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- @Robyn_MacLarty A Tavola is amazing! It's a bit like being in a South-Africa-in-the-1980s flashback, but with good food :-) 12 hours ago
- @Anne_Hirsch @Caspar_Lee Hirsch - you LET HIM GO!!! How could that happen??? #verybadday #whatwillbecomeofyounow 14 hours ago
- Ina May Gaskin wp.me/pmSlu-sf 18 hours ago
- RT @RichardDawkins: I get so bored by the mindless recitation, "Evolution is only a theory." It's not a "law" either, by the way. Evolution… 2 days ago
- Theatresports is on and happening tonight at the Kalk Bay Theatre, 8pm. Text 072 939 3351 to book! 3 days ago
It’s been a busy time around here, but also filled with abundant surprises.
This is a picture of a small lemon tree that stands in a barrel at the end of the garden. The lemon tree struggles a bit: I forget to water the barrels in summer, and they’re susceptible to getting nasty sticky attacks on their leaves. Nonetheless, the little green lemon in the picture appeared today. It’s the second one to appear in about a year; a big fat yellow one had been hanging tenaciously for a couple of months, and finally got picked by Kolya this week. I wasn’t too sure what worthwhile purpose I could find for it (most lemons in our house get squished over pancakes – which just didn’t seem worthy of such a patiently awaited one-fruit harvest).
Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of the yellow lemon before chopping it up this morning when its moment presented itself. Dave was out fishing, Kolya was at his granny and grandpa’s, and I had the morning to prepare mother’s day lunch: homemade pasta, slow-cooked bolognese, and lemon bars, made kind of magically with a whole lemon blended up into a gooey, tart sort of mixture over a shortbread base.
And while all that was cooking, I got to drink tea and eat pieces of toast with an amazing eight-fruit marmalade that we received as a gift last night from the wonderful couple from whom we have bought our new house.
Kolya turned 5 at the beginning of May. We celebrated with a small braai with friends and family.
Today is the 7th of May. This morning I flicked through my diary. Since 7th April, we have…
sold a house, bought a house, rented an in-between house…
undergone two baby scans and a slightly scary screening test that spanned 5 days of anxious waiting (happily, all the doctors’ anxiety-inducing cautioning was unfounded, and all is fine)…
within the extended family, we’ve had 4 birthdays, including my dad’s 70th and Kolya’s 5th, 1 fancy dinner (former) and 1 pirate party (latter), 1 surprise visit from Joburg (also former), and 1 new baby cousin/nephew, with another expected tomorrow. Our baby has started kicking, though Dave and Kolya can’t feel it yet.
There have been 6 appointments for doctors or dentists, 6 days and about 5 sleepless nights with sick child, 1 school fundraiser. 1 overseas trip booked, 1 visa appointment postponed 4 times because so much else was going on. 4 swimming lessons, 1 banking nightmare, 1 ongoing Middle Eastern publishing project and 1 new African one. We’ve gotten to know our new neighbours as well as the lovely people who have, for the last ten years, been custodians of our wonderful new house. I’ve lost track of the hours spent poring over plans, researching the heritage of 1930s architecture, specifically the work of the architect that designed our house, and brainstorming the renovation works and budgeting for the rest of this year.
I’ve baked about 30 loaves of bread, performed in 4 shows, fitted in 4 improv classes, 3 singing classes, met my midwife, attended 2 hypnobirthing classes and 1 amazing improv workshop. The instruction from the hypnobirthing class is that I’m supposed to be as relaxed as possible as much as possible. Working on that still.
No idea what the next month has in store. Probably a lot of packing and moving (round one). Crazy times around here, folks.
Yesterday evening, I attended a talk given by William Kentridge, part of the Mentor & Protege program being showcased at the Baxter this weekend. Well, it was billed as a ‘workshop’, but it was more of a lecture, followed by a question-and-answer session. I was there with an art student friend who’d heard about it. It was funny and illuminating and surprising and delightful.
