Friday, 5 March 2010

friday 19 february

after a lovely evening at the local pub drinking hansa pilsner on tap (only TWO bottles, aida!!), i thought i might need to lie in a bit longer before our last day. but i was up and ready quite early this morning. filled with excitement and a fair amount of fear of what is to become today.
we will do the reading at 3pm, so between now & then we have a lot of work to do.
we soldier on in the small rehearsal room just making sure that we understand as best as possible the texts that the actors are speaking - both the shakespeare & the transcripts. sometimes both are steeped in meaning that needs unpicking and the joy, and sometimes horror, of dealing with strict transcripts of speaking, is the natural traits that each of the men have. so sometimes, the train of thought changes mid-sentence. sometimes much of what is said was not understandable & some times it needs a visual cue to make sense.
all of this the actors have to deal with and make their own. over the last two weeks, they have seen short pieces of the interviews in order to get a small sense of the men whom they are portraying. i dont know how much of the mannerisms or speech patterns they are able to pick up with such a short amount of time to work, but it is a bit errie how similar some of the interpretations are. i guess that is the skill of the actor - try to pick up on the little things that the men do in order to ground their characterisation, but then sell it as well. dont 'apologise' for the protrayal, but revel in it so we begin to think that, 'yes, that IS how michael speaks or andrew or kathy.....'

we make it to the main stage for a speed through rehearsal. we dont even get through the entire script before we need to clear the space for the afternoon's reading. saths is back to view the play as well as participate in a second interview with the drama students.
i hope he enjoys the show......

i briefly introduce the piece and the actors take the stage. although i KNOW they have not rehearsed it often, as skilled actors, they make it look as though it has been throughly rehearsed. they are constantly in tune with each other to make sure the piece works as best as possible and to service the script. they do an excellent job with a rough script.

i briefly speak with saths afterwards who, for now, only has one note - and that is the pronunciation of sonny's last name, which i have never been able to get right so was unable to definitively tell dan (who portrays him).

thursday 18 february

now it feels as though we are rehearsing something. the days go by so quickly now. as always, i guess, as you edge towards the end of the period here, time does seem to go faster.
the day is spent rehearsing the play. it is running at around 45 minutes, which is nice. the through line is sonny and his bible, though we don't want him to be the complete focus of the play, so we let the men's lives shine through as often as possible. this is one difficulty faced - how to edit down the transcripts. there is so much to choose from - what is the strongest and what is the best to link with the other men?

we have come up with reoccuring themes within the transcripts, stories & shakespearian quotes. they are:

unsung heroes
collective amnesia

we have a few stories about mobbs gqirana, who we have agreed is an 'unsung hero' of the struggle. one point of this play is to get the names of the lesser known vetran of the struggle known. but we can also reflect on the reason why the men are not as well known. one interview that i conducted in november 2oo8 mentioned mobbs & how he disappeared without a trace. it was with ahmed 'kathy' kathrada, kwede mkalipi & andrew mlangeni:

Have they confirmed that Mobbs is dead?

Yea, Mobbs is dead


Actually, he disappeared from the face of the earth.


So the suspicion was that while he was being smuggled out from Port Elizabeth to Lesotho, they captured him & killed him.

He was killed by the police

Ohhh, shame. But was his grave, Where was he grave found?

No, nothing…

We know that he was dead, but we don’t know where he was killed.

This is just one of the speculations.


He was definitely killed by the police….

Every now & then we are reading of people’s graves who are being unearthed –


- last, about two weeks ago, they found about 11 graves?


We were dealing with a vicious enemy…

Oh, yes.

