Sunday, 26 July 2015

Keeping It Fresh And Making A Move

On Monday I got to attend the opening of what had always been the Krêkvars Student Arts Festival, but is now the Krêkvars-Kopanong Student Arts Festival. "Krêkvars" is a play on an afrikaans saying that means something is so fresh that it cracks. I have no idea what Kopanong means.  I’ve been part of this drama festival for the past seven years, and I’m even in the Festival’s Facebook profile picture and on the website. This year is the first year that I won’t be performing in or directing at least one production. Attending the opening made me realise why.

This image is from Three Wall Temple directed by Nico Scheepers and is the image the Krêkvars-Kopanong Festival uses for media. The photo was taken by Christiaan Harris with, from top to bottom: Luan Jacobs, Gopala Davies, myself Chandre Bo, Werner Coetzee and Brinsley Motsepa.

The Krêkvars Student Arts Festival started as a platform for the Honours directing students at the drama department to create and direct theatre and was the platform via which they could showcase their work. Later the third year drama students obligatory became part of this process for their acting marks. The festival grew over the past 15 years and has become a space in which students and young writers, directors and actors form every walk of life can create and showcase their work at a minimum cost. Although there are a lot of outside shows now, there has always been a majority of Tuks, and old Tuks students creating shows with the current set of Drama students. I have performed at the opening evening which was always held the Saturday evening before the Monday opening of the festival at least three times over the past few years. Although the festival was a cornerstone in my education, learning about performance and theatre in some ways it had become a wall for me. Keeping me safe in an area where people knew me and respected my work.

This year I didn’t have the capacity to enter. I’m now living far away from the people I know and that I could potentially work with.  I had rehearsed and performed for a corporate event and been to Europe in the time when I would have needed to be working on a show. And if I had entered a show for the festival I would most likely have missed out on my own personal growth and the growth of my marriage the unplanned excursion to Europe had offered me. It just wasn’t possible for me to enter a show this year, although I was still very aware of entering dates, closing dates and when the festival was to start.

The week before the festival opened I said to my husband that I found it odd that I hadn’t received an invitation for the opening as I was still a Masters student and we were always invited. A day later I received a message saying that I was invited to the Festival Opening, on the Monday evening when the festival had already started. This year with a new name and a new time for the press-opening I now had to choose which show I wanted to watch as two were to be performed, and I had to pay an entrance fee for my husband (in the past I was always able to take a plus one with me at no cost). It was different. Very different. 

As we walked to the noise on the grounds of my alma mater and my beloved drama department my husband asked:

“Are you going to know anyone here”

I knew at least two of my friends would be there for certain.

“Probably not. Maybe.”

The strung fairy lights, gas heaters and lit trees of the Drama Department quad that hosted the speeches of the official opening at the University of Pretoria.
As we walked into the highly excitable crowd of actors and dangling fairy lights I heard my name being called by people who had studied there before me, people who were younger and I had directed and worked with and were all at the opening in various capacities. Some as current post-grad students, some as directors for shows running at the festival and some just because they had nothing better to do on a Monday evening. The general confusion as we tried to figure out what was to happen next as the invitation was vague and trying to find a glass of wine that the first years who were supposed to be working hadn’t already downed in a dark corner somewhere was familiar. For a moment I remembered what it was like when I was still an undergrad student. And then I bumped into an old friend who I had worked with a lot, but had not seen in a while due to work and proximities. 

“We only had two weeks of rehearsal for the festival” he told me.

“I pulled out of a presentation so that I could focus my attention on the show”

The presentation he had pulled out of was with a friend of mine who I strongly believe is going places. And the presentation he had pulled out of was for at television channel. Only he will know if the call he made was the right call. But I realised if our places had been switched it wouldn't have been the call I would have made.

This year I have heard from actors of all levels of experience, and inexperience, semi-celebrity and complete unknown that our industry has been eerily quiet. I’ve felt it in the declining amount of castings I’ve attended in our winter months. So as much as I understand wanting to be in the walled-in safety of the festival I realised on Monday evening that it was time for me to move on. To try to get my work into bigger festivals. To work with new people as well as the familiar ones. To embrace the new city I’m living in. If I want to be seen as a professional and not just a student I should starting acting and working like one. It's time to ditch the student card and grab a set of keys for the big world.

As we left the festival at an early hour as my husband had to work in the morning and I had various tasks that required my attention I was filled with nostalgia. The festival was so different from what I had been used to and I couldn't expect it to stay perfect in time for my annual return. It had grown and become something different and it's time for me to take that cue.
You know its Festival time if you're drinking red wine form a plastic glass. Or a styrofoam glass...

Monday, 13 July 2015

Mastering It!

If all goes well I will hand in my dissertation before the end of this month. My dissertation has been by the proof reader and will be returned to me shortly and in the next day or two I should have finished my article. It's been 3 and half years of writing, re-writing, frustration, slide-shows, presentations, swearing, blood, sweat and tears. And there were times when I loved it. When I got home from a meeting with my study supervisor and it felt like all the work was coming together.