Next to me, my friend sat with a spiral notebook, jotting down occasional notes. On the other side of her sat a pair of women, one of whom pulled out a smartphone as the lecture started. The woman had a blunt-looking stylus, with which she also jotted down occasional notes. It struck me how thoroughly disruptive the highly reflective, illuminated smartphone screen was, and how utterly ineffective the stylus marks were – each word looked like an illegible squiggle, and I couldn’t help but wonder whether the woman was sorry not to have a good old notepad and pen. But she also a exuded a sort of excitement in her squiggling, so I figured perhaps this was a way of feeling she was engaging with the lecture, converting it to this odd document of electronic pen marks. I tried to dispel my own irritation at the disturbance; after all, there had been no announcement asking the audience to turn off their phones.
But then, five or ten minutes in, as Kentridge showed one of his animated films, the woman raised her smartphone to film or photograph it. I leaned over, touched her on the arm, and asked her please to stop. She looked highly annoyed, and hissed back “Why?” “It’s very disruptive,” I replied. She put it down, bristling somewhat and the lecture continued. I didn’t really think about it again until it ended, and she turned to me, still bristling with fury and delivered a monologue about her reasons for photographing the animation, ending by declaiming “You have very bad manners!” before she stormed off.
Thing is, if there’s no announcement before a public lecture or workshop or performance, what is the protocol regarding phones? I would have thought that the photographing or filming of any event in a public theatre space is a no-go area, unless permission has been explicitly granted. This woman seemed to suggest I was infringing on her right to experience/record this event. Is that the case? Surely not?
The thing is, smartphones are not just phones anymore. A smartphone is a telephone, it’s a camera, a videocamera, a dictaphone, a reference book, a notepad, a pencil and paper. It’s all of those things, in such a shiny hi-tech package that the person using it feels like they are increasing the value of an experience by mediating it with said phone. I just find myself wondering: at an event where you have paid for a ticket in order to be present, and others have done the same, do you have the right to hold up a recording device in the middle of it? Do you have the right to text in the palm of your hand, pretending the reflective glow of your phone isn’t interrupting the experience of anyone sitting around you? Maybe I’m hypersensitive, but the glow of a mobile phone four rows away in a cinema fills me with the furious desire to leap over the seats, rip it away from its inconsiderate user and send it skittering along the popcorn-strewn floor, never to be seen again.
Little makes me feel like such a curmudgeonly Luddite as the appearance of a mobile phone at a dinner table. Surreptitious texting/BBM-ing is the worst. Surreptitious checking of texts/emails/BBMs comes in a close second. It is perhaps forgivable in teenagers, who have neither the self-control nor sufficient self-awareness to realise that they might as well be sending up a flare saying “I’d rather be elsewhere”; “I’d rather be talking to someone else”; or, more accurately: “I just have to check what’s going on in case there’s something cooler happening/being said somewhere other than here.”
To me, the intrusive mobile phone interaction is all about being not-present. You are not present with the people around you; you are declaring your disinterest in, and disregard for, the here and now. Ironically, there is seldom a conscious choice here; it’s as likely that the texter is checking a junk mail email or bulk SMS as they are checking anything of actual interest. We simply live in times where our phones and computers endlessly promise that a bell is about to ring heralding some gift-nugget of information or experience or surprise that is not on offer in the very real present.
I like blogging. I like texting and tweeting. I check my email and Facebook and Twitter and blogs as much as the next technophile. I let my child play on my iPad at restaurants and coffee shops and social gatherings. But is there not some middle ground, where we recognise that, in some settings, an electronic device is an interruption, an intrusion? And that – despite the ubiquity of the devices – recording on them in a public setting raises both copyright issues and permission issues. And consideration issues. There are ways of embracing technology without turning into an inconsiderate shmuck.
