Thursday, September 10, 2009

Make-over for 969

You are in the right place! You are still at the Paydirt blog, just that I have just replaced the first draft poster with our new-look poster.

The whole play has a new gloss - slicker transitions and lots more polish. You'll remember that our initial impulse was to look at the city through three different lenses - portrait, still life and landscape. So obviously, the portraits are the easy part. We've collected some beautiful stories, all based on the 'come to Egoli to seek your fortune' theme. I'm loving the way all these stories fuse, and mirror the heroine's central story.

The landscape part is a little trickier - there's so much we wanted to do - from the glitzy shopping malls to the yellow cake mine dumps. But we couldn't take too much time away from the momentum of the story, so we just focused in on downtown - an incantatory meditation on streetnames and getting to know the maze.

The still life aspect was largely missing from our Grahamstown run, but now we're working in some beautiful moments. Some objects are so typical of the Joburg experience - keys and locks and alarms and gate remotes come to mind. Hawkers on street corners selling car chargers and sunglasses. But it depends where you move on the grid of the city. For some its the oily vetkoek for sale at taxi-ranks. The handwritten signs held by beggars on street corners - some plaintive: "no job no money no food pliz help", and sometimes more creative ones: "My dog is arrested for eating Robert Mugabe's shoes. need money for bail". Tiny hairdressing salons with bad wigs on polystyrene heads.

What's your archetypal Joburg still life?


Monday, September 7, 2009

A month?

Really? A whole month since our last post? I guess that's what happens with handmade home-brewed theatre making: so busy rewriting, reblocking, fundraising, moving sets around, sourcing sound effects, solving transport problems and praying for a stage manager that you don't find time to blog!

Aah well, a lot has happened since the whirl of festival. This brand new little wobbly baby is getting stronger legs at last. This strange but compelling mixture of ghost story, love story, quest story is starting to settle.

I saw my first performance in front of an audience - a tiny audience of trainee arts and culture teachers. They laughed a bit, (in the right places, thankfully) and hung on tenterhooks (at least one tenterhook) and didn't notice me in the lighting booth, swearing, muttering, holding my breath, shaking my head and scribbling on my prompt copy of the script (new endings, new bridging moments...) I felt like I needed to pick up the whole play and just shake it vigorously until all the bits fell into their proper places. It was a bit like that. I wrote a whole new ending coz I felt cross that it seemed to end on such a downbeat note - a real winter play.

And then, we did a free performance for the lovely National Arts School kids, to thank the drama department for so kindly letting us use their theatre for rehearsing in. We spent a chaotic day polishing, working some transitions, developing one of the backstories, and - wow, something really ignited that night. I sat in the lighting booth spellbound - missed two cues because I was just enjoying the rollicking performances of three talented actors stretching their muscles and starting to play a bit, to explore the edges of their comfort fields.

What fun. Jessica is incandescent at the moment. Ndu's wistful Thandeka is kind of heartbreaking - its such a common, ordinary tale really, there are thousands of young girls lost and searching in this city, but she gives it a quiet integrity somehow. She's anywoman, but she could be your sister. Watch this actress. When she's smoking up screens and stages in five years time you can say, you saw her in Paydirt first.

And Nhlanhla let out that impish playful spirit of his that night. Lovely to see, when the actors really start trusting each other and feeling that its ok for them to try new stuff out, its not going to throw anyone, they're just jolling.

So, with a few more tweaks and tugs, we'll be ready for our run in the 969 Festival next week. We play alongside some very hot new plays and are so excited to do this on our own stomping ground. 15th - 19th September, every night at 20:30 - Wits Downstairs Theatre.

See you there?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The "Outside Eye"

Well its been jolly hard to sit vas in Jozburg, while the cast and Jen are 'doing the festival'. Although I have to say I have done my fair share of them, and I wouldn't have missed the arrival of my brandnewbaby niece for the world.

It all seems to be holding together, though news from Jen is scarce. I know what its like - you're constantly having to fend off people in silly hats, people trying to sell you silly hats or trying to get you to go and watch their show, old mates trying to get you to drink at 9 in the morning, and streetkids with never-ending renditions of shosholoza. If its not that, its working that damn village green and trying to recruit audiences. Hard work, all in the bitter cold. Do I sound like I wish I was there? Course I do! Every year if I'm not in Grahamstown for the first ten days of July, it feels all wrong.

So here's the review we got on the festival website. Its good to get some outside validation for stuff what we were trying to do. For the record, Paydirt is rooted in a character's journey - a simple quest narrative - but what we going for was to let the 'story' of Joburg's origins coexist with her story, and see how these mirror each other. Like Indra's web, perhaps. Little bits of the parts reflected in each other. Or something. He's quite right though, the play will definitely evolve. There's lots we still want to do with it. It'll be interesting to see what Joburg dwellers make of it.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Grahamstown here we come

Qaqambile. This character based on a real person that Nhlanhla, spoke to in Joubert Park.

Some friendly ghosts called George. Legend has it that George Harrison discovered gold in the rocks around these parts. Or was it George Walker? George Honeyball? All three battle it out, Goldrush style in Paydirt this Thursday... and Friday, and Saturday, and for a week after that.

Hoswa chats up Thandeka at Home Affairs...
All pics by Lisa Skinner

Wheweeee. Sorry about the disappearance. That's what happens when you're on the inside of a black box for three weeks being scriptwriter, director and marketing person.

