At the festival I am approached by a young woman who says, ‘You don’t know me but I think you might remember my father. He was at school with you and remembers you. His name is Charlie Dominion.’ I burst into near hysterical laughter. Wow. Charlie Dominion. He was a guy with a big smile, a ready laugh and a kind of no nonsense approach to life which I envied and secretly admired. He was also kind of authentic and rough edged and didn’t have the social nicities and ponciness I was afraid of having in myself. He didn’t seem interested in, or actually capable of taking any shit from anyone. And no reason to either. ‘Oh yes, I remember him.’ I assure her, ‘He gave me my first black eye. And I fully deserved it.’ Well kind of. At least I was fully looking for it. He was teasing one of my friends rather harshly and I took up the noble mantle of defender of the weak since I didn’t think my friend Bernie was all that physically robust. So, from behind, I kicked Charlie Dominion in the arse. I think I remember as I was doing it, hearing, above and beyond the trumpets heralding the arrival on horseback of myself the hero, the sound of myself thinking, ‘Uhoh. You are aware that this is not tv?’ Charlie turned around and gave me a short sharp one to my left eye.  The sheer shock of being punched in the face was enough to put me out and down for a while…and silent. Until the actual pain, firstly of humiliation and then of injury around my eye flowered into consciousness. But it was more the shock. I had never been hit in the face with a fist before. And this was in standard four or something. I was flattened and finished with tears and snot and bawls of indignant disbelief. I had never even thought of using my fist on someone’s face. Even though I saw roy rogers do it every week and I punched with the same dramatic vigour, the nearly-big-as-me bolster cushions in the playroom. I stood there and bawled my eyes out in front of everyone on the playground. Or it was more the parking area. Charlie had the dignity to just walk away and leave me to it. 

Something dawned about my real abilities in a fight that day, but that wasn’t going to stop me being the hero. So I began the subtle study of how to appear the combat-weary hero without the unnecessary unpleasantness of actual combat.

Years later having been dropped from the first rugby team, for reasons discussed above, I became the courageous captain of the seconds and even more vocal and performative cheer leader. Fool. Clown. ‘If I can’t be in the first team, then I might as well be the centre of attention and get a few laughs’. “Hell that Andrew is funny. And mad! He’ll do some funny things, that oke. And if you want a good time at a party just give him a few beers and then get him to tell a joke. One of the long ones…he’s hysterical. He knows all the words of the rugby songs. Pretty good cheerleader too. Makes a lot of noise and a real tit of himself, but gets them going. He was one of the ones getting the whole school singing adapted football songs instead of just screaming and shouting. Otherwise, of course, he’s a bit of a dick head.”

I love rugby. Loved playing it as as schoolboy. Not very well. All the way up through school in the b teams. Not even in the c team which had some rebel-cool cred. And then up through the eighths, straight up to the fifths, the flying fifths and then, just into the thirds, ‘Cooking bru.’ And in final year, after trials, included in the first team squad on tour to cape town. ‘Oh yes baby. Not just the joker of the pack, pellie. But real talent evidenced by his selection.’ One or two games on the tour and then a couple of matches in the first team at home, before my act is uncovered. My performance. See, I could play AT ‘playing rugby’, but not actually PLAY rugby. Could play a rugby player, especially off the field… in fact ONLY off the field. But not actually really play the game. Always made a lot of noise at the breakdown and encouraged the pack of forwards, urging them on. ‘Come on guys; Fire! Fire!’ (one guy from an opposing schoolboy team laughed to his friends as the scrum broke up, ‘Water! Water!’ Pissed me off but even I wanted to laugh. Last time I ever shouted that.) But I could be very easily seen and heard to be fully committed and throwing myself with passion into the action of the game. And at the same time, do so without actually getting involved in the real, testing, muscle, tendon and will, one on one, ‘who wants the ball more?’ physically confrontational tustle. Not so much drawn to that because… why? I don’t know, nothing seemed worth the humiliation of inevitable defeat. Because the other guy, more often than not, showed more strength and will to get the ball and be the winner than me. It just seemed more important to him. I was quite happy to lose as long as I looked good. Not looks necessarily but of course that too. More ‘authentic’. Although I didn’t know that word at the time. I just wanted to look like the winner. Have everyone think I was the winner. And if not the winner then definitely the cooler. Cooler than the victor. ‘Yeah. No victim me, I might be the loser, but I’m way cooler than the victor.’ Worked for a while. Kind of got away with it. Of course coach and captain saw through the act two matches into the season and so Sergio (the magnificent) Falzoi, brother of (the Flawless) Fabio, (may he live long in our hearts and minds though killed in the stupid war of stupid Rhodesian stupidity), replaced me in the team as open-side loose-forward. Much to the relief of the rest of the team.