So the following little Twitter conversation turned up on my feed today:
Now Twitter is a funny place. It’s a place of public conversation and dialogue, but it’s also a place where, in a way, we eavesdrop on each other’s conversations. I’ve never met any of these women, but I know, via various grapevines of social and other media, who they are. I’ve read (and enjoyed and identified with) some of Marianne Thamm’s columns; I haven’t read Margie Orford’s books, but I know she’s a fiction writer; and @simpleintrigue is not someone I’ve heard of, but her Twitter handle links to a blog that seems to turn her into an artist and writer called Keri Muller. So in the funny old village that is Cape Town/the internet/the world, I can kinda figure out the voices behind these words.
Why does it matter who the voices behind these words are? Why does this little conversation matter at all? Why does it matter to me? This blog post is my attempt to figure out the answers to those questions, I think.
See, it starts with that little comment: “Melissa’s Newlands: where the white tribe gathers…” See, if you didn’t know the social context of Cape Town, of the divisions and tensions and identity struggles in this little town, you’d have difficulty decoding that line. See, she’s not saying, “where the tribe gathers” or even “where our tribe gathers”. That would suggest a sense of belonging with the tribe. No, no, no, quite the opposite. This is the white tribe. This is the too-white tribe, in fact. The too-white tribe, from which Ms Thamm feels vast distance. That Other Tribe, that silly, despicably shallow, overprivileged tribe. To which she simply doesn’t feel any sense of belonging.
Oh, I get it. I get the stifling claustrophobic what-the-actual-fuck sense you can get, ordering wildly overpriced coffee and almond tart, looking around at the soccer moms, the Botoxed, tancanned trophy wives of the southern suburbs, nipping in for lunch (it seems) between the Pilates and the school run. I get it that the idea of a coffee at Melissa’s seemed kind of a nice treat (or just the most convenient place for a meeting that had to be somewhere between Rondebosch and Claremont), til you found yourselves seated there amongst the rest of a target market, wondering whether, by being there, you doom yourself to being lumped in among the horrifying homogeneity of the white suburban middle-ageing elite. Oh yuck, ne?
Oh, I know the cringe that comes with watching the 4x4s mount the pavement, power steering twirling under French manicured NailBar nails. These are SUV drivers whose idea of the Big Five is Cavendish, the V&A, Giovanni’s, Woollies and – well, yes – Melissa’s. There’s something so very awful and predictable and narrow about this universe. Something a little inauthentic about those towers of handmade strawberry preserves (not just jam here) and “rustic” breads sitting as a backdrop to shrill conversations about private-school kids or what the plastic surgeon said or how much the divorce is costing.
Oh, surely we do not belong to this awfulness? Oh, surely we have a sense of belongingness to something more authentic, more diverse, more Real than all this? I mean, after all, I live below the line/ I am an artist/writer/critic/intellectual (and you can fill in your escape clause here). Yes? No? Or: maybe, just maybe, the problem is the harsh, harsh stereotyping – and massive fear of stereotyping – that’s sitting a little too neatly hidden behind this critique.
Oh, I know the desire to narrow one’s eyes and lump them together, these white women of the south, the desire to distance yourself from them. I get the desire every time I see myself trundling a trolley of groceries out of the Woollies at Palmyra, sighing a bit at the parking congestion, feeling like I’ve turned into a caricature of a suburban housewife, stressing about getting home in time for the nanny. Stressing about traffic. Stressing about nothing, really.
But the problem with these stereotypes is that there is no escape from them. The problem with these stereotypes is that they’re racist and sexist, and that the women of the southern suburbs (or in Joburg, the northern suburbs) may well get very trapped by them.
Oh, I know it, girls. But I also know the unease that I feel when I see women – white women, privileged women, South African women, intelligent women – so very very disparaging and so very dismissive of their sisters. Each of these women you would dismiss as too suburban, too ordinary, too boring – move a little closer to their lives, scratch the surface somewhat. You might find someone that surprises you in one way or another. You might find someone that easily fits into the White Tribe vision when you glance her way and see her as part of a blurry crowd. But that’s the thing with stereotypes. They’re a bit blinding, a bit unfair. They’ll hide reality from you, and you’ll miss a whole lot of gems along the way.
