So, a couple of you eagle eyes may well have spotted a subtle change in our domain address – yep, our old server for www.conspiracyofclowns.co.za has been attacked by spam so vicious it has prompted a move. (Why would people spam clowns? Why?!? In the name of all that is dark and decent!)
Riddle me this, riddle me that…Oskar and Onni and the fantastic Mr Cat!
That’s right, folks – Kardiāvale meets Mr Cat and the Jackal, and they’re hitting the Bijou tonight, 3 December!
Picture this – the blacksmith’s forge, enough dark corners to hide a conspiracy in,a swathe of fascinating machinery, a stripped-down Mr Cat and the Jackal line-up pounding and coaxing music and devilish sounds from said machinery with a rhythmic passion…and Oskar and Onni animating some of their songs like a dementedly delicious doo-wop duo.
(pics by Bazil Raubach at NAF 2011)
Sound enticing? Absolutely! Wanna be there? Hells yeah!
Then git yourself to The Bijou, 178 Lower Main Road, in Observatory, cos there’s an Open Studio there all day from 11am-10pm. View art, buy stuff, watch stuff…ahhhh, who said Saturdays were losing steam?
Get warmed up for the event, and watch the hell outta this…
Finally collated all media responses to Kardiāvale at the recent National Arts Festival. Just in time for our upcoming shows at Out the Box! 5th and 6th September, ladies and gentlemen, 5th and 6th September. Check the event here.
“…tight, sharp and funny…original and quirky…While the show is broke-down-carni-playing-a-broken-piano-in-a-yard-behind-a-dilapidated-bar-strewn-with-empty-bottles over-the-top bawdy burlesque, the story it tells is delicate. As delicate as an exposed heart.” Steve Kretzmann, ArtsBlog
“…an endearing combination of pathos and comedy, which guides its audience steadily from an initially uproarious burlesque theme to a more sinister place…heart-rending emotion through the centre of this well-crafted narrative, which deals poignantly with the themes of vulnerability and power.” Anton Krueger, CUE
“…it whizzes along at a pace and the hour that it takes is gone in a flash. The music [played live], the back up track and the lot are perfectly synchronized. Want to see it again. 09/10” – Simon Cooper, Artsblog
As we prepare for our participation in the upcoming Out the Box Festival of Puppetry and Visual Performance, check out these visuals for Kardiāvale, collated here for your convenience. Don’t say we don’t love you!
Here’s the official trailer for the NAF, directed and edited by Michel Malek:
Then, a short irreverent viral teaser made by Daniel Albertse (yep – the Ooh God himself…long time friend and supporter of the Conspiracy):
Here’s another short teaser by the Ooh God:
And finally (for now) a CUE-TV clip produced by Daniel Eslick and Viktoria Marinova after our NAF premiere:
Enjoy, you clowns! Bookings for Out the Box open soon – keep ‘em peeled…
Harare is flat. Hot and fairly dry. Yet there exists within it an interesting, cracked, and broken beauty. Like it holds the memory & ghosts of a better life. Yet it survives, & this is the key – survival. Against the odds and despite being under the cosh, it survives. This is a strength & metaphor to take from this place.
Later in the week it rains. Thunderstorms like the best the Highveld can offer. The skies bruise, lightning rips open the belly of the clouds, and rain falls in torrents. The central green turns into a mudbath. The smell of wet grass and trees is heady as we go walking through the eco-protected Monovale Vlei near where we live. It’s unseasonal rain. It’s beautiful. It swirls around the crack in the taxi’s windshield that looks like caused from a stray rock. Or, fancifully, a bullet.
Later (or is it earlier?), we get treated to an aerial view of Harare. Top of the Crowne Plaza Hotel, 20 odd floors up, and Harare stretches around like a paradise. It’s so much greener from up here. You start to realise why so many people cling to this as home. Far from the litter and potholed streets and general shambles, this is a beautiful city. With a lot of banks. Which is confusing why they battle so much with small change for dollars.
