I had an inspiring weekend at the Africa Research Conference on Applied Theatre at Wits this weekend. Lots of vigorous debate and real connections - remarkably free of the usual posturing and look-at-me intellect that too often happens at these conferences. This one is hosted by the Drama for Life programme at Wits University, and caused me to break out in feverish sweats of planning and get all excited by the electric storm in my head.
My best things:
Seeing dear Paula and the Bonfire Theatre company perform their version of Playback theatre. These guys are responsive, disciplined performers, with experience as drama therapists. They get stories from the audience and play them back in real time, in a very elegantly structured process. Paula astonishes me with her listening skills. She can hear through several layers of the body and aura. I salute you, Ms Kingwill.
Seeing people that I had kind of lost touch with - Emma, Caroline from Phakama theatre, all these powerful creative women that I miss so much. Somehow in Jozi I haven't touched into the same sense of creative community that I had when I lived in Cape Town. I wonder why. I have great friends here, and many of them make amazing work, but somehow the rules of the game are too much centred around money in this city of gold, whereas in Kapa I had a crew of magicians who were happy to just play and see what came of it, money no object. Perhaps its to do with age. I'm much more of a solitary worker now. And that's ok. But I had a lovely feeling of being in my real tribe.
"Networking" (hate that word) with other practitioners from the subcontinent. Becoming part of a forum that is going to create a proper network for applied theatre practitioners in Africa. Woohoooo! This has been a long time in my field of intentions, and is starting to take shape at last.
A workshop on stories, voices, community, landscape. Taken from a project that worked with communities that lay claim to Mapungubwe, the ancient civilization site where the famous gold rhino was found. A simple and very intimate process of sharing stories in a small group, thoughts on landscape, community, the significance of names, and then creating a map of your life landscape and putting little feet/footsteps at different parts of your map. Getting responses to these from the person next to you, and then interpreting these responses in a group still picture - how stories get interpreted and filtered down - diluted or added to. Beautiful Sarah from Ghana who describes herself as unstable and pure spirit, who said 'when I had my son I realised I exist', Yvonne from the Valley of a Thousand Hills whose son went to the school I went to, and who carries a breathstopping recent tragedy in her aura. Vivacious Kat with flashing eyes who misses the Jacaranda trees of the country she no longer lives in. Stacey who wraps layers of protection around her vulnerable core. How much intimacy and poetry can be created in an hour and a half. The way we had to pass round little slips of paper to create a silent story in the group (and this to be developed further - a gorgeous idea, I love the thought of a murmured act of communal storymaking in an audience, where its not ever 'aloud' - ie spoken by performers on stage, but passed on from person to person, everyone telling part of a scripted whole.)
The drama therapy guru Phil Jones whose paper sparked something in me - especially where he spoke of rethinking childhood - oh, so much there - how adults create 'others' out of children and silence them. Think about it - which of these words resonate with you and your childhood messages - 'invisible'; 'inadequate', 'not worth listening to'. And how this creates a cycle of incompetence. And his paper delivered in such a performative way, with some of the students reading out his case studies as if from a playreading.
Yes, the rains have started, as my fellow African bloggers Janelle, Miranda and Val celebrate so lyrically. For me, this conference was a much needed slaking of an old thirst. I haven't been working much in this field lately, because I decided to concentrate on the wordsmith aspect of my being. I still do the odd bit of facilitation, but I really miss the chemistry of a shared storymaking and theatre making process. It feels like the plans that have been slowly uncurling at the base of my brain can find some other sparks to ignite them now. Yay.