Okay so this last weekend I took my jump suit and altimeter to the skydiving club and donated them. I think I have finished with skydiving for the moment. Hey look,  I got my A license and 52 jumps. But I haven’t jumped for two years to the day. And now I am no longer a skydiver. There I said it. I used to keep calling myself a skydiver even though I wasn’t current and wasn’t planning to go jump any time soon. Why stop? Complicated… no, very simple it’s very expensive. Way too expensive for me to…. Hell it’s like over two hundred rand a… okay fine. I’ll tell you but don’t tell anyone else, okay? The fact is that the last four or five jumps I had started to lose confidence in my landing skills. Too often flaring too early and then having a big drop to the ground. No smooth step off the air platform and onto the ground like off a chair. And the last jump, following other jumpers who were ahead and following their timing instead of paying attention to my own altitude, forward speed etc, turned into the wind way too late and finding myself swooping and dropping rapidly and only the very strong wind saved me from plummeting. This pointed out to me, not that I hadn’t noticed, by Tony, one of the outstanding instructors here at East Cape Skydivers, who took me aside and asked if I knew what I had just done and how lucky I was that the wind was pumping. This simple basic mistake. I thought;  ‘I am not going up again until I have done another refresher course on canopy piloting and landing. The free fall was always bliss but after the canopy deployed… okay, but not what I was after. And then the last few jumps put doubts in my head about my ability and the risks involved. The smallest slightest miscalculation and the consequences are somewhat. So trying to balance it out I was drawn towards the conclusion that I should stop. At least for a while… okay so the short version is I lost my nerve. But when anyone asks you I’d be grateful if your version is closer to the  ‘it’s too expensive’ narrative. Is that a deal? Thanks. Wouldn’t want anyone to know I had actually stopped because I was scared or anything… imagine.

Maybe I’ll go back to it some time when I have more money… yeah right. No really, I would start again from scratch and really concentrate on piloting and landing skills before ever getting into freefall bliss again. Ooh just talking about it gets me all excited again. I used to drive home for the drop zone my face an unwipable smile. The wind tunnel just ain’t the same, Freddie. The jump out of the plane into space is incomparable. Not an adrenalin rush. Too much concentration and concentrated time. Focus. Ah well. We’ll see if I find my skydive mojo sometime or… yes, that’s it; get some more expendable income to toss out the window of a plane. I am ready for an unpoised exit from the plain and freefalling into some new performance  adventures. Pay no attention to the fast growing web site called ‘Andrew the Chicken-Wing.’   I’m a buffalo-wing.

 And now I’m a buffalo wing on a bicycle. I bought one, yesiree. Sold the car to Daniel and bought a bike. We’re a one car family.

So the thing is when Madiba speaks I laugh. He says to the captain of Manchester city ‘Hey you are a baby, what are you doing here?’ And then he asks the guy who has received the obe has he ever met the queen? Then he recounts a story; when he most recently met the queen, as she was approaching him, he noticed that she had lost some weight and on meeting her had said so. By the time the meeting was over, he was astounded at how many people knew about what he had said. And what about service delivery. What the fuck? The police and government departments are talking about suppressing the resistance and also about a third force. (Can you believe they would use the same language) instead of actually just making sure that service delivery happens. The same bullshit spoken by the same kinds of politicians. And the new commissioner of police is really designed to inspire confidence; a political appointment with a cowboy hat and staggering eloquence; “Deadly force…. That means you die!” yyyyyyep.