Well, they're ready. I think. First performance tomorrow evening at 6:30 pm and I feel rather odd not to be there. Not for the first time, I'm faced with choosing art or life, and this time its life. My sister is due to deliver her baby into the world next week and I'm sticking around for that one, so the dear Paydirt cast are with Jen in Grahamstwon and I have every bit of faith in their ability to kick ass tomorrow, and the next day and the next and the next.

I think its turned out well. Oh, by September it will be a completely different play, I have no doubt, but for now, its working. It has a sweet simplicity to it - the core story, that is, while the rest - well, the stories and movement sequences layered into the story provide a kind of Joburg buzz. There are the history layers, and the jolting familiar oh yeah I know that moments - tequila drinking, lost in Joburg, reciting streetnames. I love those sequences, the gesturescapes that Jen has created.

Its exciting. I wish I could see it in front of an audience!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Palpable relief and the need for a climax

Ok, so we had our first run without stopping and our first audience of three. And although the play still needs to gets it's arc right, (ie we need to see what happens in the little quest we establish - does Thandeka find out what happened to her dad in Johannesburg? Does it matter? Does she make sense of her journey...etc) - still, at least the audience (of three) is interested in what happens to her. This is good.

Its been an incredibly taxing week, trying to push it all together. The performers we are working with are AMAZING!!! I am SOSOOOOOSO impressed by them. I am constantly giving them new bits of script, new lines, taking away lines I gave them only a day ago. (Oh sorry, did you learn those words, well, we're cutting them!). And I have never seen any of them with script in hand during a rehearsal or run through. They are SO professional, SO versatile and so so talented.

Congrats to them. And to Jen and I for casting them - aren't we clever for spotting such talent!!

No, no video yet. Monday, Monday....

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Abyss (and back again)

Blogging about this baby is harder than I thought. There's always a bit of mystique in the rehearsal process and artists don't like voyeurs in the early stages - with good reason.

Sometimes we wonder if there's a play in there at all. Sometimes I wonder why I do this to myself. Staring down into the abyss wondering if there's a play in there somewhere. Watching the calendar shrink.

The slow work of trying to make concrete the invisible. Ideas abound, but bodies in space and time catch up slowly. This process of page to stage and back to page again is confounding sometimes.

We had Guy in town two weeks ago. Our lighting designer and production, old mucker from Grahamstown. What were we thinking? When we first planned his visit, we felt sure that the early June was the perfect time. We'd have enough to show him by then, and we'd still have enough time to polish before the festival. Gulp.

We didn't factor in the Wits prac exams and how incredibly fragmenting and time consuming they'd be. So at best we had some cobbled together scenes to show him, from all the material we've been generating. A hilarious "friday night" movement sequence, and this still tentative little narrative... girl travels to Joburg to find what happened to her dead father... meets taxi owner / tour guide megalomaniac... hmmm, but its sketchy at best and needs serious editing.

When we had a run on Wednesday I went home with a rock in my heart. That sinking ooooh noooo feeling. Stayed up late and made some bold cuts, shuffled some scenes around and now its looking stronger.

Its turning into a collage of ghost stories - strange little portraits of Joburg people past and present who's spirits wander the streets and tunnels underneath the streets.

We'll be taking a video clip over the weekend, and if we're brave enough we'll post some here.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

We declare the gold diggings open

Joburg is probably the most democratic of South African cities. Sure, the rift between rich and poor is an ever widening canyon. Sure the real money is in the hands of the few, and it helps if you went to the old boys schools. But if you have a smart idea and a gift for talking, you can make cash flow towards you. Easier than, say, Cape Town where its your pedigree that counts, and how many grape vines your family owns.

We built this city on rock and gold
Joburg has opened her dirty streets to Nigerians, Rwandans, Zimbabweans, Congolese, Mozambicans, Malawians, Cote d'Ivoirians, Senegalese and Ethiopians. Lets not forget that both her sky-grabbing buildings and her earth-burrowing shafts were built by migrants from the north. Well, apparently this was forgotten when so-called foreigners were chased, burned, beaten and stolen from, a year ago. But lets not dwell on that weird contradiction right now.

Come join us on the playground
So in the spirit of the inclusiveness that made this city, we want to throw open the doors to Paydirt, and invite people to collaborate. Do you have ideas, snippets of writing, stories or real life experiences that you'd like to share or see included in a unique collaborative performance piece? If you are a digital artist, writer, photographer, an image maker, storyteller, animator or simply someone who lives in and loves Jozi, you are welcome to send us a proposal for a project that might link into Paydirt in some way. Think exhibitions, online collaborations or site specific performances.

But that's not all
The play that launches in Grahamstown on the 2nd of July is still under construction. Currently its a melting pot catchment for portraits, landscapes and meditations on the Jozi experience, with a chopped up linear narrative running through it.

Be part of the first blog playmaking collaboration ever (that I know of)
Like the city that has been built, erased, re-built and is still under construction, Paydirt will continue to be shaped and tweaked long after its Grahamstown run. Or so we hope.
So here are some starters – taken from some of our chapter headings. We welcome stories under 500 words and they must relate to Joburg – portrait, landscape or still-life.
Park Station
Friday Night
Under Construction

Send them (or your proposal) to
If we like yours we'll either:

Put it on the blog
Incorporate it into the play
Use it in one of our future reworked versions of the play

You will be credited. We cannot yet promise moolah, but if you invite more and more people to visit the blog we can persuade new sponsors to give us money and we can promise them some logo-space on the blog.
Go on, give it a go!

Creative Commons License
Paydirt by Tamara Guhrs and Paydirt cast is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 South Africa License.