On an Adventure
Updated: Nov 2, 2022
Theater Grottesco Artistic Director, John Flax, is in South Africa for a month where he will be meeting with artist and filmmaker William Kentridge. Follow John’s journey:
South Africa Blog Entry 1
I didn’t expect the adventure to begin on the shuttle to the Albuquerque airport for a redeye to NY. The only other passenger was Gayatri Datar, co-founder of Earth Enable. She builds sustainable housing in Rwanda. The website is http://www.earthenable.org/ International discussions of paradigm shift have begun.
Coney Island - American Exit Ramp
SA Blog Entry 2
There's a lot of wilderness east of Capetown. Aside from amazing birds, there are no deer. Only baboons.
SA Blog Entry 3
On the way to Johannesburg for theater meetings, I’ve seen baboons crossing the highway, penguins, whales spouting and a cave that supported human life 65-85,000 years ago.
SA Blog Entry 4
Flights come into the southern tip of the continent from the north. There is no air traffic to the East of Capetown. The stillness up high adds to the exotic strangeness of this place accentuated by the birds, the plants and the insects.
SA Blog Entry 5
If you lifted Iowan farm country, shook it like a towel and froze it place before it settled,
it would look like the folds of vast Southern Cape farms. Add ridges of coastal mountains and you’d have a sense of this exotic land.
Grottesco photographer Marc Romanelli and I left the fields behind, drove through a deep gorge and landed at the top in the Karoo, a much drier region which looks much like southern New Mexico.
The Karoo Art Hotel in Barrydale is owned by Sue Meville who studied with Elizabeth Wiseman and me at the Lecoq Conservatory in Paris years ago. William Kentridge was there too. Barrydale is a small town spontaneous collection of artists and city escapees that reminds one of Marfa, Texas. The energy is palpable. The colors are bright. The Karoo Art Hotel rocks.
Sign in front of the Karoo Art Hotel
SA Blog Entry 6
Backlit by the sun, a translucent green blue wave builds to an impending crash. This one
has a live seal in it looking like an insect frozen in amber for a brief moment but
wriggling ever so slightly like only a seal could do in the surf.
John Flax working on his juggling in the Western Cape. Photo: Marc Romanelli
SA Blog Entry 7
Johannesburg, city of gated, homes, purple trees and Soweto Township population 4
million plus. There are neighborhoods of lovely homes and ones of corrugated shacks.
Nelson Mandela’s home was tiny and with bullet holes in the bricks. Wall art is
provocative: “I see you.” Like everywhere, people struggle to better themselves, find
work, send their kids to school. My guide, Thulani Mhambi, works with a foundation to
improve education. Donations are gratefully accepted. He can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org . Tell him John Flax sent you.
Tomorrow I visit William Kentridge at his studio.
SA Blog Entry 8
I met William Kentridge at his home in a Johannesburg residential neighborhood. His
adjoining studio is a short walk through the garden so he can work whenever he likes.
There was a buzz of people in constant motion and a chaotic joy as multiple projects were
being developed simultaneously. On top of that, a family wedding was being planned for
Lunch was a long table of 15-20 people: family, staff, artists, kids, grandkids. I’m not
sure how he carved out the time but William, a colleague and I sat in the studio editing
where a team has been transferring a film on green screen for two years now. We shared
our current work with choruses. He has developed a stunning style of gesture with 2D
facial masks, elaborate costumes and props. Grottesco has been working on bare stage
choral movement. Kentridge listens well and is very quick. It seems his soul never sleeps.
Then he and I drove to the downtown Centre for the Less Good Idea - a Detroit like full
block old industrial building with a lot of glass. Inside, a sculpture studio that doubles as
a 200 seat performance space, scenic and tech studios, and several smaller studio theaters.
Here, the buzz is all performance. The Centre supports and produces new ensemble based
physical theatre at a remarkable rate. New plays are opening next weekend. Artists,
dancers, designers, actors, administrators were hard at work. They’ve just opened an
academy named after the first word of Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf translation: “So”.
Before sitting in on a tech rehearsal, we went to an independent print shop next door that
also prints William’s work. He had to okay a large print they'd been working on for 2
years and sign a bunch of small prints for sale. Kentridge moves effortlessly between the
art forms and has built something akin to a modern South African Andy Warhol Factory.
The vibe is as positive as you’ll find in the arts. And just to be clear, there is absolutely
nothing like this in the States. It takes a well known artist.
Tomorrow, I’ll meet with the Centre staff to share specific project details. Perhaps a
collaboration is in the future.
SA Blog Entry 9 (Final Entry)
Phala, the artistic director of the Centre for the Less Good Idea and I had a conversation
about where we might work together. Our processes are worlds apart. Where Grottesco
spends a year developing a show, the Centre puts things up quickly and many
simultaneously. He was intrigued with our upcoming project Two Artists in Prison and
was keen to have us share the idea of adaptation with his ensemble. Combined with a
master class, this will be our next step in the conversation. The journey continues.