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.


mobbs deserves to be spoken about. in our little way, we hope to do that.

wednesday 17 feb

this morning, i let the actors off so that i can have a concentrated meeting with vice & dan regarding the script structure.
i think with all of the actors around, i am putting to much pressure on the producing of work, when actually, i should let breath what we can created so far. so, we consoladated our work this morning and produced a stronger outline of the script. we have been able to sit and think about the work that we have produced and how that is shaped into a script. it is good for me not to feel pressured as though i am wasting the actors' time due to the fact that i dont have a vision of the next stages.
this morning has helped me clarify and find a way forward. it is also just nice to sit back & reflect on what is being done.

the afternoon the proves to be much more productive due to this morning's work. i could not have done it without the imput of dan & vice. they have proven indespensible in this process.

we come up with a script and present it to the actors. although rough, it is certainly a step or two beyond the work that i did for the reading in march last year. plus it is solidly grounded in south african artistry. i may have come to many of the same conclusions if i was writing alone back in london, but it would have not the resonence nor the foundation of being build in south africa.

i am now more confident in my contributions to the project because i have worked with these artists. we have a, more or less, common vision and nothing that we discussed this morning contradicts my long term vision of the play.

having had a bit of confidence restored, i direct the actors in a reading of the script - going through any edits that they feel it needs, then we get up on feet.

we now have the problem of the space - we are in a tiny rehearsal room which has been absolutely excellent to develop work in so far. but now that we are rehearsing the play, we need to have a space bigger. in two days time, we will be performing on the mainstage of the market theatre so we need to start to get used to it. but, this space is no where near the size, so everything is squeezed together.

but the reading & the actors' contributions really strengthen the play. the staged reading rehearsal goes over pretty well. again, i am pleased at the progress & development of the work considering that we have only be at it for 7 days. in my heart, i had hoped for something a bit more developed, but in my realistic head, i realize that this progress is good.

we have produced a lot of work but not really edited it down. this morning we did some editing, but it is going to take much more time to really hone the script. the point of these two weeks is to produce work as vice & i wont have the opportunity to work with these actors again, so we need to use our time wisely.

i feel better today than the previous two days. i felt out of it for monday & tuesday, but now feel as though i have regained my focus & direction.

in the evening, we have, once again, a wonderful dinner with masie's familiy. i am going to miss these meals!!

Monday, 1 March 2010

tuesday 16 february

back again and still, for me, a day of struggling with the work. we carry on with the further developement of the ideas from yesterday. this does seem to work well, but i am still trying to somehow figure out how to shoehorn young people from today into a story that is tight enough without them.
i have an idea and wont let it go. even if it isnt working. i need to just abandon it, but am having a hard time doiong that. it is so important to me taht this play is not a history play, but rather has some resonance in today, that i am trying to get these 'young people' as characters, but not finding a way in.
i really need to abandon it and hope (and assume) that the play will find relavance with today's young people whether or not they are represented on the stage.

the outline that vice & i had has almost all been forgotten - ah, the halceon days of old.... wasnt it just two days ago that i thought he & i had the play's strucure cracked? yes, well, i was wrong......

with that abandoned outline, comes fresh ideas. i am no longer battling to find a way in, but rather letting things develop naturally. and this has legs.
the actors are great, mixing the shakespeare with the transcripts & improvisation.

the afternoon's session is short due to the fact that saths cooper has graciously accepted our invitation to speak with the Lab students about leadership, Shakespeare & his time on Robben Island. this is the third interview that we have conducted with him. all of the artists involved with this project so far agree that they like sath's view on things. although in his early 60's, he seems to have his ear firmly to the ground to what the young people of today are searching for. he takes no delight in the fact that the older generation has let down these younger ones and makes no bones about it. he accepts that more could and should have been done for those who are not fortunate enough to be politically or otherwise connected in order to have a semblance to monetary success.

he got out of politics because, as he says, he didnt want to work for 'nincompoops.' he adds that, because of that, he might be less well off in terms of money, but he feels as though he hasnt given up the struggle, but taken it on in a less political light - working with people who have suffered because of Apartheid and its affects.

Monday 15 Feb

after a firely & exciting meeting with vice yesterday, i guess i should have prepared for my crash.....
nothing deadly, but i seem to have no energy today. we have two shakespeare facilitators who had come over from london to work with the drama students at the Lab Theatre. they contribute to the further disection of the chosen texts, but for me, i don't know where to go or what to suggest to the actors to further develop the work.
as usual, i guess, the outline that vice & i came up with yesterday proved to be weaken than we had thought. we began to improvise around it and soon found out that it was going no where.
our last attempt using our script outline as a basis is a robbery of sonny's home in durban seaching for this valuable 'bible' that the two young robbers had heard about. sonny then intervienes and 'teaches' them the lessons that stem from the bible. i am biting my tongue, hoping to get inspiration from it, but it is bravely up to tod to point out the obvious, 'We shouldnt start out our play with a robbery of Sonny's house. That isnt a good idea.'
Yes, he is right.
i felt a bit like banging my head against the wall to get something to start clicking between my ears, but the actors pull through with dan suggesting that we stage a scene from a tour our robben island as it is today with a flashback or ghost of sonny haunting his former cell. this set off a hilarious scene with one of the actors taking on the role of the tour guide who couldnt be understood, but still is overly reverentiable to 'madiba' island, as he called it.

