Perception---you have that power.

There is purpose in design. There is information in a setting. There is truth in your environment. Fake or real, it's there.

All images are copyrighted by Heidi Hoffer unless otherwise indicated. Your courtesy in using my photographs must include crediting me as the photographer. You must tell me when and where you've used them and send the link to me showing your use of them.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

New Theatre Being Built!

A new theatre is being built in Soweto, a township of Johannesburg South Africa, and I got the cook's tour. I'll provide more photos in a later post.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Grahamstown National Arts Festival

I had the honor of being the guardian for one of the two University of Pretoria productions performing in the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, South Africa. This entailed helping to drive a 10 seat van with a trailer full of luggage on a journey of about 12 hours. Since there was no scenery, the costumes and the props rode in the van with us. There were so many different kinds of theatre going on at the Festival that it was difficult to choose which ones to watch. Eventually I learned to rely on The Cue – the daily newspaper. U.P’s production of As Night Falls was awarded an Ovation Award and featured on the front page of the Cue!
The long road to Grahamstown, South Africa featured potholes with giraffes's head sticking up out of them. This is a common occurrence, according to South Africans.
One of my Fulbright goals was to experience all of the different kind of theatre I could from Physical theatre to regular drama, with mime and puppet work in between and a little bit of dance, music and singing thrown in. There were more than 3,000 events to choose from in a period of 10 days. Some of these events were international in scope, like the Sky Like Sky production produced by recent Fulbrighter, Emily Mendelsohn with her actors from Rwanda.
Since everyone had to travel from their home institutions, productions had very limited scenery and so the only events that had anything of great scenery spectacle were the Rhodes theatre productions because they were in their own theatre. Lighting for most of the productions was flat and unimaginative because the venues had basic plighting plots and nearly zero time to add specials. I should say that they often had nearly half of a basic lighting plot. In fact most venues were lucky to have 2 or 3 booms or side lighting pipes with three or four instruments and four front lights and four back lights. Lighting designers did their level best with these limitations, and some made it work and some did not. It really depended upon how bendable the choreographers or directors were, to move their actors into the available light.
In this rehearsal photo of As Night Falls, you can see the basic lighting rig. The venues were not always meant to be theatres. This a venue was a school auditorium with a small proscenium stage. To use it for the festival the stage was ignored, a full black curtain was hung in front of its proscenium to become the background and rented bleachers were brough in and placed in the middle of the auditorium floor. Essentially the venue was redone to accomodate the Festival's needs.

In the end, much of the theatre I saw was physical in a way that increased the storytelling aspects of every production. It is subtle, but the University of Pretoria students could quickly point out troupes that had had no physical theatre training. It showed in their incomplete or clumsy movements. Perhaps this is one great reason why they won their award. Below are pictures! As you can see, their lighting designer Bailey Snyman and choregographer Nicky Haskins managed very well including clear use of warm and cool tones for different moments.

Nicky Haskins is an award-winning Choregorapher. Not only did she direct the University of Pretoria students in As Night Falls, she performed, along with Bailey Snyman and others, another strong piece at the festival called Anatomy of Weather. Behind her you can see the rented bleachers with their metal railings and plastic seats. All of the windows are hung with blackout curtains.

Many of the Festival's dance pieces used LED headlamps in their dances, and As Night Falls was no exception. They used the lamps to indicate a pathway for a journey, an owl, and emotional chaos in different scenes. In this scene the actors are lying on the ground, shining the lamps at each other's faces.
The actors also used LED camping lanterns and silver grey folding chairs.
The main focus in the dance was on the woman in white. She represented Helen Martins, South Africa's foremost Outsider Artist.

 A fair explanation of Helen Martins' unusual work and bizarre history can be found at   Nicky Haskins is not the only one to use Helen's unusual life as a source of inspiration. Athol Fugard's Road to Mecca does a wonderful job of capturing the Outsider spirit as well.
The actor playing Helen is physically very strong, and not only exhibited total trust and relaxation when being lifted and dragged about in a manner to relate the abuse Helen faced, but also managed a few good lifts of others as well.

The real Helen had her toes amputated as a result of poor footwear, and also hired a man of colour to help her make her camel garden and other glass-imbedded cement sculptures. She was shunned by society because of her relationship with this man and also shunned for her crazy artwork which she exhibited once a year by allowing the public into her studio/home. 

The company of dancers in As Night Falls wore black with attention to a 1960's coctail dress style or black trousers and shirts for the men. The period flavour grabbed your attention because it was both formal and funereal. In the picture above you can see an actor wearing a mask, a feathered headpiece, and gesturing her fingers in a feather-like spread.

In this scene the actors are taunting  Helen.
They capture her, and forcer her to wear this cage skirt which to me represented a final attempt at being normal.
A social scene - a party - shows Helen cannot manage with other people, and ends in two ugly rapes.
In the end, Helen takes her own life. In this scene, her employee/lover find her and is in anguish, dancing a fantastic solo.

The movement in this piece was really difficult to capture on film. I am adamant about not using flah and really tried to capture the darkness of the piece. I hope that through these photos you can see why As Night Falls received an Ovation Award.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

"Sexcetera" with NYU, Sibikwa Arts Center and Wits Drama Department

Sexceteraan exploration of space between audience and performer, the right to choose, obsession, fetish, voyeurism, and sequence.
I used Google Sketchup 8 to create this map of the locations for our site specific performances.

