June 30th, 2007

Shakespeare: theatre is life

It's like scholastic transubstantiation.

Realizing one is a theatre person is what happens when one goes to a foreign country, listens to hours of history lectures, reading books, getting background information on the former regime of the state and the wounds and trauma it inflicted on the people, reading about their attempts at reconciliation, trying to wrap your mind around how the people live and how they feel and understand the universe, trying to get the slightest bit of your worldview and feeling stifled by the opinions they put forth and thinking the entirety completely alien, then stepping into one dramatic production, watching storytelling done by two women using shoes as full characters for an hour, and going "Oh! That's what they mean." 

I'd forgotten, even, how much I love theatre until I came here.

The play we went to this afternoon, half in French and half in English, with a good deal of what I think was Xhosa mixed in (unfortunately I only know about ten words in Xhosa, so it's difficult to tell-- and there wasn't that much clicking, so I could be wrong), was minimalist, the entirety of the stage in view of the audience the whole time. One white woman, one black woman, both playing multiple characters, the overarching theme of the show the story of a mother and daughter whose house has been burnt down by-- someone. Rebels, police, I couldn't quite tell, the importance was not the perpetrator but the way the victims handled it-- and the daughter looking for her lost sister. Between them they played women, men, blacks, whites, students, teachers, thieves, perpetrators, victims, elephants, humans-- incredible.

Of course, the theatre festival in Grahamstown isn't all profound. Last night we went to see a show called Evita for President, a one-man stand-up comedian doing political humor. He went through eight or nine different characters and made fun of absolutely everyone in South Africa and a good deal of people out of it. It's something that's difficult to explain unless you've been here, how politically complicated it is here because everyone has these different prejudices, but it's also very politically united because everyone realizes each party is going to have their turn, which is something the United States doesn't seem able to do. Anyway, my favorite character in the show was an old woman putting on her makeup while she talked about politics in South Africa. "I respect all the traditions in this country. I mean, I do draw the line. I draw the line at sacrificing a bull in your front yard to appease the ancestors. I agree the ancestors need to be appeased, they're pissed! But it's 2007, for Christ's sake. Update your traditions! The Christians go to church and they say 'Every Sunday we eat Christ's flesh and we drink His blood' but they don't kill an old hippie every Sunday morning!" Evita herself shared the stage with President Mbeki, who took the form of a wooden puppet.

Before that, I had an... incident. I got violently sick in the gutter and ended up missing a jazz performance the rest of the class went to. I put myself back together, walked back to our dorm (WE HAVE OUR OWN ROOMS OMG I LOVE THIS PLACE I GET MY OWN ROOM AND UNLIKE EVERY OTHER PLACE IN SOUTH AFRICA IT HAS A SPACE HEATER OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG I WON'T FREEZE AT NIGHT OMG [/American girl in Africa]), took a shower, got the clothes covered in ick ready to be washed, and set out to figure out where the next theatre was. I had no idea and not knowing the town, I asked the concierge. She gave me directions I followed until they led me to a museum that definitely was not the theatre. I asked some girls coming out of a bar, but they were tourists too and couldn't help, and pointed me to "the locals" inside. I went in, and asked where the Victoria Theatre was. They took me. It was sort of surreal, they all walked me the few blocks there. I was walking down the street after dark with five strange black men and thinking "I really hope this is safe". They were, however, sweethearts and led me right to the building the play was in.

We're heading to a lecture in an hour or so and I'm considering going for lunch before then. I'm not too keen on the lectures, but I think this is one I've got to go to. I'll finish up on a few e-mail sand then head out.

Missing you all terribly, missing America more than I thought possible. I have asked my mother to bring me Starbucks and doughnuts to the airport.