things finally begin to flow, though without much of my help.
but finally something sticks. unfortunately, it is now the end of the day and so we have to leave any further development to tomorrow. but at least we end on a positive note.
the artists participating are great. though we all ebb & flow in our creativity, i never sense that they dont want to be here and that they are contributing as best as possible.
tonight, it is home early for dinner and then for me to try to straighen myself out. i have got to be more front footed tomorrow in my contributions to the development.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Sunday 14 February 2o1o:

I have arranged to meet with Vice this afternoon to see if we can bash an outline for the play out today. Taking from our notes, but also our impressions from the last five days of rehearsal, it is my sincere hope that he and I are thinking along the same lines. I don't really thinking it is as bad as I am making it out to be since he & I have established a good working relationship since the first day and have been talking through our ideas throghout the rehearsal period. So , I am not anticipating any bombshells or a completely different take on the play.

I spend the morning working on my own version of an outline and present it to him over lunch at Steers, where every inch of their menu is devoted to all things meat related, where there are pictures of giant 'steak burgers' that were voted 'Johannesburg's favourite burger 2oo8 and 2oo9. The décor is Texas / New Mexico flavoured with pictures of animals of the cow variety decorating the walls & windows. Quite how two vegetarians arrived at this restaurant and thought it was a good idea is beyond me, but Vice suggested it so I figured he knew what he was doing

We sit down & do not immediately order, we break out our notebooks and both of our computers. We look so urbane in Steers, with our laptops clicking away whilst everyone around is licking their lips and digging into another pound of flesh.

We both break out our outlines and, lo & behold, we are on the same track. But it is interesting how we have presented our work. My outline has very little text, but completely tracks the entire play. His has snipbits of texts and how he would edit the transcripts. Like director & playwright......... but they fit together quite nicely. We finish our meeting in under three hours with a rough, but solid play outline.

By this time, the kind waitress would really like us to order, so skimming the menu quickly as 98% of it is obviously beef-friendly, we both settle on the salad bar. Again, how urbane. I am surprised that we weren't run out on a rail.......

Back at home, I relax with my Chris Hani book and spend some time working on the outline. I also begin to prepare for tomorrow's rehearsal. After a couple of days off, I am looking forward to getting back into the rehearsal room. I am excited to see how the actors react to our work and to see how they can improve it. They are a giving bunch, without an ego amongst them. They are really giving of themselves to this project. I could not have been luckier with choosing my colleagues.

Saturday 13 February 2o1o:

Today is a lovely day – though still hot & humid, I have learned not to complain too much as it is snowing in London and New York & DC are apparently shut down due to snow. So, I will take the humidity with humility.

Yesterday I purchased a new book on the life of Chris Hani. He is a former freedom fighter who was assassinated in 1993. But before then, he said:

'Socialism is not about big concepts and heavy theory. Socialism is about decent shelter for those who are homeless. It is about water for those who have no safe drinking water. It is about healthcare, it is about a life of dignity for the old. It is about overcoming the huge divide between urban and rural areas. It is about education for all or our people. Socialism is about rolling back the tyranny of the market. As long as the economy is dominated by an unelected, privileged few, the case for socialism will exist.'

I have carried that quote around in my wallet (I know an odd place for such a quote) for over 6 years. I found it during my first trip to South Africa in 2oo3. I was here in April, on the 10th anniversary of his death and their was much news coverage of him. I had no idea who he was (exactly like the 30 plus names who signed Sonny's 'bible' – I knew 'the big four' – Kathrada, Mandela, Sisulu & Mbeki). But this quote spoke to me. Absolutely.