It bothers me that “white” is shorthand for inauthentic, shallow, unworthy. It bothers me that there’s an element of self-loathing in there. At some level, it’s not really okay to be an ordinary, white, middle-aged middle-class woman in this country. It’s perceived as too cushy, too narrow-focused, too privileged, too something. And I’d be interested to ask the Marianne Thamms of this world, the Margie Orfords of this world, how they get over the violently silencing effect of this particular stereotyping. I know many, many women who will never voice their opinions or write their novels because of this social duct tape.
It bothers me that these women – this handful that DO have public, prominent voices – buy into this. Ja, the coffees in Melissa’s may be overpriced, honeys. But no more so than those at Superette or The Kitchen. And these are the women that buy Fair Lady and read your column, and that buy your novels for their book clubs. These women are you too.
The multiply horrendous tragedy of Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp. Where does one start? Despite myself, I’ve been gripped by the unfolding of this terrible case, along with the rest of the country, the rest of the world. I knew who the guy was (more or less) before this story broke – that Olympic runner without legs. I didn’t know anything much more than that. I wish nothing had happened to focus my attention on him any more acutely than that. But this. This.
I totally understand that folks are getting uneasy with the deluge of attention this case is getting. I sort of understand the desire to make the hysteria go away. But whenever a story grips me, becomes an obsession – be it a novel, or a news story or an urban legend, or even just an individual – I can’t help a stronger desire to understand: what’s going on here? What does this story tap into? Why does this person capture the imagination as they do?
So I’ve been a bit stalkerish about it. (Along with 80,000 others) I’ve followed Barry Bateman (and about twenty other journalists) on Twitter. I’ve read the analysis that’s come out in the critical papers. I’ve gasped at the sensationalist non-analysis that’s come out in the tabloid press. And, so far, the most coherent and thought-provoking thing I’ve read has been Mike van Graan’s extraordinary article in the Guardian.
Van Graan notes the striking timing of the Pistorius-Steenkamp tragedy. It unfolded on the day of the State of the Nation address, and it more dramatically summed up the state of our nation than anything Zuma had to say that day. Almost every struggle, every contradiction, every subterranean war being battled out in everyday South African life, is encapsulated in this terrible story.
Van Graan looks into our obsession with sporting heroes, and their magical ability to unite us as a nation – and to rip us apart:
The 1995 Springbok rugby team and Pistorius reflect how sport and sporting heroes have a way of uniting the nation – at least across racial lines. And when such heroes fall, they reveal how fickle and fragile such national racial harmony is when it is united around a temporary emotion associated with winning, or even around a personality, rather than a set of values, principles or ideals. By contrast, the Constitution, premised on values, principles and ideals, is a vain ambition that struggles to take root in our lived reality or day-to-day relationships.
He points out how the story casts a harsh light on our stressed and strained justice system, in some ways so forward-thinking, so progressive, and in other ways as riddled with inequalities and failings as our hideous national health system. For those who have the money to pay for it, legal advice is available, privately, for payment via EFT or credit card. For those who don’t, well:
While the wealthy Paralympian athlete is able to appoint an experienced team of advocates to defend him in court and to appoint an international spin doctor to defend him in the court of public opinion, thousands of poorer accused spend, on average, two years in custody awaiting their trials. The state of the nation is such that equality before the law is rendered nonsense by a justice system that serves the rich significantly better than it does the poor.
Indeed. And although he doesn’t touch on it, there are echoes and parallels in there with our even more dysfunctional healthcare system. In a textbook I wrote last year, we had a glorious photo of the “Blade Runner” to illustrate the ways that modern medical technologies have changed, transformed and improved human life. Pistorius’ triumph is one assisted by cutting-edge technologies. And his access to those technologies is almost entirely determined by the lottery by which all South Africans either have or don’t have access to first-world privileges and lifestyle. And it’s not just a black-white thing. It’s not even a white-guilt thing. In post-Nkandla South Africa, it’s definitely not a blame-apartheid thing. It’s a bristling contradiction that even those of us who have lived here all our lives can never fully get to grips with. The bizarre mix of white guilt, middle class guilt, bleeding-heart liberalism, endemic racism, reverse racism, xenophobia, so-called black economic empowerment, the double-cross of fat cat corruption… it all simmers under the surface there.
