Monday, 30 July 2012

"All that begins..."

“This too shall pass” was probably the phrase I heard the most from my mom when I was growing up, closely followed by “Try me”, which is entirely different blog! She said this when things went really rough, when I was studying a lot or when the general pressures of high school just got me down. And as she said, it goes for the bad as well as the good. And so it is with a production. No matter how long you have a run, no matter how long you work on a show, from the beginning you know that you will have that last show. Sometimes you’re quite thankful for it, but you know it will never be the same again. It will never be the same cast, the same place, the same audience, the same mistakes, or that line that you keep messing up and eventually get it right on the last show.

Just before our final show for CHASING, at the Krekvars Festival, one of my fellow cast members said that she had had such a feeling of gratefulness during the last performance of the previous show she had worked on while being on stage. And standing in the wing, waiting for the audience to come in for what we knew was going to be a full house I had that exact same feeling.

Marketing, or creating a spectacle.. .either way people took note!

I had survived Krekvars. I had climbed on ladders to put up posters of KNEES, I had marketed to everyone person on my path. Between Spotlights blowing and suddenly replotting the lights for KNEES 20 minutes before curtain up (only to see a fixed spotlight after our last performance in another theatre), between microphones suddenly not working halfway through a performance of SUIKERBOSSIE and cast members forgetting their words. Through the room divider in KNEES falling over halfway through my very emotional monologue and falling over a prop left in the wing. Through the salt burns on my feet, the corns on my toes from turning and turning and how the choreography of CHASING will always remind me of the smell of peppermint because of the transact plasters I had to wear to get through the performances on an injured knee. Through messing base on my dress 5 minutes before I have to go on stage, rehearsals which sometimes had me in stitches, sometimes in tears and sometimes in fits of anger clouds of curses Krekvars was almost over for me.

What makes live theatre so interesting is because it is live. Our director for CHASING, Nicola Haskins, would often say to us “Guys, it’s live theatre. Somebody is going to make a mistake somewhere”. And that’s the beauty of it. Never again will there be a moment exactly like this in time. It’s not like film where you can watch it over and over again. Each performance is unique and special.

I remember having the most surreal monologues in my head when I was dancing in competitions. Halfway through a dance, or a routine, I would find myself thinking that it was so odd that I had prepared for months and months and hours on end for these few minutes on stage. All this hard work went into these few seconds, which would be over before I know it and so much was at stake. In this little fraction of my life so much could be made or broken. And it, too, would pass. I had a similar feeling on stage when I performed in THREE WALL TEMPLE the first time I was in Grahamstown. I spent about 5 minutes during the show lying onstage with my back to the audience, and every time I lay there I would think about how amazing it was to be on stage, and I would think about how, in 30 minutes or so it would be over. I would be in the dressing room, taking off my costume and washing off my makeup and carrying on with the rest of my life. And I would try to hold on to that moment in time that I was on stage before I started dancing again and I had to concentrate on what I was doing.

Back to the moment before I stepped on to stage for CHASING all these ideas where spinning through my head. On the last show we abandoned our usual strict group focus and just jumped around in our circle holding hands to the Chris Chameleon pre-show music that was playing while the audience was walking in. I knew it was going to be an amazing show.

I think one of the sweetest moments was when one of the male cast members of SUIKERBOSSIE for who this production was his first, came and said goodbye after the final run of the show. I noticed his eyes were red, but I didn't say anything. His friend noticed and said loud enough for the auditorium to hear "Dude, are you crying?". This had me in tears. Even though the show was finished, I told him that it didn't mean that the friendships he had created in the cast were nos finished too.

And now, this Monday morning, Krekvars has passed. In the words of Ingrid Jonker that we said in CHASING “Alles wat breek, val of eindig” (Everything that breaks, falls or ends). Krekvars has come to pass. And if I’ll be here again next year I don’t know. But this year, I was on stage, and I have moments that I can hold on to.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Keeping it Krekvars!