I don't know much about Marx or Engel, but I do know that I am absolutely angry that we don't have universal education or healthcare, that the gap between the rich & poor has never been wider. And that so many people don't care what happens outside of their white picket fence.

I was asked at the last rehearsal why the story of Robben Island and Sonny's 'bible' interested me. I babbled incoherently because I have lived with it for so long, it has just become a part of me. I should have said, 'Because I am angry. And these men give me hope.'

Read about Chris Hani. He deserves, like all of the men who signed the 'bible,' to be know and admired.

Friday 12 February 2o1o:

Last day of transcripts & chosen quotes. We finish off with Eddie Daniels, who begins to recapture our passion of the Struggle saying, ' the Apartheid government has to attempt to please 4 million people, the democratic government has to attempt to please 40 million.'

This gives us the perspective that change is a long process, but it still does not excuse the actions of politicians who believe they deserve their bling lifestyle because they gave years of their lives to the Struggle – what about those who lived under Apartheid in shacks and still are? Surely they 'struggled' as much as you, but have not received the benefits, the accoutrements as Saths calls it, of political office?

We also read through Shakespeare's Sonnets that were chosen by some of the men. My appreciation and love of his Sonnets have grown throughout this process. As seen through the eyes of a South African revolutionary, these Sonnets takes on a whole new meaning:

Sonnet no: 25:
‘Let those who are in favour with their stars
Of public honour and proud titles boast,
Whilst I, whom fortune of such triumph bars,
Unlook'd for joy in that I honour most.
Great princes' favourites their fair leaves spread
But as the marigold at the sun's eye,
And in themselves their pride lies buried,
For at a frown they in their glory die.
The painful warrior famoused for fight,
After a thousand victories once foil'd,
Is from the book of honour razed quite,
And all the rest forgot for which he toil'd:
Then happy I, that love and am belov'd,
Where I may not remove nor be removed.’

or this one,

Sonnet no 30:
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sign the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste.
Then can I drown an eye, unus’d to flow,
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancell’d woe,
And moan th’ expense of many a vanish’d sight.
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned mona,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restor’d, and sorrows end.'

it is a humid & hot day. And we are in a stuffy rehearsal room. And it is a Friday. So, needless to say, there is more yawning than usual and the scenes created are a bit more absurd -

One is taken from a story of Eddie's when he and Kwede dreamt up the idea of a helicopter rescue of Nelson Mandela whilst on Robben Island. The actors have transformed the scene into a children's fantasy (not a stretch from the original idea, I must say) where Mandela is pulled out of his cell and put onto a waiting escape helicopter.

Mnedesi says, 'When I was growing up, we didn't play cops & robbers, we played freedom fighters who flew helicopters onto Robben Island to rescue Mandela & the others.'

We finish for the week. I am looking forward to the weekend to a day off to let things process a bit. I have also arranged to meet with Vice for a long lunch, with plenty of beers, on Sunday to discuss how the play is shaping up.

We have one week left.... Gulp.
I just have to keep on remembering that creating a crisis is a good thing..... right....

Thursday 11 February 2o1o:

Another monumental day in South African history. I feel very fortunate to be here on the 20th Anniversary of the release of Nelson Mandela. But strangely, the country itself isn't nearly as excited as us foreigners are.
There is plenty of news coverage, stories and remembrances, but the young actors with whom I am working along with everyone else I meet, isn't terribly interested or excited. This sense of deflation is also evident in the devising of The Robben Island Bible.

There is a palpable sense of let-down within the community who voted in the ANC in 1994 & in each election since. Little has changed for those who live in townships & shacks around the country. Saths Coopers speaks eloquently about this let-down especially for young South Africans,

My two sons, the one is 20 and the other is 22 and my daughter is 16 and all of them know that if you want to get anywhere, if you want to get the lucrative contract, and tenders, the join X organization now so that you will take care of the future in a few years time. And that has, in a sense, developed a cynicism amongst youth that is dangerous because youth cannot afford to be cynical about anything. Sceptical yes, because you are questioning – you want to know what so and so is saying is correct or not. They want to challenge, but the cynicism that is developing is a legacy of leadership that has tended to look after itself, has tended to look after those who are close to them and then created a terrible model for youth to follow.