Sexcetera was devised by Phyllis Klotz of the Sibikwa Arts Centre, and designed by Heidi Hoffer who is a Fulbright Scholar currently in residence at University of Pretoria Drama. The cast was made up of students from the New York University in collaboration with The University of the Witwatersrand School of the Arts Drama Department, actors from the Sibikwa Arts Centre and students from the Wits Drama Department.  It was a site specific piece, with the location being a premium space for musicians and artists as well as the production.
The courtyard of the Wits School of the Arts was our location. This is a view from the middle looking down the stairs towards the foot fetish corner in red light.

This view is from the Lovers doorway looking down towards the Enchained piece with performers in white across from the sultry Priced Right performance.
Lovers was performed by Thapelo Kotolo and Thandi Dube. Audience members had to squeeze their way past these two occupied performers to get into the courtyard.
Smoochers in the pathway.
Tree of Love was written and performed by the musicians Eric Namaky, Siyabulela Sifatyi and Esther Maumela.
The musicians performed love songs...what else?
And to greet you and ignore you was an angel wearing a hard hat, because love is a dangerous business. The Angel was performed by Rasta Mokhere.
An Angel to guide us through and keep an eye on things.
When you crossed the metal bridge past the Lovers if you looked down to your left you could get a top view of the dominatrici in their subterranean lair. Succumb was developed and performed by NYU students.

View from above of the Dominatrix duo.
On the left performing while standing in sinks of water was Chris Couperthwaite and Bulelwa Ndaba in Love Lost written by Jessica Annunziata. Audience members viewed them through open windows.
Love Lost written by Jessica Annunziata could be performed backwards and forwards.

Continuing to the opposite end of the courtyard from the entrance, one got a glimpse of young love/lust on a car seat. Don't worry, they didn't really do it. They just expertly gave animated explanations of the sexual feelings and thought that accompanied their date. Oops and Umms was written by Bulelwa Ndaba in collaboration with Denise Mosiana. It was performed by Denise Mosiana and Taemane Mothobi.
Performers in Oops and Umms talk about the awkwardness of love on a car seat.
My Pastor, My Father, My Pilgrim was developed by Ethan Fishbane, Vuyelwa Maluleke, and Masiza Mbali. This performance was achingly surreal in its depiction of religious bindings.
The performers of My Pastor, My Father, My Pilgrim used long lengths of elastic to stretch and snap their ideas.
A site specific performance about sensuality, sex and acceptance is not without its body image artist. Caged was choreographed and performed by Louisa Levy.
The workshop built a "cage" for the actor in Caged to athletically manouver within while checking her reflection in shards of dangling mirrors.

The viewing of Caged brought the audience to the top of the stairs. Just underneath the stairs, lurking like a sensuous troll in a sequinned outfit was the performance of Basadi which was choreographed and performed by Freddie Nkantolo Zwane.
 Freddie Nkantolo Zwane performed near- contortionist moves in his dance of obsession with the curvy lounge chair.
Priced Right was developed and performed by Ashalin Singh and Chanelle Sardinha. This performance was reminiscent of the window displays of prostitutes in Amsterdam. Audience members got a glimpse of the power of money through the safety of a window.
Priced Right performers Ashalin Singh and Chanelle Sardinha exhibit some of what can be done for money.
Opposite the performance above was a unique poetic performance demonstrating need of acceptance and friendship and comany, and how those very things are often harmful.
Enchained was developed and performed by Raezeen Wentworth and Keith Leroyal Smith.
These performers performed circus style nearly - arial manouvers which were not completely arial because these performers were chained to the railing above.
Continuing in this basement level of the courtyard, the audience came acroos a scene of foot fetish. Foot Fetish was performed by Lesego Ngwato and Lucky Tshimbudzi.
What footsore Nurse wouldn't like to have a nice foot rub?

Lipstick was performed by Thokozane Nsibande. This actor sat on a swing, putting on his lipstick while audience membders went past him to the Foot Fetish performance or the Succumb dominatrix scene.

The tallest actor was given the task of using a bit of lipstick and a hand mirror on a swing suspended from the bridge above. He borrowed a swanky ginger coloured wig, some ladie's clothes, and voila! - a masterpiece of cross-dressing innocence.

The final destination on this level was the Succumb performance by NYU Students.
The desire for a normal life was juxtaposed with the desire for a dominatrix life in this performance of Succumb.
To quote the student Assistant Director Chris Couperthwaite in collaboration with the cast,
“The process for Sexcetera was highly personal and very organic. Grappling with the topic of sex is not easy for many people but we broke down the walls that we had built about sex, discovering as much about ourselves as we did this topic. With the direction of Phyllis Klotz we were exposed to a world of fantasy, sensuality and sexuality, working with sexologists, a dominatrix and, some of the cast observing professional strippers. We unanimously agreed upon not merely delivery of the expected but rather a highly thought provoking “sexhibition”, a show that is a creative collaboration of different voices, backgrounds, cultures and beliefs. We have grown together as a cast, exploring paths that we would not have had an opportunity to explore in any other way. It has been an unforgettable process of learning and engaging that will have lasting effects.”
Assistant Designer for the production was Chiara Moliaro. Stage Manager was Busizwe Mtshali. Assistant Stage Manager was Kgomotso Lwazi Mthembu. Crew members were Luke Webster, Darylene Pillay, Tyrel Van der Merwe, Chulekazi Mahlangeni, Karabo Sekgale, Crystal Vittee, Nicolette Spykerman, and Themba Twala.