Roads are wide. Jokingly, Erica says Zim is a much safer place than SA to drink and drive – roads are like 7 lanes wide, but in reality only a 2-way street, and often one is the only car on the road, especially at night. Roads are much busier during the day – people flock into Harare. Of course. There are markets, informal or otherwise, and entrepreneurs everywhere. Men stand almost at random along the road – holding a stick with what seems to be cards pegged to it. On closer inspection, he’s selling airtime. A car stops at one on a side road. The deal is done – he loads his airtime, waits for confirmation, gets it, it’s a thumbs-up to the salesman, and then he drives off.
A man sits under a tree. Bicycle wheels, twisted and rusty, hang from the branches and give a clue as to the nature of his business. Tyres and tubes also hang – aiding the picture, the advert. He has an ancient bicycle pump and an ice-cream box full of rubber and glue. He’s a puncture-fixer. And he sells airtime.
The verges are cluttered with long grass and rubbish. Coke and Sprite seem to be the beverage of choice and their empty cans popular with the sides of the road. Popular too are white polystyrene bakkies – discarded takeaway containers. Randomly: a cage full of cooldrink cans, as if there through a half-assed attempt at recycling. Only they’ve been there a looooong time.
In the market, an artist and his co-workers wire together flattened cooldrink cans together that they then hammer onto wooden frames. They are making recycled bus-stop shelters; it is a project of HIFA to give back to the city. Walls of Fanta Orange, Sprite, Coke. Their repetition and regularity would make Tink smile with pleasure.
There are no streetlights. Or, rather, there are, but they last saw globes in…oooh…1992? And that might be being optimistic. The grass on the verges hasn’t been cut for a long time. Nature is always wanting to return. Civilisation, society, is sometimes always such a human-made conceit.
The free market in Avondale. Knock-offs and black market DVDs, fong kong jeans and tekkies, and lingerie, and cell-phone accessories, fabric, craft (but these mainly for the tourists), sunglasses and t-shirts. And airtime. Salesmen. Their profession is strong – they inspect you in a nano-second, suss you out. These people are sharp and observant. Opportunistic. And, I guess, fairly desperate. Wellington befriends me to sell the cards he makes, and sell his story. John has been a taxi driver for just over a year. We have to direct him home. A security guard bemoans the fact that although he has a job, and patrols up and down all night, his family don’t have shoes. Everyone has a story and everyone will invariably sell it, or, failing that, at least share it. And no, we don’t want airtime thanks.
And people are friendly. Harare feels safe to walk around. This feels wonderful. Sure, we’re the only honkies on the street, and the subject of a fair amount of curiosity. We look like tourists, with daypacks, and bottled water, and walking shoes. (We do a lot of walking in Zim.) Or lost participants of “The Amazing Race”. We’re vigilant – we’ve been warned about pickpockets and the like. But other than twice catching people in the act, we don’t feel threatened. The ladies get slightly harassed, we get solicited for cigarettes and stuff. (And…say it together…airtime.) But we walk and it feels good to walk in a city. Erica tells us perhaps the worst is petty theft – break-ins to cars for clothing or bags left idly in view. And some car-jackings, but pretty much non-violent. She tells the story of a couple of honkies in Cape Town who get jacked, tied to a tree, and left there. Only, later, the carjackers return, put a blanket around them, and make sure they’re as comfy as they can be. Erica: “Yep – Zimbabwean hijackers.”
We are foreigners here, make no mistake. And there is polarity at the festival. We see a show at the 7 Arts Theatre in Avondale. If prior to that we’d been wondering where all the whites were, well here we find some – about 6-700 whites come to watch theatre. Later that night, at the free Coca-Cola music stage, that stat is reversed, with nary a white face to be seen, except maybe me. Later still, at the Main Stage open-air Grand Opening of HIFA, it appears more integrated – 2-3000 people of all cultures witness a musical pastiche morality play on the power and influence of greed for money. Slightly afro-versions of “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend” mingle with “Material Girl”, “Homeless”, “Shine on you crazy diamond” (yes, Pink Floyd in the bush city), culminating in the god-tinged saccharine cotton candy of “Peace in our time” and climaxing with “My African Dream” and a fireworks display peppering the night sky above the Crowne Plaza Hotel. This is Brett Baily-lite. Where balletic dancers mix it up with Afro-fusion and contemporary dance, pageant props, and the obligatory (though in this case gold)-painted character with suit and glasses. There is no great transformation, but a rosy, easily digested view of the evils of money and greed. It’s popcorn theatre. Caramel popcorn, maybe. But it’s a festival, and folk have come to party. 2-3000 people grokking on open air performance is not to be sniffed at.
