Stop what you’re doing; just for a while

 Illa Thompson

Column 103

February 2017

So today I think about people, strangers mostly, who have had their lives profoundly touched by the work of my colleagues. There has been an abundance of some astonishing interactions over the past few weeks causing the usually drowsy January to become uncharacteristically buoyant and optimistic.

Today I think of the gracious gogo, immaculate in her elegant ivory silk-trimmed ensemble, spending her 95th birthday  together with her sister and friends, boogying to Clive Gumede singing Frank Sinatra with the sublime KZN Philharmonic Orchestra during the free Show The Love Concert at the ICC.

I think of the comfortable couple snug in their deck chairs, cooler-box to hand, watching show after show at our inaugural Fresha weekend festival of sea-side outdoor theatre. They enjoyed the first day so much, they came back and did it all again on the second day. They quietly watched the passing parade of comedy, dance, mime, physical theatre and improv, barely moving from their vantage point on the North Beach Promenade in the baking sun.

I think of the uber-cool hipster with his designer beard and his too-tight jeans sitting on an office chair, self-consciously clutching the rather camp wooden fan handed to him on arrival, as his jaw dropped while watching the beautiful feather-clad dancers float all round him, cascading him with glitter during Overexposed – David Gouldie’s genre-defying performance-installation.

I think of the fresh-faced accounting graduate who was so moved by the Denis Hurley Centre’s Raymond Perrier’s presentation during Future Durban’s lively, animated packed-to-capacity debate on Public Art hosted by rejuvenation experts, Urban Lime, that she blushingly came forward afterwards to volunteer her spare time at the centre.

I think of the keen yachtsman, recently returned to Durban after years spent sailing, as he watched, thoughtful and intrigued, as four innovative musicians, beguilingly named Ancient Agents, made astonishing new-age acoustic music together on a balmy evening  sitting in the garden of the Alliance Francaise.

As a body of art-makers, working in our respective media of choice, there is nothing greater than reaching out to new audiences who intuitively seem to understand, appreciate and affirm our work. The sheer joy of watching someone being totally consumed by art as it weaves its magic is why we get out of bed in the mornings.

As art-makers we cannot be complacent. Our traditional audiences are dwindling and contemporary distractions and recessional budgets are hurdles in developing new supporters. So intuitively we are taking our work to the people as a means of ultimately enticing them to come to us.

We take our orchestra to the ICC to perform love songs in a free public performance particularly for the city’s marginalised – retirement homes, special- needs centres and care facilities; we take a dozen of our finest non-verbal theatre pieces to the beach to perform for swimmers, surfers and sun-lovers; we excitedly talk about public art in boardrooms of once-derelict buildings; we listen to crossover new-age instrumental interplay under an awning alongside Sutton Park; we watch contemporary dance merged with spoken word  narrative and great live music in an empty warehouse in Rivertown…..

We are re-inventing ourselves, rethinking how we do things, grappling to make sense of our new place in the rapidly-changing world, and finding delight in sharing our artistic alchemy with new and unusual audiences.

My January has been unexpectedly joyous beyond expectation. I have been enormously moved by watching people’s response to our performing in unlikely places. So if you see a stilt-walker in a shopping mall; or a musician in a pub; or a dancer at a conference, I invite you not to walk by, but to stop concentrate, feel and engage with every ounce of your being. We may just make a theatre regular of you yet!

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