And here a slightly edited copy of the mail I sent back to the cast of LOVE. Dear all, Molweni. We are back at home and have managed to keep very busy making theatre for a National Arts Festival in our home town. It was very exciting, frustrating, tiring, and exhilarating as all festivals should be. I had forgotten how not easy it is to live in this country. Just the energy one spends on day to day living and negotiating the every day difficulties experienced by so many people in this country. Janet and I spend pretty much every second we can in each other’s company and that is working very well! People ask me of course what was it like? ‘Wow, Circus Ole!! Amazing! so what’s it like being back? Are they all really crazy?!’ And I don’t know how to answer them except to say that yes you are all completely crazy. But since I have been back it was immediately into the kind of days I had before I left. Full on, all day, every day rehearsing and making new theatre. Small venues, talented committed company, some minimal resources, inspiring material and festival audience. Now that is over and Janet and I have had a few days to recover and spend some time just going to the coast and exploring and just being at home together with Daniel. And I think back on the time with you guys and I realize how much I miss. I miss the training room, even though I more or less deserted it for the last few months. I miss very much being on stage with you all and playing the track every night with the anticipations of all the encounters with each of you during the performance. How would it be tonight? For the festival I directed two productions; the one a play, written by Brink Scholtz, the resident director of our company, called The Swimming Lesson. Beautiful play about a woman who loses her child and goes on a quest and meets a number of others from some of the very different worlds that exist in this country. The play begins with the worst that could happen and then gently and beautifully moves toward redemption and hope through the unlikely connections that people can make. It needs some more work, but it is very beautiful if I say so myself. The other was a short play Stilted, by Richard Antrobus, about a man on stilts.. who would have thought? A funny and nice and risky theatre thing using some nice circus things. Daniel worked with an amazing group from Zambia (that’s just north of Zimbabwe) lots of balancing, acrobatics and fire eating. They were combined with a local group who have been learning theatre skills for a few years. Five years ago they were kids living on the street and spending more time with their noses in a glue bag than out of trouble. They made a play about water and rivers and dams. Water is a daily survival issue for so many people here. It was really funny and moving and current. Daniel is busy now getting my car into a state in which he can buy it and then he is leaving for Johannesburg next week to re-connect with friends and his career. We will miss him. Back at home I have started to get to know the new dog. A young bitch of the weimeraner breed named Beatrix. ‘Yeah dat’s right muh fuh; Beatrix! And take note that that ‘beat’ in her name is a diphthong;( think of ‘bee-atch!’ and then add on ‘tricks’ after and you’ve pretty much got her name beeatt-tricks. Ask Jimmie for the translation.) Anyway this dog, sorry beeatch, is extremely intelligent and crafty and naughty but has got down her schtick; ‘Oh my god did I do that? Oh no this isn’t good. This is bad. Someone’s been bad here. I wonder who? Yes I know that you know it’s me but perhaps someone else might own up before… wait a minute! Okay, yes I did it and you can spank my arse if you … yes but dam I’m pretty?! Aren’t I? Sooo cute!! do you see how the light plays on the little lashes around my snout as I playfully roll over and lick your shoes and, and, and can you see how fast my tail is wagging? That is speed baby! That is some high intensity happy in fact I haven’t quite managed to master the secret of wagging my tail without wiggling my arse. In fact without my whole body vibrating like a three and a half foot vibrating thing with teeth and a slobbery smile…And see how easy it was to forgive me? When do I get a biscuit, now?’ She is the re-incarnation of one of the few fuckers who escaped from Alcatraz. She can find a 3 inch hole in a fence five miles long. And she can squeeze her disobedient little ass through that three inch hole and cause havoc with the neighbours’ garbage and do all this in the space of fifteen minutes. So before you even know she’s been gone she’s back on her bed pretending to yawn and wake up from a long sleep. And just then the phone rings and the neighbour is on the line saying she has just chased the dog out of her trash cans. ‘Who, me?’ Bee-atch. Zeke, the old man, well the male dog who is actually only about seven, injured himself while we were away and damaged his back rather badly, he was put on steroids and lost a lot of weight and looks nothing like his former self. He used to be like a small horse and now the skin hangs off him. I am taking him to a vet a hundred miles from here next week to see if an operation will fix him. He walks around a little bit like Valeriy when his back is giving him shit. The university has approached me I think to talk about re-negotiating my contract so that I spend more time teaching here. And a big part of me is inclined to agree. I am not sure that I have the energy and drive to make the required commercial output to keep Janet and myself in the manner to which we would become accustomed. Make no mistake I am riddled with energy and drive but not to go and do corporate launches and the odd gig here and there like I used to have. Surviving as an actor in such a remote and small place means going away a lot. I am enjoying being here for a while and I have freed myself from the pressure to ‘Make a new earth shattering work before everyone thinks you’re a has-been that never was… la di da’. Things just seem to get worse and worse recession wise and I am sure you are glad to have the two weekly. I know I was. And in fact I still am…The house is mine, mine mine. I happily flip the bird at the bank every time I drive past. I think the recession has been manipulated by the powers that be to give governments like ours the excuse to cut back on public spending. Otherwise I am back to acting like a teacher at the university here. I am a professor. What do I profess? Ignorance. The time at cirque gave me time to reflect and I feel much more energized to teach and make work and I feel strong. I feel like a buffalo back here… ready to take on anything and anyone. And things are making me angry again. Angry like I used to feel as a young man at the fuck-ups that were around me. And I am seeing them again around me and getting angry enough again to say so. I send more love than you could possibly cope with, Andrew Nate please pass this onto the g men; (dressing room g) Dear dressing room g I miss the dressing room rituals. Ekenah on his computer skyping some one in Portuguese and then listening to fascinating new age excitations from TED and then ‘who whooo yeh yeh yeh I’m amazed…I can’t believe it. Look I just get more beautiful every day’… then Daniel calling me with three syllables in a one syllable word, because he had misplaced his keys or we were negotiating the use of our car that night after the show. And then jimmie and joel mimicking and mocking his accent. Joel cheerfully putting on his freckles ‘open your heart daniel’ and spiking his hair before heading down the corridor for mysterious meetings with kati. I miss jimmie’s john-coltrane-saxophone-solo laugh and excitement at the little things in life and the joy at the big things. I miss the pranks, I am happy to say never on me personally… (the advantages of being older and keepings cards close to the chest so nobody knows what you’re capable of)…and then eugen or yevgeni. I so miss watching you play father mac. It was possible I was going to look to do a version of Inside at another festival in September, but that has fallen through and I am looking to spend some time here working on it in between teaching before I propose it for theatres. I miss sitting next to valeriy and being challenged by translation and interpretation requests, as well as being engulfed in a bear hug and hearing the details of his stock trading training. A man with a heart way too big to fit his laughably puny frame. Then nate. There’s something I should be telling you now that I am out of range of nate’s violent rage… the man is a fake. Calls himself a fool. Oh yes and plays the fool with alacrity. Very convincingly. At almost any time you look at him or watch him for more than a few minutes and you’ll be saying affectionately to yourself ‘that silly fool!!’ but I got to know that man and let me tell you that this is a front. This is a mask, this is a deception. For behind the façade of the fool lurks a shrewd fucker. A sharp little sausage with very refined perception and understanding, and with palpably hazardous generosity, and… for heaven’s sake, have you met his girlfriend? We’re the fools for not getting her first.. the nightly transformation of pure kinetic energy into light energy made the end of the dressing room glow and vibrate. In fact it was more likely vibrating because you had just farted. Such energy contained in such horse knees. Such fine talent held in such bony legs. To the greatest fool I know. I miss just silently putting on make up while you were doing the same. Well actually no… I think I miss more, exchanging unpleasantries about don and catpee.