It’s a fantastic festival! Everyone seems behind it – the city seems proud of it. It’s bright and vibrant and clean and proud. It attracts a lot of people, and they’re generally happy. There’s a good mix of international and local stuff. Particularly local and international being jammed together to create new synergies. And lots of free interesting music – we suppose that, being summer, it’s an ideal time to have outdoor tents. It’s a jol. We take part in a procession through town – a meeting between a Zim military marching band and a Slavic Soul band from the States: tubas, drums, uniforms, piercings, trumpets, sax, posters, and happy people.
Clip from the HIFA procession 2011
The cops stop the traffic. Crowds cheer us on. Three guys on stilts do an impromptu performance. This is the meaning of “festival” in its truest sense. Grahamstown and Oudtshoorn could learn a lot from it.
We see some great stuff. It’s research for Benchmarks. We see a hard-hitting local play “Burn Mukwerekwere Burn” that manages to be surprisingly funny, intense, and enviably simply staged with two performers and three musicians on a blank stage. We learn a lot about the Zimbabwean perspective of Xenophobia.
We see “Hotel Paradiso” – a mask show from Germany…twice. In one day. It’s fantastic – the most incredible technique mixed with whimsical poetics and door-opening farce. (And demands its own post!) We do workshops – scriptwriting and mask with the Germans. We talk, we chat, we share stories, we get a guided backstage tour, we hang with them, we swap business cards, we give them a DVD of our work, we hear about a week-long residency in mask in Crete in September, and a longer one next year in Florence – this now is something to look forward to, plan for, dream about. We haven’t laughed like this, nor felt so inspired, in fucken ages. It feels good. Benchmarks has found its mojo up here in this place. This is work and holiday rolled into one – research and relaxation. It’s pretty fucking awesome.
And again, themes of survival. Hope. Rebirth. Apparently, people are flocking back to Harare as it starts to rebuild. Apparently it’s better living now and safer than Joburg. Hope and Blessing are popular names. There’s a cautious optimism around town about the future. Shops are surprisingly well-stocked and not just with basics or staples – goods that might be considered luxury (soya milk, organic products etc) are readily available. They’re expensive, but available. At a surprisingly well-run trattoria, they don’t give peppermints with the bill, they give fruit. Bananas were in today. Petrol seems pretty available, and the roads teem with Mercs and 4×4 bakkies and new SUVs. (Though someone must be making a fortune on the axel/suspension business.) And then there are also the delightful older cars – Morris Minors and Chevys and Renault 4s, and unknown makes…and, at the Belvedere Hospital, ambulances from the 50s.
So it’s a curious mix of affluence and poverty, rural and urban, white and black, order and chaos, optimism and cynicism. A heady mix that one could easily bestow on Africa as a whole. Our mad, bad, beautiful, and twisted continent. “Wild at heart, and weird on top”, as Lula says. And photos, albeit slightly aged and faded, of mad Bob in his prime. Everywhere.
We were playing the title game – lists and lists of possible titles, each one slightly more or less abstract than the preceding one. And we were listening to a lot of music that we’d started to gather with a relevant theme or lyric. Music like Bing Crosby’s version of Don’t Fence Me In, Nancy Sinatra’s Things (later quite a guiding theme in terms of driving Janet’s memories), Perry Como’s Magic Moments (that made its way onto the soundtrack, albeit in altered form), Tom Waits’s Frank’s Wild Years of course (where the character got his name from, and driving force of the whole “swap wife for dream” narrative development), Regina Spektor’s Music Box (which is fairly chilling on some levels), Malvina Reynold’s Little Boxes (which has bugged me since childhood)…and so on.