But – most, most, most – what this story highlights, is the grim, vast and unknowable extent of violence in this country:
As exemplified by Pistorius, South Africa is a violent country. Violence is endemic to our society from the structural violence of poverty and inequality that assaults the dignity and depraves the humanity of millions of people, the criminal violence reflected in the high incidence of assaults, robberies, hijackings, murder and farm attacks, the violence that accompanies service-delivery protests and the violence of the state in dealing with such protests, to the domestic violence that afflicts our society, the incidents of road rage and school bullying. The proliferation of guns in such a society, ostensibly to protect innocents from the prevailing violence, appears to increase the levels of violence and contribute (as in the case of Pistorius) to the execution of acts of violence.
Yes. Exactly that. The timing was triply grim, coming as it did in the wake of the Anene Booysen horror story that unfolded earlier this month. Gut-wrenchingly, Reeva Steenkamp had posted on Twitter only days earlier a comment acknowledging that violence, particularly its dangers for women, in South Africa – a country where men murdering their wives/partners is a daily occurrence. She tweeted: “I woke up in a happy safe home this morning. Not everyone did.”
Mike van Graan’s assertion – “We are all Oscar Pistorius. Oscar Pistorius is us.” – hits home darkly. This story taps into every fear, every contradiction that we live with every day in SA. We live in a world of such gruesome crime and violence, it’s entirely possible that someone could – mistakenly, tragically, in an eruption of fearful paranoia – kill the one they most love. We live in a world of such corruption and duplicity, it’s entirely possible that someone could – horrifyingly – dissemble and create a story to cover a more sinister murder plot.
The story forces us to consider all the possibilities, to consider a man as a more complex, nuanced, contradictory – and human – creature than the usual distinctions can offer. The usual black/white distinctions – hero/villain, good/evil, guilty/innocent – somehow blur into a scary, uncontrollable mess. The hero who overcame adversity and united a country in sporting triumph, he’s still there. And yet he has blood on his hands. Whether he intended it or not, she will never come back. Even if he’s innocent of premeditation, he’s guilty of a very, very stupid and terrible mistake. And if it was premeditated, does it make his earlier achievements and glories less heroic? Somehow not.
Watching the hysteria of the bail hearings unfold, all I see is a 26-year-old boy, distraught at having made an unbelievably massive, tragic, personal mess. In the epicentre of an unbelievably massive, tragic, national mess that both had nothing to do with him, and created him.
Today I walk my son to school. It’s about 700 m from our house to his pre-primary school.
Along our road, past the pub, where last night’s mountain of bottles will be picked up later by the Wasteman truck on its daily round. We pass the pizza restaurant. We talk about maybe going to eat early pizza this evening. He’s excited about the idea.
We head up Kenilworth Road. I grip his hand tightly and feel my heart thud a bit when cars scream past us, 10 or 20 km over the speed limit for this thin suburban road. The drivers’ lips tighten in fury and frustration when they see the booms at the train station closed up ahead. I know that feeling: trapped on the wrong side of the train line, at traffic hour. But there is always a stream of cars that forget the closing times. We see them speed down first avenue, adding their stress to the pile-up in Lansdowne Road.
I’m wearing black today. It’s #BlackFriday around here. Elsewhere that’s a day of sales and shopping. Here it’s a day to acknowledge the crisis of violence, assault and rape that faces women in this country. A crisis that’s been brutally highlighted in the events of the last two weeks. I don’t see anyone else wearing black, though, as we walk. We weave our way through the nannies and labourers and shopworkers streaming out of the train station.
Street fashion around the station is elegant, vibrant, surprising. A young woman with bits of shell woven into her long black braids, an apple green T-shirt, a printed skirt. Women call out “Morning Kolya and Kolya’s-mom!”