The State of the Nation address is this evening. President Jacob Zuma has chosen this date to address South Africans. Nelson Mandela is there as are other former freedom fighters (and several RIB signatories). Like other country's addresses, he is long on programmes, but short on the funding of these programmes. He rekindles the spirit of the Struggle at every available moment, but the audience is, as Saths says above, much more cynical than before.

'Passion,' one South African actor said to me recently, 'does not put food on the table.'

South Africans had the passion for change in 1994, but little has improved for the vast majority of them.

So the anniversary and State of the Nation address pass with little hoopla.

In the rehearsal room, we are continuing to develop scenes & characters. We carry on reading the transcripts & chosen texts. The actors are now looking specifically at the veterans. Their monologues go over very well & give Vice & I a lot to go on. They have found the most resonance passages of the transcripts for them & performed it.

Vice & I have a lively discussion with the actors regarding our thoughts on the framing and through line for the play. Generally, everyone is in line, though the seems to be a much more militarist view towards the interrogation by the younger generation of the older one. One that gets to ask, 'Why hasn't things changed more? Why did we compromise rather than liberate? When did self- aggrandizement become the norm of the political class & the well connected than the betterment of all? Again, Saths Cooper,

The politicians tend to collect the acoochama of power and whatever else goes with it as privilege and then justify it as 'entitlement.' They see it as something they have given a certain part of their lives for and, 'Sure enough, that is what I deserve.' And that is terrible thing. And it tends to corrode even the best of souls. So the politicians, going with that, will get fat, literally and otherwise.

This leads to a scene where a former freedom fighter (who vaguely sounds a bit like a former president), gets kidnapped and put on trial by young men who are asking these very questions. It is powerful, but frightening stuff. But this political heavyweight hasn't lost his touch and soon turns the tables on the young men in questioning their urgency and their commitment for change. He asks them, 'What are you contributing to your country? I spent 27 years imprisoned for you to have a vote and what have you done with that right?'

We leave the rehearsal room swirling with possibilities.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Wednesday 10 February:

today was a good day. It felt 'regular' – like we are getting into a routine and we are making progress. It felt like everyone knew their jobs and it was making sense. Transcripts in the morning & scene / character development in the afternoon.

Today, we are looking at the Former Political Prisoners themselves. Just before lunch, I ask each of the actors to choose their 'favourite' two FPP's. Their assignment after lunch is to come up with a two minute monologue which incorporates some of the Shakespearian texts & the transcripts. They attack this task with gusto. I think that they are excited to have the focus on the Veterans who are the centre of this play. I give them 30 minutes to edit down a monologue, which they do exceedingly well.

Dan portrays Sonny.
Omphile portrays Saths
Mnetisci portrays Michael
Kabelo portrays Theo.

Having never seen the men or watched the interview tapes, all they could rely upon are the transcripts & their creativity. I dont want them to watch the tapes before committing to creating something based on the transcripts & their artistry. This, I think, prevents them from trying to immitate them ratehr than find their essential traits, which is within the transcripts.

They perform their monologues & we hotseat them to further develop the FPP characters.

Afterwards, we brainstorm all of the scenes that they remember having created over the last three days. We also prepare questions for Saths Cooper who will be coming to the theatre on Tuesday.

Their homework is to create another monologue based on another of the Veterans. I look forward to seeing them tomorrow......

Tuesday 9 February:

We carry on allow the same schedule as before. After an exhillerating first day, there is always a bit of a let down in energy in the second. But we didnt let that affect out work. We read through the transcripts in the morning, then developed scenes & characters based on the transcripts. Once the scenes were developed & performed, I asked them to focus on the characters within the scenes. We did a physical charactre building exercise, then we hotseated the characters – getting them to sit in the chair and answer questions about themselves. This allows the actor to further develop the character he is working on. The results are wonderful – both funny and heartbreaking.
In working like this, you tend to work through the stereotyped characters before settling onto more nuanced ones. Although funny, the ones that get you are the simple quiet & determined characters. And we had all sorts of them – from a wheeling & dealing business man who can 'get you anything you want – from a new Nissan car engine to a tin of beans' all the while making ' a six figure salary' to a farm labouror who 'just needed to work to send money home' to a former MK foot soldier who was suffering from post tramatic stress disorder, was one helluva plumber, but didn't know his place in this new democracy of South Africa where the white men has had been shooting at were now his commanders. He had fought for liberation from, not compromise with the white man.