But what was bugging us about Frank and Janet (her name just blurted its way out after we had his), was that it seemed to focus more on his story, and left her to play a victim or helpless heroine, and thus relegate her to a more minor character. The lyrics of The Cure’s Pictures of You (from their 1989 album, Disintegration) gave us another entry point:
I’ve been looking so long at these pictures of you That I almost believe that they’re real I’ve been living so long with my pictures of you That I almost believe that the pictures are All I can feel
Remembering you standing quiet in the rain As I ran to your heart to be near And we kissed as the sky fell in Holding you close How I always held close in your fear Remembering you running soft through the night You were bigger and brighter and whiter than snow And screamed at the make-believe Screamed at the sky And you finally found all your courage to let it all go
And from this came a jump forward in the story – that Frank was haunted in some way by pictures he had of Janet, both literally by pictures on their walls/mantelpieces, and figuratively by pictures in his head of their past. It was a skip and a jump to think of the Dream Creature as another aspect of this too – what if the dream was a manifestation of someone Janet should be, but for some reason wasn’t allowed to? Does Frank figure this out? How?
So we had Janet in 3 phases: past, present, and fantasy. And we had Frank in obsessive present focus, fussing over pictures and manifestations of his wife. It was again an obvious step to rewind his life and see what he might have been like in his early 20s, say, when he and Janet might have met. With these markers in place, we had what felt like parallel character developments to play in the telling of our story.
It also launched us into intense image collection, to give visual texture to the characters and the world they live in.
We’d already been looking at Bernard Buffet, whose work we’d used for a poster mock-up. His stuff is great – dark and scratchy, with a penchant for the slightly seedy, almost sinister, sometimes innocent and longing.
This is Les Ecorchés Tête d’écorché – 1964. It made us think very much of Frank, as if his skin had been scratched off by his obsessions. It also suggested some form of mask, with life and experience really having taken their toll.
For Janet we found this one – Femme assise – 1950. There was something so simple and yearning about her isolation, and became a major starting point for her character.
The graphic scratchiness also gave us ideas for the performance texture, as well as being inspiration for the eventual graphic design. Tom Schwarer of Black Square draws quite similarly, and has been the major designer for all our artwork over the last 10 years, so it seemed a match made in heaven. Or hell, maybe. These pictures are not all together peaceful or heavenly.
Another huge influence on development of the work visually was Gregory Crewdson, best known for his meticulously arranged, surreal pictures of American small-town life.
This just suggests a story waiting to be told, as most of his photos do. The loneliness, the longing, the mood and lighting all played their part on our sub consciousnesses.
This screamed Frank at the end of it all, plans and dreams in tatters.
Things going awry. I love the way his photos are like sets – the space of the bathroom with light leaking out is tempting to have a shadow pass by it.
Here again, the couple pinned to their carpet in the middle of mediocrity and failed dreams. OK, I’m imposing my reading on all of this, for sure.
Things beneath the floorboards. Secrets in the cellar. Repressed memory and desire will out.
It’s the combination of the familiarity of the house, and things we use to define life, and the strange, the incessant creep of nature, the planet just waiting to shrug humanity off it, the wildness of the world that, essentially, we’re all still scared to death of.
And here the aspects of Janet – reflections and fables. Who is she really? How can she tell? How can any of us really know? You get the feeling she’d turn around quickly and there’d be nobody there…
Phew. Apologies for rabbiting on so much. Still a newcomer at this blog thing, so writing is a little turgid, and posts too long, and too many pictures I’m sure. But there’s so much to tell, and so much to say.
It’s been an interesting few weeks of getting back into rehearsal and chipping away at the show again and that’s included going right back to the source. I was chatting to Zane about it this week too, and again it struck me what a long, convoluted journey we’ve been on. That’s really one of the joys and major frustrations with the devised work we do – sometimes the process meanders along, and you don’t have a clue where it’s going, and other times it sits in the doldrums and you start prostrating yourself for some kinda wind for the sails.