We walk under the subway at the station. I get a pang of anxiety as Kolya runs ahead. Ahead where I can see you is fine. The second you are out of sight, in the subway of a train station, not so fine. This would be the same anywhere in the world, no? No?
Now round the corner where the workmen have gradually been paving the walkways with beautiful pink and ochre cobblestones, and painting new zebra crossings. Past the taxis screaming into Claremont, and the bakkies heading towards Lansdowne, and the school parents lifting or walking kids to school, and the commuting suits. Past the four homeless people sitting on crates washing their faces from the open drainwater. Round into the neat matrix of lower Kenilworth houses. Past the one with the ‘Sold’ sign on it, that we almost set our hearts on. Past its neighbours, lovely old stone houses with big, quiet leafy gardens, old and regal. Behind one of the hedged fences, I hear a trickling fountain.
From here the walk is quieter. We cross each road carefully. There are fewer people walking, and it’s the part where Kolya gets a bit tired. I rush him slightly to get to to the road that the school is in, where there are more people, security guards in a hut on the corner. And into the school, where it’s all hello’s and remembering to put your fruit in the bowl for sharing, and off to play, to brave the scary playground.
Now it’s my turn to walk home alone. I have no watch or ring on me, as sometimes I fear that someone will hurt or break me for these things. If someone chooses to hurt or break me for what I can’t leave at home – my body – I will not be able to phone for help, because my BlackBerry is also a risky thing to carry. Alone, I am even more aware of the suburban roads where no one else is walking. No one is fine. One person is ok if it’s a woman, not ok if it’s a man. Elderly men are ok. Younger men not so much. Yesterday there was a man sauntering slowly ahead of me with a wire coat hanger in his pocket. I didn’t want to think what a man could do with a wire coat hanger, if he was so inclined.
When younger men walk ahead, I slow down to make sure they turn a corner ahead of me. I navigate my walk so that I don’t reach the lower road alongside the train line to soon, too far from the station. Too many taxi’s speeding past, and they slow down and whistle and yell. Even just the innocuous “Claremont?!!” elicits an unwanted surge of adrenaline to my stomach.
Back down past the station. This time, the subway is more deserted. I try not to think what could happen in a deserted subway. Back to the busier roads closer to our house, that feels safer.
Wearing black today feels pointless, hopeless. It feels to me like there has never been a darker, more twisted time to live in South Africa. I close my eyes and see a teenage girl, conscious enough to speak, her intestines lying around her in the sand. I see men whose lips thin with silent rage. I see uniforms that hide and obscure humanity. This is where we live. We are at the mercy of drivers ragged with road rage, and men with coat hangers in their pockets. And somewhere, a fountain flows, just out of reach.
I was six years old when I watched some other kids do a little dramatisation of The Town and the Country Mouse at our school, in furry costumes, with face paint. I watched in complete rage and upsetment. I DID NOT want to be sitting cross-legged in the school hall watching the other mice. I wanted to be up there, a mouse.
By the following year, I had dragged my mom off to sign me up for the local drama ‘studio’. It was a one-woman show, that largely centred around teaching girls from our school ‘elocution’, ‘deportment’ and some of the terminology of stagecraft. I learned words like upstage, downstage and exit stage left. I knew what a prompt and a cue were. Character meant the name before the colon before the line you had to learn off by heart. I learned lots of lines off by heart. And I spent most of the next ten years being told that a) tall girls can never play leads, b) tall girls should stick to the back of the stage so as not to block or upstage anyone else and c) I should focus on my other skills as I was pretty much doomed to play The Mother or The Witch in any self-respecting production. I was also told I should try to improve my modern dancing skills, as performers had to be good all-rounders. It would be fair to say this was not the most affirming experience of my life.
Nonetheless, I was nothing if not determined, and I stuck it out. I endured the years of Cape Town Drama Eisteddfodds, Trinity College Drama exams, reciting poetry and trotting out dramatic monologues in a black lycra leotard and something called an “acting skirt”. My mother collected the growing pile of merits and honours and distinctions in a folder which she kept in a cupboard with her old handbags.