This week the craziness in my life reached new heights with opening of the Krekvars Student Arts Festival here at the University of Pretoria Campus. I landed in Johannesburg late last Saturday evening, downloaded my script, and started rehearsing Sunday morning at 10. Since then I’ve been pulling eight am to 10pm rehearsals to get the three shows I’m involved in ready to go on the planks this week!
I landed in Johannesburg last Saturday evening. When I got home I downloaded my script and started rehearsing on Sunday morning at 10. I finshed that evening at 11 and the rest of my week carried on in a smiliar fashion with 8 am mornings and finishing after 9 in the evenings. All this in an attempt to get the three shows I'm in ready to go on the planks this week at the Kekvars Student Arts Festival held at the University of Pretoria.

Now, obviously, with my schedule as it is there is little to no time to wash my car, and this ingenious bystander decider to share (I’m assuming) his frustrations on my car! I found this after a rehearsal on camus:

I'll give him this... it's original! Unperturbed I drove around with this message for a week!

Friday brought about another performance of CHASING for the press opening at Krekvars, and I do believe that we as a cast really outdid ourselves. We were informed, however, before our performance that the Dean of Humanities would be attending the performance. Not only was the funding for the show to go to Washington riding on the quality of the performance at the Press Opening, but also extra funding for the drama department. So basically, if we screwed up we would be in the popular position of being the reason why next year’s shows have no budgets. Not exactly where I would I like to be. I looked at my director when we were informed of this: “No pressure hey”.

I am happy to report that we did do really well and if we don’t to overseas, or if we don’t go to Washington I think we as a cast will still be proud of what we did.

Now Krekvars is quite a small festival when it comes to festivals, and its mostly productions from local students that play here. I was exceptionally lucky that I got cast in my second year of studies to perform in a show that went to The National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. After my first year the older students were celebrities who did well at Krekvars, but before I even had the chance to perform at Krekvars myself I learned that the world of the arts is much, MUCH bigger than a few 45 minute shows at Krekvars. Each university had their own celebrities from their shows, and I was just one performer of many in the over 300 shows that are on the planks in Grhamstown for 10 days. I didn’t get the opportunity to feel like a celebrity at Krekvars because I knew what was waiting outside the gates of the Universtiy. Real life is quite scary. But none the less, Krekvars is a great experience and always promises to be a lot of fun for everyone who’s working and performing at Krekvars. It is also a good testing ground for shows, and a good motivation to get them finished!

Tomorrow and Saturday I do 3 performances on each day of three different shows. It’s wild ride doing what we do. But after all the craziness of the last three weeks, come Monday, I need to start looking for the next adventure!

Now while I'm at it, Catch KNEES, CHASING and SUIKERBOSSIE tomorrow and Saturday at The Masker Theatre at the University of Pretoria!
KNEES: Friday at 11:30 at Saturday at 13:00
CHASING: Friday at 17:30 and Saturday at 20:30
SUIKERBOSSIE: Friday at 16:00 and Saturday at 22:00

Monday, 9 July 2012

Chasing an audience!

I did not post last week, as I climbed in a quantum last Monday morning to travel to Grahamstown for the opening of CHASING (directed by Nicola Haskins) at the National Arts Festival. Two days of travel, many stops for Wimpy coffee by our cast members (and rooibos tea for me) a pub and Bed and Breakfast in Colesburg and we arrived in Grahamstown ready to perform.

The wall at the Horse and Mill Pub in Colesburg, where in 2009 the cast of Three Wall Temple, which I was in, wrote their names on the wall. It was amazing to return and see it again this year.


Saturday evening, at 22:30 at the Centenary Hall in Grahamstown we started our last performance of CHASING for the National Art’s Festival. Now, finding an audience to watch a show by a university little known for physical theatre and a thousand kilometres from our friends and family is a challenge. Even though we are doing what has been considered by the few who have seen CHASING to be a fantastic show, we struggled to get audiences. 