Anyhoo, Pictures of You all started back in 2007. We were touring GUMBO all over the country and spending a lot of time away from home, and dealing with that slightly displaced alienation you always get on tours. Me and Liez had been talking for yonks about working in masks, and it was weirdly suddenly in the air – we bumped into Ellis Pearson in Johannesburg, who treated us to a sneak preview of his half-mask show for schools, and Aldo Brincat was around doing Arney at Kalk Bay. at some point. So we plotted vaguely about incorporating masks into some work we did…y’know – sometime in the future.
The future came a lot closer when at National Arts Festival that year, the bare bones of a story fell out of the sky. Was it a dream? I can’t remember. It would suit the show, but I skiem I’d be making it up if I said that for sure. But for some reason, a scene from Battle of the Sexes popped into my head.
Now in this, Peter Sellers is quite creepy as he plays Mr Martin – a mild mannered Scot clerk who, taking umbrage at the hostilities of a brash American woman (Constance Cummings) hired to investigate inefficiency at the firm, decides to murder her. The scene in question is inspired, with Sellers at his best in his half-hearted attempts to kill her, and always just being foiled. This all takes place in a kitchen and involves, amongst other things, ice scrapers, carving knives, and a whisk (you’ll just have to see it).
It’s not the best Sellers film, by a long shot. But the scene is great. Really funny and pretty dark. And for some reason, the action of trying to kill one’s spouse stuck. Let’s not get too analytic here – I was a few months away from getting married, but not for a second a I suggesting anything that you’re reading between the lines. Nor am I condoning domestic violence.
What interested me was the question: what would drive a seemingly mild-mannered man to the point of murdering his spouse? What extreme crisis of character or identity would lead him to such lengths?
At the same time as all of this, I’d been reading up on male identity, midlife crises, self-actualisation, and so on for another project. So everything was simmering away merrily, and at Grahamstown came this seed of a story: a husband and wife’s marriage is perfect on the surface, but underneath is a broiling mess of unfulfilled desire. He starts dreaming wildly, and in his dreams he meets a Dream Creature. She entices him more and more to visit her, and eventually he is hooked. Addicted. Can’t get enough of her. So he cooks up a plan (or is coerced) to swap his wife for the creature, by killing her, thus opening the portal for dream-real exchange (some dodgy quantum physics there, I know…very Vurt, very Pan’s Labyrinth, very very David Lynch: Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, etc…did I ever say I was a shameless borrower?).
Thus began a battle for their souls, and a clash between the real and dreaming worlds. Pretty obscure. Slightly abstract. And we figured that maybe not to so many people’s taste. Especially when funders started saying “no”. But through this process of development, we had succoured the services of 2 other main collaborators: James Webb for sound design and Janni Younge for visual design and creation.
We also had a title – “Of Quiet Desperation”, from that awesome quote by Thoreau: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
This was the original mock-up of the poster. Notice how originally Liez and I were going to play the parts, and Tanya was down to direct. We had also ambitiously marked March as our premiere. (Boy, was that quickly gonna change!)
But what we had to start with was a cool, creepy, dark, slightly comic, very surreal, and all round disturbing glimpse into human behaviour under pressure. It was certainly something build on.
Phew. It’s true – less than three weeks to go before Pictures of You opens at the Baxter and we are bundles of nerves. At once hectically excited and pants-wettingly nervy. Which is kinda normal, I guess.
But there is a slight pressure to do better at the Baxter than GUMBO did last year – we gotta surely keep growing. It’s also the beginning of the year, and a good season will set us up very well. And, of course, let’s not forget the whole prove that this kinda theatre can work. And by that, I mean non-verbal, visual, slightly alternative, somewhat surreal, and fiercely independent in a mainstream venue.
Whatever happens, it’s a glorious adventure and we hope people come along for the ride.