dramatic view of the old and the new from The Meadows.

Arthurs Seat... the day I gave myself such massive blisters and didn't even make all the way to his seat!

James being a tourist.

A thistle.  So pretty.

James and Vika having breakfast... two of my favourite people.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


Ready steady GO.... Hamlet! the style of  Commedia dell'Arte.  A 35-minute theatre tonic.  This was how I started 2014 - and already it is June.  Gr.  Such a fab way to start the year.  I ended 2013 at the seaside... making masks.  How exciting.  Amongst the beach towels, straw hats and sun cream was a chaos of mask making tools and clay moulds and endless packets of plaster of paris.  We, James Cairns, Jaques de Silva, Deborah da Cruz and I, performed at Festival of Fame in Feb...  And recently we reworked it by added more scenes and another layer of design.  Very exciting.  I spent many hours with my very talented friend Vika on a bench in cold square in a city called Hostebro in Denmark brainstorming ideas of how to take the work further.  So thank you Vika.  The next time we perform is at the National Arts Festival.  Can't wait.

Jaques de Silva, Jenine Collocott and Deborah da Cruz

Jaques de Silva and James Cairns

Jaques de Silva and Jenine Collocott

National Arts Festival cast:
James Cairns
Jaques de Silva
Taryn Bennett
Jenine Collocott 

Photos courtesy of National School of the Arts (Festival of Fame 2014)
Original cannovacio by... 
Vika Mia Dalhberg-Hansen, Helena Lemenin, Justin Durel, Dylan Clements and Jenine Collocott
Gertrude mask by Vika Mia Dahlberg-Hansen
Polonius mask by Barbara Draeger 

Being inspired in Denmark

At the end of March I began what turned out to be a most wonderful journey with Assitej South Africa in cooperation with Assitej Denmark... A programme to inspire four South African theatre makers by exposing them to Danish theatre for babies, children, teenagers, youth and therefore... theatre for anybody lucky enough to be in the audience of, almost, any one of the some 43 shows we saw.

The journey began in Cape Town at the Family season held at the Arts Admin Collective run by the formidable Caroline Coburn (who are also partners in this Denmark | South Africa creative exchange).  We saw some really wonderful shows...  and we flew to Copenhagen.

Briony Di Horwitz, Thando Baliso and Jayne Batzofin about to take off... Copenhagen via Dubai

A brief overview of our three weeks in Denmark...

Week one was experiencing theatre companies, Patrasket, Zebu and Batida.
Week two was spent at the April Festival in Holstebro about four hours from Copenhagen.
Week three was back in Copenhagen for a workshop with director Marc van der Velden from Zebu.

Theatre troupe Batida in full swing rehearsals... preparing for the April Festival

So firstly, I'd like to start off by smashing any preconceived ideas of what 'childrens' theatre actually is...

I guess I expected, for the most part, for it to how I think children's theatre often is - BIG.  I expected big shows with big costumes and mostly two-dimentional characters... and I am delighted to say that this is not what we saw.  At all.  I was blown away by the creative level of the work in just about every show I saw.  Not once were the shows talking down to their audience.  The level of theatricality was the highest order, from the production design and the live music to the costume design and performances.

So a show whose target audience was for ages 6 - 8 left me with my hand on my heart and tears in my eyes because I too am still 6 years old... sitting with my grandmother looking at photographs of her life, listening to stories of youth and adventure... brought so vividly to life in 'All the Time in the World' by Maridiano.  The sheer visual feast of the show, its emotional heart... left me breathless.  This show is for anyone who has ever had or ever wanted a grandmother... whether you are 6 or 35.  Or the relentless joy that is brought to the stage by a band of some 9 actor/musicians in a crescendo that has you leaping to your feet at the utter delight of how live theatre can make you feel completely alive... done with such virtuosity in 'Grande Finale' by theatre troupe Batida.

A snap from Grande Finale... 
Or the staging genius of 'Peer Gynt' that had its audience as sports spectators on either side of the stage as live musicians and actors moved on and between two stages placed on either end.  With great ease and style they took us through the different worlds and emotional landscapes of this epic story.  Honestly.  This theatre is wonderful.  I could go on and on...  I should also mention that it was all also in Danish... and it didn't matter.

The care for the theatrical space, right from the audience entering to the final applause, was held and nurtured with such love.  Frankly.  Where it is the actors who open the doors and welcome you in and ask you turn off your cellphones.  At end it is the actors too who let you out and thank you for coming.

I often have the feeling that young audiences are not treated as a valid audience - and in Denmark this is absolutely not the case.  It really comes down to the level of respect these theatre makers have for their audience... which visibly overflowed to their respect for each other on stage... and furthermore to each other as theatre makers.  To me it was an environment set to cultivate the highest level of art and not a culture of mostly cutthroat competition.