Last year the same director, and almost exactly the same cast, won a Standard Bank Ovation Award for the piece we took to The National Arts Festival. Last year we also performed 6 shows at the beginning of the festival in comparison to the four we did this year, and last year we only really started drawing audiences with our fifth and sixth shows. This year we ate a healthy serving of humble pie. Our first show was free, so we had a relatively large audience. Our second show we had about 30 people. Our third show we performed to an audience of 5 and for our ten thirty show that evening we had had no pre-booked tickets, even though an audience member of our first show considered it to be so good that we got invited to perform at the Fringe festival in Washington DC. We learned the value of an intensive marketing strategy this year.

After learning that we had no pre-sold tickets for our last performance our director, Nicola Haskins, and my long-suffering boyfriend hit the streets and pubs of Grahamstown with a pocket full of complementary tickets to try and bribe an audience into watching our show. Between the two of them they managed to hand out 30 tickets to pub-hoppers, drinkers and generally bored students at Grahamstown’s Long Table and we eventually did our best show so far to an audience of about 15 complementary tickets. Thank heavens the university was footing the bill and we were not at the festival to try and make any money.

Making a living from a show, or simply covering your costs is so much more than simply putting on a good show. You need to market your show like mad. Posters and flyers and engaging with potential audience members and creating hype on social media are all part of the process, and something which our more inexperienced cast members didn’t realise. Part of being an actor is ‘whoring’ yourself for an audience.  We awaited any news as to our potential audience with baited breathe. Breathe was baited for different reasons. Some cast members were hoping that we wouldn’t have to perform in the cold. I was hoping that my boyfriend and Nicola would pull the metaphorical rabbit out of Grahamstown and we would perform to an audience greater than 5. Nicola returned, claiming that all thirty comps had been given out, and that my boyfriend had been superb in chatting up potential audience members. To this I received, with the greatest respect: “What a good little whore you have”.
“Yip, and I’m the pimp!”  

Speaking to people, getting them excited about your product, about the brand that you have created is as much part of what we do as the acting and dancing and warming up. For me it’s not simply ok to accept that we didn’t have an audience for our last show. I felt that we had gone all the way there, travelled and worked to get a good piece together and that accepting the fact that we did not have an audience for our last show was a great defeat in my eyes. Especially as I had performed our first show that day on an injured knee.

I somehow managed to damage my left knee during the second run of our show. I felt fine during the day, as I climbed the stairs in the evening I realised that something wasn’t right. By the next afternoon, before our third show I had, what one of the cast members described, as one thin knee and one fat knee which could neither extend properly nor bend entirely. I panicked. I considered cortisone injections, amputation and suicide. I had to perform two dancing shows in the freezing cold of Grahamstown, and I know that as an actor you are only as good as your last performance. I knew I had to do them well, and that doing them well was the only option. A cast member asked me if I was going to ask our director to perhaps cancel the show, seeing as we had no pre-booked tickets. I replied, simply, that doing so is career kamakazi. I would bite on my teeth.

My director was quite concerned, and called in one of the lecturers in the cast that had performed before us. She looked at my leg and her first words were “Don’t over medicate yourself”. I found this amazing, because the first thing I wanted to do when offered anti-inflammatory medication was to swallow the entire cartridge. She then recommended ice, and performing so well from the waist up the no-one even looked at my pumpkin knee. My director was amazing, and we quickly decided where it would be appropriate for me to perhaps stand out of the choreography or change it. I slapped on a deep-freeze plaster, swallowed some pain killers and did the show. The evening show was much harder due to the cold, but I survived and we did two amazing performances to our limited audience. I’d been in a serious car accident before, and my body feels worse for wear today than it did then. I’m stiff and sore from performing in the cold and I look like a pirate with my fat knee. I have a few days of rest before I fly back up to Pretoria to start the process all over again, and I couldn’t be happier. We are already making plans for the show that we will be taking to the National Arts Festival next year.