My first time in South Africa and I was half expecting a winter holiday break. Oh how wrong I was. From arriving one day late (yes, I almost came to fisticuffs with Heathrow check-in staff) to being introduced to playwrights with scouring expectations, I realised that this was going to be a test that would give as much as it demanded.
The hunger remains the same. Playwrights want to entertain yet deliver ground breaking work that touches the soul. I often wonder why they go on courses like the one Ola Animashawun and I were asked to deliver and decided, perhaps cynically, that they're just networking to be produced. But with our South African writers, there was an urgency, a dead earnestness to speak of a country changing quickly and in some ways not quick enough. The room was filled with bristling ideas along with considerable script writing skill for television, poetry and film. These were not the uninitiated. They knew, they demanded, they spoke - and I was completely exhilarated; and suddenly discovered how I could be useful to them.
The most I could hope for was a deeper relationship between the writers and their writing. Open new pathways to enjoy, control and analyse their work by applying specific questions and considerations that remind of drama. Yes, I felt we were counsellors; not there to teach, but to listen, advise and help a writer feel that they're worth it - All of It.
Did it work? From the overwhelming responses and enthusiasm, I think it certainly did. Whether it was Jo'burg or Cape Town, or having an imposing Oscar award nominee in the room, the common word was 'inspired'. Yes, 'inspired'. Add to that a quirky bunch of playwrights and artists prepared to explore anything and South Africa doesn't feel like a world away. It's just a long flight to be at home with peers and friends.
Posted by Christopher, Thursday 3rd February, 2011