home from planet circus

August 1, 2009

Day the last went like this; wake at eight just before the alarm. Mouth like a dustbin and very uncomfortable dreams. Probably from the excess of the best guakamole ever. Made by LaKeisha. Daniel and I devoured when we went to visit she and Nate after his show last night. Eugen gave nate a lift home so good to have another chance to say goodbye and return the book I had forgotten to do so. Nate and La Keisha as generous as ever and we try to avoid the subject of our departure as we sit around the fire and pass pleasantries and company gossip. He generously (how weird) offers the use of his truck to Daniel and me after we sell the car the next day. We accept. We present them with our gift to say goodbye. It is a print of an opera poster created by the polish artist (bolinski? Something like this?) It is a poster for La Traviata which Janet fell in love with when she went with La K to the first friday exhibitions in down town Vegas. We had it framed and wrote messages on the back and they hung it immediately in their bedroom. Looks great. Sad to leave them. Whenever we get close to saying goodbye we re-affirm the notion of their coming to sa to visit us and imagine the possibility of working together again. I hope. So anyway this morning, up and try to find some humanity hiding in this lizard body. Brush teeth slightly better taste in the mouth then load up the box of excess stuff and take it to the post office with the hope of sending it to sa. I get there and after many attempts find myself at the counter facing a new person and it takes a long time to discover that it would cost me, because of the size of the box and its weight, over 800 dollars. This is also after I fill out three forms in triplicate. I abandon the notion and get the idea that I will just take it on the plane as luggage it will cost me another 150 or so as an extra piece of luggage. No this is after I have bought a new suitcase and unpack the box and try to fill it with box items . No go, too much. Discard a whole lot. Then chat with janet and daniel. And the idea of just taking the box as luggage dawns and takes shape. I repack again and keep all the discards. Day passes and Daniel hauls me to the airport, I check it all in no problem and fly home. Easy flight. Get to joburg and wait for box to appear. Nothing wait and wait and time running out to catch my connection to PE. Then finally appears. I head for the nothing to declare lane and the box screams at the officials, “check me!!!” so I turn and engage with an officer who opens the box and checks the contents, I scramble them back in and head off just get to check in and on the flight to pe. Arrive pe and two pieces of luggage not there… but there’s janet. Drive the 120 kilometres home. The eastern cape looks very welcoming if a bit dry. Luggage arrives the next day. Weird re-adjustment but no time to think straight into rehearsals for festival productions. Days filled with warm up, rehearse, review run and rest. I’m home.

June 5;

 sitting in the airport now waiting to board for the flight to jfk and then to jhb and then to pe and then the drive to the g spot and that will be about two pm sunday. Seems a life time away. Last few days? Wow. The last two shows very emotional and the final tapis rouge reminded me of the one we witnessed when we arrived. Quite something to have to put into a few words or at least in a short time to encapsulate ones feelings about having spent this time here. Daniel and I spoke together. Well we got up and faced everyone together and I told them all how I had asked dan to stand with me while I speak to save them the embarrassment of watching an old man cry. That he was instructed to tell me to ‘suck it up nancy boy’ if I happened to start cracking up. He had to do it once. Trying to say thank you to the whole company left me conflicted because there were some people there for whom I have no thanks and others for whom I have gratitude that has no words. Anyway, I had a good go, tried to let them know what it meant to me to be there and work with them. All the ravings I used to blog about the company of performers and their integrity and commitment still stands. A real set of lessons. But at the same time it feels good to let the role go and get  back to what I feel really good at doing. Which is working in the theatre. Eugen gave me that chance with the project he proposed to me which involved the realisation of a theatrical concept he has had for some twenty years. Once we had started rehearsals he tells me how all the previous attempts at mounting the production had been prevented by a personal tragedy of someone involved… Now I was even more determined to play it. Playing in his theatre built in his house; (the fourteenth one he has built) was more than a treat. It felt like I had done something really good in some other life or something or maybe just found myself lucky enough to have met this man as well as others who work for this company. Anyway we made a play. It is called Insight Inside and concerns an actor who arrives late for a show for which the audience has been given a huge build up. Then he, being tragically locked into his own ego and personal ambition and fear, finds himself locked in the dressing room and unable to get to the stage. Really fun and feels like the beginning of a real work. Great audiences of ten to thirteen at a time over four performances. All friends from Cirque. No, not all, but predominantly. And all who seemed to show and interest in this kind of work.