That evening, Tod & I stay late at the theatre to see the show, The Pen. Very nice – well acted, simply staged and effected. Plus not starting till 8.15pm and at one hour and 15 minutes, it gave us plenty of time between rehearsal & the performance to have a couple of ice cold Castles, which I justified as well deserved.

Masie met us after the play and drove us home. We have now graduated from mini buses to private cars. The socialist in me isn't happy, but my legs & bottom are....

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.

The Weekend:

Tod & Masie catch up on sleep and I begin to transcribe the latest interviews. I get through Saths 45 minute interview fairly quickly and begin to work on Sonny's considerably longer one on Sunday.

The entire family goes out to dinner on Sunday night to my favourite Sowetoian restaurant, Wandies. Although one of the few restaurants there, it is a great place to find vegatarian & non- veg meals, truly a find in MEAT – LOVING South Africa.
So, I fill up on my favourite Chacalaka whilst the carnivores dig into the chicken.

I go to bed early to be ready for the first day of rehearsal tomorrow.

Friday 5 February

Masie & Tod return today from their mad whirlwind tour of South Africa. Whilst I have been in Jo' burg this week, they have traveled from here to Durban to interview Sonny to Cape Town to interview Eddie Daniels. Today, they are meeting me at Park Station so that the three of us can go to interview Dr. Saths Cooper. Sonny & Saths are second interviews, Eddie is a first and I am disapointed that I have not been able to meet him.
Years ago, I spoke to Eddie about the 'Bible.' He was the first Signatoree with whom I spoke. He wrote the most elegant of emails in response to my initial questions. Here is a edited version:

There is no connection between the feelings of despair which Macbeth expresses in the soliloquy "Tomorrow and tomorrow..." and our feelings as prisoners.

Where Macbeth expressed despair because his ambitions which came to naught, and which destroyed his self respect, were based on greed and corruption. Speaking for myself, my self-respect remained intact with a quiet sense of pride and dignity in that I was in prison because I was trying to right the wrongs which had, and was still, being perpetrated on the victims of injustice.

Reading, and in my small way, trying to analyse the words uttered by Macbeth and the context in which it was uttered. Shakespeare brought home to me the frailty of the human being (Out, out, brief candle). No matter how great we are (like Mr Mandela) or how unknown we are (like me) fate/time will eventually remove us from the stage of life (That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more). Our bodies will become dust (or ash). Our names and deeds (mine far sooner than Mr Mandela’s) will eventually be erased by the sands of time.

What I found breath taking was the fact that Shakespeare could visualize with such clarity the perpetuality of human existence. I hope that you won't consider the above as a 'tale told by an idiot'.

This email was the first sign of the humble nature of these freedom fighters. I would time & time again, find this same humility in each of the men whom I interviewed.

I make my way to Park Station and meet up with Tod & Masie. They both are exhausted having had little sleep & too much running around in the Cape Town sun. But no down time for them: we are off to Haughton to meet Dr. Cooper. He is a psychologist who was imprisoned in 1976 at the age of 24. He was a member of the Black Consciousness Movement and had this to say at our initial meeting in November 2o08:

When your, ah, youth, your late teens, 20s gets constrained in that terrible fashion and you’re confined physically to a space that is, what, one and half metres by just over two metres or something like that you are going … to... be, a few things can happen. One, is you’re going to resist that physical imposition, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. Because physically you may break your head against the wall, but otherwise you have to be there. But intellectually you don’t have to accept that.

You know that this is an imposition and at heart ours was a fight for dignity. Dignity of the mass of people that even today have not received that dignity. The constitution may scream it, but in reality the majority of our people are way beyond even a modicum of participating in an equality that they expected post ’94. And so you see a massive outpouring of self destructive behaviour of us doing things to ourselves, doing things to those who are accessible, ah, because there is no other enemy out there.

When we meet him, he looks even younger than the last time we met. Although 61 years old, he has jet black hair and doesnt look a day over 40.