A few examples:

Fully funded companies do not sell their shows to schools or set their ticket prices at festivals or theatres so low that it makes it impossible for individuals who are not funded to break into the industry and get an audience.  Anyone can take their show to their April Festival... however you have to first perform it to a panel who decide if your show is professional or not - not to be confused with whether they like it or not - and once it has been stamped as professional you can take this show to their festival.  This way the level of the work remains high.  Artists are forced to up their game - they don't end up wasting all their money taking a show to a festival that is not professional or ready yet.  It also means that the audience is cared for as they may see work they don't like but they are unlikely to see work that has not been worked.  Once your show is stamped as processional and you manage sell it to a school - the government pays the school back half of the cost of the show.  Hey?  How amazing.  Amazing.

Holstebro... the city where the April Festival was held...
It changes each year thus taking theatre all over the country
So besides seeing what I can really say is some of the best theatre I have ever seen in my life we met amazing people got to see a bit of Denmark...

The splendid apartment we stayed in right in the heart of Copenhagen during our first week.

Soren and Jayne outside Soren beautiful home where we were invited for a most delicious traditional Danish meal!

Sightseeing with Vika... to name but a few...

The Love Castle (i think!) in middle of beautiful Kings Gardens

The Queens guards outside her palace.

The Little Mermaid... of course!

The Royal yacht... it was the Queens birthday on this particular day that we went on the boat tour :) 

Dinner with Maria (from Batida) and her lovely Family.

Our dinner with Maria began with a sunset walk through the forest...
(where they shot some of The Killing)

...And ended with music!  As many evenings do in Denmark.

On a day off during the festival we were treated to some sight seeing... an old Lighthouse...

...facing the very dramatic North Sea.

The SA group... Jori, Briony, Jayne, Thando, Yvette and Caroline.

The programe runs until next year where we aim to put on new productions - inspired by what we experienced in Denmark at the Family Season at The Theatre Arts Admin in early 2015.

It was a completely inspiring experience.  I believe I am already beginning to integrate some of what we experienced.  So thank you to the amazing Danish theatre makers for making it so very wonderful. To Dirck and everyone at Patrasket... Joren and Marc and everyone at Zebu... Soren and Louis and everyone at Batida.  To the brilliant South Africans who made it possible, Yvette, Jori and Caroline - thank you.  And finally to Briony, Jayne and Thando my colleagues on the trip who I shared this time with.  You guys rock.

Our last dinner together in Copenhagen.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Saying Goodbye...

Yesterday I finally went to collect the Roadkill set from the Market Theatre.  Walking through the echoing halls of hundreds of donors whose names shine down on you in gold print... people and organisations who have so generously supported theatre.   Patrons of the arts.  How wonderful.

I found it quite moving.

Roadkill is over. Finished. (Roadkill... which then became Sunday Morning... and then went back to Roadkill again).  2011-2013.  If we do ever do it again... it will be in many moons.  And perhaps not in English with this fine actor.  So in saying goodbye to this incarnation of the show, that I love so very much... I want to thank James Cuningham and Nick Warren.  James for telling this story so many times... and in as many times as telling it, saying something new each time.  He is such a fine fine actor.  Down to the very last performance I find myself smiling in the near dark of the lighting box as he delivers a line or finds a moment of play that I have never seen or heard before.  The very life blood of theatre.

I was reminded of the first time I read the play.  Nick made me a cup of tea and put on the side lamp as the clouds gathered outside.  And I read it and I loved it.  An hour later with a cup of cold tea beside me.  I couldn't say anything once I put it down... I found Nick in the kitchen making dinner and I just hugged him.  It has to be said... he can write.  We then asked James to be in it. After much consideration James sat down in front of his computer to send us his 'Dear John, I can't be in your play' letter, but before hitting send he asked his wife, Helen Iskander, what she thought.  James read her the play and she told him he had to do it.  And for that I am eternally grateful.

Thank you James and Nick it has been such a pleasure.

So... here is the show in a series of really lovely stills... courtesy of The Market Theatre.

Thank you to GoetheonMain for the initial funding to help develop the show.  To Strike Productions for always supporting us technically.  To Simon Cooper and Christina Kennedy for giving us the first long run at Kalk Bay Theatre and for all the work you put into helping us get such wonderful reviews... not to mention James' award for Best Actor at the Fleur du Caps.

Thank you to Daphne Kuhn for producing the first run we had in Johannesburg at Theatre on the Square which got us nominated for five Naledi Theatre Awards.  To The Market Theatre for inviting us for our final run in the Laager Theatre. 

And finally thank you to all of you who came to see it. Shot.