Then packing up the crap at home and then cleaning the house. Thank fully I can leave some of that to daniel who only leaves on monday. Hard to say goodbye to him at the airport.

April 23rd

 58 shows to go. getting the car onto craig’s list, starting to make plans for pack up and return. Checking with post office tomorrow about sending stuff home in boxes. My days now are like so;

 Wake up at six or seven because now the curtains are open as well as the window. I love early morning sun. but then close them because it gets too hot on the bed as the two rectangular barrels of brightness hit the opposite wall at sunrise then these two blocks of focused gold-warmth slide across the bed and laminated wooden floor and deep red carpet. Too hot to sleep. Close curtains and then back to sleep. Another two hours or so. Very vivid dreams in these sleeps, then awake again and call janet. An hour or so or maybe fifteen m minutes every day. Then check e mails and on line news. Maybe make a big cup of chai tea. Then  a plate of bran flakes and granola from trader joe’s and banana with the occasional tub of fruit-on-th-bottom flavoured yoghurt. Too much detail? Then used to go to gym with janet and work out. Do cardio and then short stretch and then weight training for upper body strength and condition and also abdominals and short hand stand practice.

  This has diminished to not one time this week. Need to renew attendance in the training room. Earlier departure times and time in the upper training room. Starting tomorrow.

 But otherwise do a stretch at home and some breathing… and sometimes just a stretch and sometimes sleeping again. But then up, clean the place, sort recycling, check fridge, consult Daniel re food needs, make decision to cook or not and consequent needs. No shopping today; veg and pasta and then baked potato tomorrow. Kind of thing. Cook. Ablute. Eat. Google the traffic between here and work. Depart via chosen route. Arrive prep and do the show. The show? Exactly the same but completely different from the one I started to make which was shallow and obvious and sometimes thin. Physical form and expression underexplored. But now a really fun and detailed. I work toward consistency through routine and ritual and repetition and structure. Simple structure. That’s why most of the day is planned and carries the inherent element of working toward and focus on the performance that night. How you are going to make sure of the right nutrition at the right time for your body and the specific demands of the shows in relation to the amount of sleep and things like that. Constant self assessment self diagnosis and attention to pain and tension.  And constantly working toward release.

 May 24th

 So only a few shows to go and we are in the midst of integration of the new artists. The new sergeant pepper is an ex acrobat from Mystere by the name of Vova (short for Vladimir) and has pretty much got the track down. I have enjoying the last few weeks of shows knowing that they are coming to an end. Now I am ready to let them go. We have about 14 more performances but some of them will be watching the replacements. The days are filled with looking for gifts for special friends, checking packing and shipping options and trying to sell the car and find people to rent the house for Elizabeth.

 Most fun at the moment are the rehearsals for a performance at Eugen’s theatre planned for next week and the two nights before I leave. Based on a concept of Eugen’s which he has been trying to realise for about twenty years about an actor in a dressing room, I have been scripting and rehearsing every day. Such fun to be working in a real theatre again even though very small. It is basically eugen’s garage converted but completely fully equipped. You can see it on You Tube Eugen Brim’s theatre. Eugen, who, I discover now a year after meeting him, is actually named Yevgeni , shortened to Genya (probably wrong spelling) and anglicized to Eugene. The show is presently called Inside Insight and has four performances to invited guests; 12 at a time. Fun.

 Also prepping for Stilted; a show made by Richard Antrobus and produced by First Physical Theatre Company which I will be directing for the National Arts Festival Fringe.

home soon.

 

Dreading saying goodbye to close friends made here.