Like the rest of the men, it truly is a privilege to meet with him for a second time. Although stepping out of politics after the early 1990's, Saths is as firely as ever. He has this to say,

I think that politicians & business men who tell the Youth of today that, 'Because we were in the Struggle, we deserve this high way of living', is a betrayal of everything that has been Noble in our Struggle. It has created that sleaze factor. It has led to the ignoblity of being associated with demolition of the previous system because people gave their lives. There are thousands of heroes that have gone unrecognised in our country. There are thousands who have contributed in different ways and I don't think many of them go around looking for acclimation. They don't go around with these weights on their shoulders.

It is because of that gap between Struggle & Power and how you mediate the gap between those two and you do it with integrity.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

South Africa marks 20 years of unbanning of liberation movements

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the unbanning of the ruling party African National Congress (ANC) and other liberation movements from participation in politics. Former State President FW de Klerk stunned the world on February 2, 1990 when he announced in Parliament that his Government had decided to release jailed ANC leader Nelson Mandela unconditionally and unban the ANC and the South African Communist Party.

The announcement led to the ANC suspending its armed struggle against the apartheid Government a few months later and the suspension of sanctions against South Africa. The party eventually took over the Government after peaceful elections in 1994, followed by Mandela's inauguration as the country's first democratically-elected President.

The day comes on the back of the party’s 98th anniversary celebrations which have been held countrywide. ANC officials have been criss-crossing the country to commemorate this milestone, at the same breath sharing messages of hope with the party’s loyalists.

Among issues engaged during the 98th anniversary celebrations have been the party’s stance to root out corruption among officials, to speed up service delivery, eradicate poverty as well some lambasting factionalism within provincial and local party structures. During these celebrations, party members chanted revolutionary songs, donned in full party regalia, reminding themselves of the long path they had travelled to liberation.


Tuesday 2 February 2o1o

Today is the 20th Anniversary of the unbanning of the ANC and all other opposition political parties by then Present FW DeKlerk. What a great time to be in South Africa. Nine days from 2 February 199o on 11 February 199o, Nelson Mandela walked out of prison in Cape Town freely, the first time in over 27 years. That anniversary will also be a cause for celebration & reflection. On the news, there has been retrospection and appraisals of what has been accomplished & what needs to be further done.

I am off to the Market Theatre to meet with two of the four actors as well as with Vice. I want to give him a DVD of the videos & audio recordings of the interviews. Two of the actors participating in this script development phrase have worked with me before at the reading in March 2oo9 at the Richmond Theatre in London. I am looking forward to working with them again as well as meeting two new actors. I hope also to meet with Matjamela at the Lab Theatre today to re-introduce myself and make plans for the next three weeks.

Monday 1 February 2o1o:

Monday, Masie is off to work and Tod & I stay at home catching up and preparing for the interviews and rehearsal. I give Tod a crash course in the various political parties within South Africa and their basic positions along with a basic outline of the recent history of the country. We go over the quotes and the biographies of the men whom he will be interviewing. I also continue to pour over the transcripts and quotes making more notes and links between the two. I need to be as solid as possible with this source material before Monday so that the actors can feel free to create whilst I keep them grounded in the source material.

I finally get my phone successfully registered and purchase airtime, which feels like a huge accomplishment. I send some texts, speak with my lovely wife and prepare to meet the actors on Tuesday. I also make a visit to the internet cafe to email Ahmed Kathrada several follow up questions from our first interview. I don't think that we will have the opportunity to interview him again, but he wanted me to send to him some follow up questions that he could answer in an email. That done, back home for another delicious dinner including, for the first time this trip, my favourite South African dish Chacalaka, a stew of baked beans & curried vegetables. Wonderful! And homemade....

Sunday, 31 January 2o1o:

On Sunday, Masie, Tod & I meet Vice, the dramaturg for the project. He is a young & accomplished playwright who has worked in & around the Market Theatre and was recommended to me by Matjamela, the head of the Lab Theatre at the Market. We have a brief meeting where I explain what has happened so far with the project and where I see the project heading. He is very much in agreement and pleased to be working on the project. He knows well the actors with whom we will be working. He nor I know what we will have in two weeks time, but we are all in agreement that we can work together to fashion a strong piece of work based on the interviews & the chosen Shakespearian quotes.

