IMAGES: FIREFLY BY NARDUS ENGELBRECHT; IHRELE LECHISA BY ROB KEITH
I am Megan Choritz, an actor, playwright, theatre director, writer and improviser living in Woodstock.
I have spent my life imagining and performing or creating performances for stage.
In September last year I swallowed my nerves and put out a call on Facebook to my theatre community and friends. For the duration of the pandemic, we had been locked down, cancelled, restricted, shut out, kept out and unconsidered. I was done.
I explained that I couldn’t stand the ‘death of theatre’ narrative anymore and that I wanted to do something to move, or at least nudge away the black dog.
I wrote that I had this play, Clouds Like Waves, and it was written in such a way that the number of people performing it could fluctuate, so whoever wanted to make the play, for no money but just for our own sanity, should contact me. At least 30 people did. By the time we had found a venue, and chosen dates, the play had grown to become seven performers, two directors, a stage manager, and designers. It was a miracle. In February we performed a tiny sold-out run. We had no budget for anything, so we just tied shoelaces together and with spit, and sheer determination, many laughs, furniture and costumes from our homes, and much commenting about the insanity of it all (theatre is the last prisoner of war of the Covid-19 pandemic, with legislation still in place that restricts venues to 50% capacity) we just got on with it. We rehearsed, dreamed and made theatre.
And during those five performances, I realised what we had revived, and how badly needed it was. Because theatre had died. And we had grieved and commiserated with fellow practitioners around the globe who were shocked, dumbstruck, immobilised, and broken when the theatres went dark.
I was lucky enough to have been part of a tiny network of playwrights and actors from South Africa and New York who met over Zoom weekly, and we read our plays online and
had huge conversations about racism (systemic and personal), politics and the pandemic, culture and performance, and we shared our experiences through theatre. It kept us on life support.
But Zoom is no way to do theatre, we discovered. Every time we had unstable connections or were accidentally on mute or we came too close, or fell out of the camera frame, we cursed and moaned and longed for a real stage.
BROADWAY, WEST END AND SA
Everywhere theatre was haemorrhaging. On and Off Broadway, The West End, every theatre in the world was dark. The Fugard shut its doors permanently. Strict social distancing protocols made live performance impossible.
In December 2020 I was in rehearsal at the Baxter directing a show called From Koe’siestes to Kneidlach – With Kids!; a one-woman play starring Chantal Stanfield. We wore masks in the rehearsal venue. We sanitised and washed our hands and checked our temperatures.
Then a week before we opened everything shut down again, the second, or was it the third wave? And we went back home. Back into isolation.
So, when Clouds Like Waves actually happened and people really wanted to see it, faith was restored. It was a tiny, faint heartbeat, but it was something worth pushing for.
Soon after that I saw two of my most favourite productions, Firefly, with Andrew Buckland and Sylvaine Strike at The Baxter, and iKrele leChiza … the sermon, directed by Mandla Mbothwe at The Magnet. These two shows were wildly different. Firefly had three people on stage, with minimal set. iKrele leChiza … the sermon had a massive cast, of mainly students, and an elaborate and gorgeous set. But both shows tapped into something ancient and pure and needed in the most profound way: bringing live performance back with the strongest heartbeat, and reminding us of how badly we need story and community and connection and magic. Firefly was extended. People wanted to get back into the theatre, both mainstream and independent; people wanted the shared experience; people were hungry for the communion of theatre. We started talking in loud voices again instead of in deathbed whispers.