Thursday, 11 February 2010

Monday 8 February 2o1o:

I didnt get a good night sleep, not really worried, but more excited about starting tomorrow. This is the part I understand, the rehearsing. This is the part that I know best, so have the greatest chance of failing. I am confident, but after 7 years of waiting, needless to say I am a bit nervous.

Having met all of the actors last week, I come to the theatre ready to work. Everyone is there on time, having done their homework of reading the transcripts & the chosen quotes and are ready to se e how this play develops.

Although they dont say it, I think that they are a bit sceptical about my process – that is, I have very few pre-consieved ideas of how the play should look. I want to stress the Leadership Qualities of the Veterans as well as the Shakespearian characters, but other than that, the sky is blue. I guess that it is a bit nerve wracking, but I believe in the pressure cooker form of creating art. Two weeks and out. I would have been bored in Russia. I want to, as Anne Bogart says, 'create a crisis' in order to get it out of the way. Plus, no matter what happens, save the end of the world, the 19th of February will come and it really doesn't care about my play. Like it or not, something will have to be presented on that day – the last day of the workshop process. So, I might as well enjoy the pressure.....

We begin the morning gently with a reading of the transcripts – we start with Kwede, Andrew& Ahmed, from the first interview conducted during the Research Phase in 2008

They had this to say at that time,

Ahmed Kathrada:
My trouble is, as I pointed out immediately, I just can’t imagine myself having chosen that passage. I don’t understand the passage. I don’t know what to say about it One has to read it in its context. I mean, I have got my Complete Works here which was with me on the island where I marked hundreds of passages - just things that I liked. This passage is not there. The passage made no impact on me. Years and years ago, I went through very hurriedly the Complete Works when I had nothing else to do, but there were passages that made an impact, which I can't off hand remember. Some of them of course I do... Off hand I remember, because I quoted it at the memorial service of Walter Sizulu, a former Robben Islander. I quoted that, 'His life was gentle; and the elements; So mixed in him, that Nature might stand up, And say to all the world, THIS WAS A MAN!

Andrew Mlengeni:
I agree with what Kathrada is saying. We were ill prepared for this interview especially because I don’t think that we were well informed as to what it is that you people want. What do you want us to do and so on and so forth. I said over the telephone this morning, I just had no idea, I said, 'What is this 'Robben Island Bible' ? What is it that people want to do? The quotation mentioned there was not chosen by me. Although somebody says that I marked it some years back. I don’t know the reason for me for choosing that quotation. But the one that I do slightly, I was trying to look for it right now and I can't find it - the one quotation that I always liked was the one that says, 'uneasy that lies the head that wears the crown.' And I understood that at that time, I don’t know if my understanding was correct but if you are a king.... today you can talk of the President... of a country.... but if you are a king, you you you don’t ever feel safe. You are always saying, 'Who's plotting to bring me down? Who's plotting against me?'

Kwede Mkalipi:
Well, more or less I agree with my colleagues here. I have also not sure what we are coming here for. So, because even this quote is not the quote that I had prepared myself. Well, ah, if I were to come in, I would also quote the same man Shakespeare, this same Macbeth that has been chosen because it always had a profound meaning to me. The passage I used to like very much was the one when Lady Macbeth, after he has done everything wrong, have to come out and then says, she says, 'All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.' And that sigh that says, 'Oh, oh, oh.' And then another person says, 'Oh, what a sigh is there! The heart is sorely charg’d.' So that was then that the meaning to me then that, eh, you know the teach us that Apartheid was done on the people. And then ah, I just likened it, you know, to Lady Macbeth to the type of system then that was existing. That, ah, whatever could have been done, nothing could ever purify this system of Apartheid and so then therefore, when, then she says, ' All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand', it meant then that you could bring everything in but the damage that is done by the system of Apartheid can never be repaid. And that is why it was said, the people was saying 'Let us go and kill the people who have done this.' It makes one want to kill them in order to get out of this. Because nothing can ever bring justice to what has happened to us. SO that is the system that it was.

We spend the morning with the transcripts and, although as actors naturally they wanted to get up and 'act' I know that it is important to establish the foundation of the play which are these transcripts & the chosen Shakespearian quotes. So, I keep steady the course.

After a while, the actors begin to relax into the transcripts and begin to find the humour and sadness in them,

Have they confirmed that Mobbs is dead?’ (Kw)
‘Yea, Mobbs is dead’ (Ka)
‘Ohhh,’ (Kw)
‘Actually, he disappeared from the face of the earth.’ (Ka)
‘Ohhh,’ (Kw)
‘So the suspicion was that while he was being smuggled out from Port Elizabeth to Lesotho, they captured him & killed him.’ (Ka)
‘He was killed by the police’ (Ml)
‘Ohhh, shame. But was his grave, Where was he grave found?’ (Kw)
‘No, nothing…’ (Ka)
‘We know that he was dead, but we don’t know where he was killed.’ (Ml)
‘This is just one of the speculations’ (Ka)
‘Mmmm,’ (Kw)
‘He was definitely killed by the police….’(Ml)
‘Every now & then we are reading of people’s graves who are being unearthed –
‘Mmmmmm,’ (Ml)
- last, about two weeks ago, they found about 11 graves?
‘Yes,’ (Kw)
The freedom park is going systematically to track down the graves of people who, their families don’t know where they were. If they were buried at all or they were dumped at sea. We just don’t know for some of them. But they are making all sorts of efforts to track them down
We are dealing with a vicious enemy…
‘Oh, yes.’ (Kw)
‘And the enemy had to be ruthlessly destroyed too. But we were not fortunately enough to destroy the enemy ruthlessly, (laughter). Because we ended that by by negotiations. But our intentions was to destroy the enemy ruthlessly when they were oh so ruthless to us. (ML)

So after spending the morning with the transcripts & Shakespeare quotes, in the afternoon, I ask them to compose scenes based on what they read that morning. They had to use minimum words to express their scene and any words used must be taken from the transcripts.

This was the first 'shot across the bow' for me as a director – if they understood this methodology of working,then the two weeks would be a joy, if they balked or held back, we would all be in trouble.

Needless to say, any worry about 'Storytelling' that was in my mind was quickly dismissed by the creative use of the transcripts to make three very different scenes.

I then asked them to perform a chosen text of their liking. 'I dont want an audition piece, but rather I want it to be read as a South African man (themselves today) or a South African Revolutionary (the former political prisoners on Robben Island).

The results were magic.... Omphile read the following text chosen by JB Vusani as a dejected teenager who cared less about humanity, the past & certainly didn't want to hear stories about the Struggle:

(As You Like It )

Act 2, scene 7 lines 140-145:

All the worlds a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;
Then the whining school-boy, with his satchel....

It was eye-opening to me.

I asked them to carry on reading the transcripts for perparation for tuesday.

I walked out of the rehearsal room floating. I was quiet & a bit overwhelmed. Finally after 7 years of 'talking' I am finally 'walking' and walking in the clouds.