Amazing others, comedy blunders?

There were a couple of “lump in the throat” moments this week.

Moments that left me genuinely moved at what unfolded as we sat on stage, taking in the comments and questions from the audience. What I’m talking about is the last (and interactive) segment of “The Most Amazing Other Show”. The production, made for Rhodes University’s Orientation Week, is as blunt a play as you’ll ever see.

Basically, it’s a series of skits looking at different types of relationships on campus and the way that we come with perceptions of one another, based on things like race and gender. One of the scenes that I was a part of involved attitudes that some black people have of others (I don’t want to give too much away), and the way that it resonated with people was striking.

So there we were at the end of the show on each of the five nights, taking in the audiences’ responses, and the way that people would have comments and questions with a clear emotional grounding was something I’ve never experienced. The thing with theatre is that by the time the people leave the venue, you can only speculate how much you might have really affected them.

Not with this show. Here, it was immediately clear what kind of impact you had as soon as the facilitation session started.

“What makes you think you have the right to judge him just because he doesn’t speak Zulu?” I was asked probingly as the hundreds of eyes in the packed theatre awaited my reaction. I had to respond in character, which in my case was a staunch and stubborn one. The challenge was also to remain true to the character and not taking some of the scathing responses personally.

The show has been running at Rhodes University‘s drama department since 2008 and when I saw it in my first year (2010), I remember how it dominated the 20-minute conversation all the way back to res. So to be able to be a part of it this year was a massive deal for me.

We had to be back in Grahamstown on the 26th of January to start working on it. The show ran from the 6th to the 10th of February, to a packed Rhodes Theatre. Each day, different groups of dining halls filled the venue, to be pelted with a provocative 45 minutes of performance.

The cast was also a huge plus-point. Another collaboration with the immensely-talented Sandi Dlangalala, which meant we had another chance to be completely crazy with one of the skits. Always such a pleasure. There was also Michele Ellis, a stunningly gorgeous and musically-inclined performer and a great friend. I also got to know Ntsali Khaketla, whose performative strengths became apparent as soon as we started this piece. So glad I got to know her.

Michele Ellis

Lucy Kruger (the choreographer girl) added strength, presence and music to the cast. Ester van der Walt is our resident Potch beauty (she has family in Potchefstroom) and her experience with the piece helped us settle. Ryan Napier is a second-year drama student, who I got to know last year from the cast of “Memory of Water”. Sharp and quick-witted, he added a cool edge to the cast.

Lucy "choreographer girl" Kruger
Ester van der Walt

It was also awesome to work with Tristan Jacobs, an insanely-gifted performer (with an eye for the comical) who was actually my voice tutor in first year. You have no idea how crazy I went when I saw him in this TV ad (click link). I’ve always looked up to him so the chance to work with him was a step-up for me. Of course the play wouldn’t have been much without the creative input of Clara Vaughn (a graduate of the department), who directed it.

I’m immensely grateful to have been a part of such a production. Apart from being able to get people thinking, the work poked me into some serious introspection about some of the prejudices which I held. And that’s something that isn’t too easy to admit to oneself.

Deep, hey?

Now that the show’s over, my attention switches back to comedy. I have just one performance lined up so the nerves are starting to mingle in my mind. I’ve been asked to perform at the Kimberly East Hall welcome dinner (the date of which I’m unsure) and it’s completely new material, which makes it that much scarier.

I’m in a wierd space right now in the sense that laughter isn’t what I want anymore. Don’t get me wrong, comedy is all about the laughs but I guess what I’m trying to say is that the challenge is to be able to really resonate with people. Instead of a good chuckle, have content that really cuts deep.

Inception. It’s a joke within a joke. (Cheesy, but I couldn’t resist).

I’ve been thinking this way throughout the holidays and working on the Amazing Other Show only served to reinforce this.

I hope it works out. It feels like I’m back to square one. Completely vulnerable. Let’s hope this churns out some good stuff.

Stay tuned…

-Tyson

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