This year has been particularly interesting with regards to trying to work on my Masters. 10 days before my wedding I handed in the first full draft of my dissertation. I had a moment of glory before I fell completely into final preparations before my wedding. Coming back from honeymoon we had the basics in place in our house. The kettle and the couches and the beds were all there. But there were boxes of things, and bits and pieces of wedding leftovers everywhere which required attention.

So somewhere between auditioning, trying to put our new life together in a new city and getting a handle on eating healthy, meal preparations, and being a new wife finding the time for my Masters has been challenging. 

And as I stand at the precipice of finishing, I got asked something very interesting this weekend.

On Saturday I did a casting, and after waiting for three hours I did my ID in front of the camera and for the first time ever I was asked:

“Are you studying?”

“I’m finishing my Masters”

“In what?”

“Gender in South African cinema”

“Wow. That’s fantastic.”

Monday, 6 July 2015

The jet-set life is going to kill me.

When you work freelance plans are never easily made. Personal plans and travel plans are always placed on hold. Because you always hope that something will come up. A casting, an audition or maybe just, something that pays. Inevitably what happens is after eventually deciding to make a plan the night before you get an email from your agent and you end up cancelling on the last minute. Its an actors way of life.

And so after a meeting with a corporate to see if I would work for their show (who I cannot and will not name in the hope of being hired again) I got a phone call from my husband, quite literally as I got into my car to go back home:

“I have to go to Belgium for work. And you can come with”

Insert Friday evening date that my husband wanted us to leave

“And that way we get an extra weekend in Europe.”

Unfortunately the Friday my husband wanted to leave was the weekend of performances for the corporate I had just met with. Of course.

After one meet to see if I fitted the requirements all I knew was the rehearsal and performance dates, and that I fitted the requirements. And if of course, the “we’ll let you know” thing. I decided honesty was the best policy. And after settling on a minimal amount that I would do the contract for I phoned my contact at the company:

“I am not sure if you are planning on using me, but I just found out that I have an opportunity to go to Europe. So if you could let me know if you in fact want to use me, and what the contract details are so that I can decide about the opportunity I would really appreciate it. I don’t want to inconvenience anyone, and would like to let all parties know as soon as possible”

And then I waited. That evening I received a phone call. They wanted to use me and they were offering double the minimum we were going for. The decision was made, and I would be doing the contract. That left the trip to Europe. My husband wiggled the dates, and we would be flying on separate flights. As his work would be paying for his flight, and we would be paying for mine I was on a much cheaper flight, and it was also later in the evening. Which we desperately needed as I would be working until about 4 on Sunday afternoon.

Which meant that on Sunday, after performing and dancing the whole day I would basically be going to straight to the airport stopping only for a quick shower. My packed luggage and carry-on bag was standing ready by the front door when I left my house that morning already.

After performing I stopped at home where my brother was already waiting for me as my husband was already checking in for his flight. I showered in record time (for my sake as much as the people who would be stuck sitting next to me) and we were out the door. My special travel bag with my flight details, earphones and passport in hand. 3 hours before my flight I confidently walked towards the gate to board my flight. As the airport attendant for British Airways paged through my passport she asked for my other passport. I didn’t understand why.

“When you fly through Heathrow you require a UK transit Visa”

“No, there’s my Schengen Visa. I just have a layover in Heathrow, I’m not even leaving Terminal 5.”

“You still need a UK Transit Visa because you are South African”

As you can imagine, I went into full panic mode. And phoned my husband. My options were to change my flight, or to go and get the visa on Monday morning. Like a spreading virus my brother was on the phone with contacts of his to find out about the visa, as were my husbands parents.
A manager from the ground staff of British Airways came and spoke to me.

“Have you been to Europe before?”

“Yes, but my old Schengen Visa is in my passport that expired.”

“Which country did you fly through?”


“Have you been to America before?”

I had. My American Visa, issued 9 years before was still valid for a year. Although it was in my expired passport, back at home. Apparently if I had a US Visa I didn't need a UK Transit Visa.

“How far away do you live?”

We had enough time to go back to my house and get my old passport and be back in time for my flight. So we did.

My brother, like an ocean of calm, drove me back and forth as I fielded phone calls. My husband phoned and googled to make 100% sure that my US Visa would be sufficient. And in all the chaos no one we spoke to had ever heard about the UK Transit Visa. It wasn’t even mentioned on the British Airways website. But apparently it was required. As I run into my flat the electricity was off due to load shedding, but I knew exactly where my old passport was.

As I returned with my old passport containing my US Visa my husband was already boarding his flight. As I checked in my luggage I called to tell him I was making my flight. His aeroplane was already moving onto the runway. A minute later and he would have had to turn off his phone. We were both on our way to Belgium.

One of our only sunny days in Europe, exploring the city of Brugges after my husband's meeting.

A week into our trip my husband and I were sitting on the edge of the Seine drinking a bottle of wine after walking around Paris all day. As I took of my shoes I could still see the blisters all over my feet from performing the weekend before.