After that meeting, we make another attempt at sorting our SIM cards, but with no luck. The government has recently introduced a law stating that all purchased SIM cards must be registered to a South African with proof of address. This seems to be in response to the use of mobile phones used in illegaal areas. Noble idea, but tough to accomplish (in any reasonable amount of time). The shop keepers are none too keen to make extra work for themselves and so really don't want to see two obvious foreigners entering their stores looking for SIM cards.

We also begin the major undertaking of booking Masie's & Tod's whirlwind tour of South Africa. Masie has scheduled interviews with Sonny in Durban & Eddie Daniels in Cape Town along with Saths Cooper back in Jo'burg on Friday. Needless to say booking one way tickets is an additional hassle that the attendants at Shoprite seem wary to participate. We are at the shop for almost two hours stringing together 6 one way tickets (Jor' burg to Durban, Durban to Cape Town & Cape Town to Jo'burg). Whew, another example of Masie's extreme patience & my drive to drink.......

Finally accomplished, we head home to another wonderful dinner.

Welcome back to South Africa.....

Saturday, 30 January 2o1o

I walk out of the airplane with a smile on my face, because I truly love this country. I have a deep sense of comfort whenever I come here. Though I don't and never will fully 'understand' it, I feel a communion with it. Much more so that the States and, increasingly, the United Kingdom. There is a simplicity to it and a straighfforwardness to it. You get what you see. There is no mask in dealing with South Africans in their country. And that is not always easy to deal with when coming from countries that have a bottom line of comfort & stability. The general public don't have that comfort. Ah, what a luxury we Americans have as we haggle over whether or not we should should have a 'Public Option' on a bill in Congress that wants everyone to be required to have health insurance.

I arrive on Saturday morning to a beautiful & sunny morning. After the grey weather of London, it is a welcome sight, even if I am four hours delayed. Masie & Tod are waiting for me at the airport and we set off right away.

After paying for the parking, I notice how much more expensive South Africa has become. Not only had the Pound Sterling devalued nearly 5 Rand since I was last in 2oo8, prices in general for South Africans had greatly increased. 'All due to the coming World Cup,' Masie says. He has seen the increase from his home in Soweto and doing business in Johannesburg.

We spend the day queing for a variety of things: SIM cards for the mobile phone, food for home & a cable for our computer. Very little luck, this first time around. But Masie has the patience of a saint as he haggles and debates and questions all with a smile on his face and a chirp in his voice. Yes, he is bothered, but he knows this is the price of business, a certain level of frustation and he doesn't let this bother him, unlike me, the greedy Westerner who is used to having service (even in London) of a better standard. After queing for a SIM card that never comes about ('The computer is offline now, so we cannot process your purchase,' says the man behind the iron cage in the shop), I tell him, 'I am driven to drink,' but the inconvience just rolls off his back and we are off to another shop in the quest of this ever so slippery SIM card. I could learn a lot from his smile & his patience.

We have a wonderful meal prepared by Masie's mother soon after we arrive at his house, where Tod & I will be calling home for the next three weeks ('And one day,' says my wonderful, yet suffering, wife, 'You are gone for more than three weeks.'). Masie's mom ('Mom-Jobie' as she is affectionity called by her son) is fretting over fixing a vegetarian meal, as now there are two vegetarians living under her thatched roof. But she pulls it off with a selection of dishes from mashed potatoes & tomato gravy to beetroot, salad & cooked vegetables with curry sauce.

That evening, I go out with a friend for a quick bottle of Castle and, much to my surprise I am re-introduced to Andrew Mlangeni, MP for Soweto, Freedom Fighter who spent 25 years on Robben Island and interviewee for my research last year in Cape Town. With contained excitement, I go over to shake his hand. It is very different circumstances than the previous time we met. Then, he came around to Ahmed Kathrada's home in Cape Town before going to work in Parliament. He was dressed to the nines with famously clean glasses. Tonight, he is relaxed in his home enjoying himself and his family around him. It was a brief meeting, but I hope to see him again soon and conduct further interviews with him during my time here.