Somewhere, overseas, there was a world where you could study drama at something called a drama school, where you got a mysterious, coveted thing called an agent, and got sent through the ultimate hoop of fire, the audition, where someone would Discover you and Make You A Star. It all sounded utterly seductive, and spectacularly unlikely. When I got to drama school in Grahamstown, I hid the acting skirt in my cupboard. We rolled around on the floor in track suits, and learned neutral breathing. We read about Brecht and Brook and Grotowski, and Stanislavski, and dreamed up crazy physical theatre productions where we flooded the stage with sand, or apples, or water, and played with light, and painted canvases with our feet. No one commented on my elocution or deportment. There were very few auditions.
Skip forward a few years. After a couple of years of sitting alongside models in Cape Town commercials castings, I threw my luck in with the publishing industry and became a writer and editor. The thrill of performing in front of an audience was packed away, somewhere, an unlikely idea that didn’t really have a place in an adult life.
Til one day, on a whim, I auditioned for a musical that was holding public auditions. I hadn’t sung in years (and it showed), but the script was fun, and I prepared a character that sounded real to me. The scriptwriter was there. She knew I wouldn’t get into the show, but she had another idea. Come to one of our improv workshops, she said. Come learn to play.
So I did. For the first time in 15 years, I played games and made up characters and lines of dialogue. None of it mattered - there was no audition hoop to jump through, no director to seduce, no lines to learn, even. It was just playful. And terrifying. And playful.
The next few years were tough. I was a novice improvisor, and I was very, very scared. I tried very hard to impress, and the harder I tried, the worse I failed. I came onstage without an offer. I came onstage with an offer and without a character choice. I blocked. I didn’t listen. I came home from performances and raged over the thousands of brilliant choices I could have made, if I’d relaxed enough to let them in. If I’d relaxed enough not to second-guess my first idea.
My fellow players gave me notes – sometimes the same notes over and over. I refused to believe them. I thought others were blocking my brilliant ideas, failing to accept or listen to my offers. I wondered whether it was hopeless, whether there was any point to this awful trial. I wondered whether they would eventually kick me out. I gritted my teeth and resolved to stick it out. But I can fairly say that for at least two and a half years, I didn’t really get it.
Then something happened. Something called longform improv. A bunch of players came back from Australia, with a trailblazing arsenal of new stuff. New ideas, new games, new ways of allowing stories to unfold. They came back with so much energy, so much love and enthusiasm, they invited us all in to play, to try, to risk everything all over again, and to fuck up unconditionally. Scariest of all, they brought a thing called a Soapathon: a 12-hour soap opera marathon that we would play out in September 2012.
I was utterly afraid. I was a bit angry that I was going to have to do something so big and so scary, when I barely felt capable to play our usual hour-long shows. But I decided to step into the fear and do it anyway. The workshops, with a visiting Australian improv teacher, were enticing. We learned to slow down our scenes. We learned to connect with emotional truths of characters instead of pounding out storylines. We learned to whittle down a scene to a single idea, and leave the next thing for the next scene. Three hours into the Soapathon, something shifted. Something to do with letting characters unfold slowly, in their own time. Something to do with watching a story create itself, through collaboration.
It was magical, it was transformative. People who watched didn’t believe this stuff was made up. We couldn’t believe we’d done it. We were high on it for weeks. Since then, it’s felt like the improv bug has caught and crackled through each of us like wildfire. Five new actors have joined the team; it feels like numbers are swelling. Audience support is catching on. And the team feels like a family – in some ways, a family addicted to the thrill of making stuff up, making magic onstage.
This week, we’re running the second week of a two-week improv fest. We’re playing longform Western, period drama, musicals, and doing a competitive directing format called SuperScene. The audiences have been amazing. The shows have been amazing. Mind-stretching, heart-stretching, transformative. Hi, my name is Lisa and improv has changed my life.