Theatre Is A Cruel Master: Choose Wisely

Between the late night rehearsals and early morning clock ins, lies the line separating passion from responsibility. We are part of an industry that is ever-dependent on funding, continuously juggling between, or being juggled by, the corporate sector and government departments. The strange relationship that demands return on investment – by way of monetary profits – ensures that independent theatre makers constantly have to find employment, not only to keep the lights on, but also to feed the dreams that keep many a creative mind up at night. How then do we ensure that once the hat of theatre maker is donned, the prospective sponsors and profiteers see the value in the work for which many debts have been incurred? This short article seeks to understand the strange condition of an independent theatre maker today.

Wake up, go to work, get a salary, knock off. Go to the theatre – or whatever alternative space is available, use the day-job salary to attempt to make theatre, lose the day-job salary (in a myriad way that could be the topic of a follow up article), go home – exhausted, sleep (maybe), wash up and then back to work to earn more money that will soon be lost. In the space between these two realities is a timeless space where quite often dreams go to die. In this chasm we are constantly nursing our broken passions, turned nightmares, trying to convince ourselves that tomorrow will come with dreams that will finally live. The younger we are the more we believe, but, the older we become the greater the pool of deceased desires grows. We bury these dreams until the grave pierces the earth’s core digging a bottomless pit that splits through the mantle, to the core. And once these dreams lose breath, there is nothing left to turn to but the body, the brain and the heart: the system that has collaborated against us, and fooled us for so long that what is to others a Green Mile, becomes a Green Pilgrimage. It starts to make sense why the relationship between so many theatre makers and their investors never seems to last.

And yet, somehow, always at the eleventh hour, we sleep what we are convinced is our final slumber, save death. Finally, we hope, our suffering will end as we slip into eternity where we will be reconciled to our true selves to enjoy a peaceful afterlife. It is in this moment, when all is lost, when we are convinced that we cannot do it any longer, when the clock strikes 23:59, that we learn to dream again! In this moment we come to lean not on our own understanding. We surrender ourselves to the forces that placed – deep within the bosom of our souls – the desire to create art. In this moment, we find out what it truly takes to be an independent theatre maker. We start to see with the eyes of a Master. Clarity. Of intent. Of purpose. Of thought.

Fleeting feelings that will come and go like the ebb and flow of the waves of Uvongo Beach.

If the water has touched you once, then you know that it will come again. And that is the faith and the knowing-ness we must hold on to. For that is what it takes: going to the brink of madness, with money you do not have, from investors that are as fickle as the wind, and coming back at the eleventh hour with some form of immeasurable return. And that is what it takes to be a theatre maker. That is what theatre is: a master that will empty your cup before it can fill you up again. A cruel master that takes everything before it gives you anything. For Theatre is cruel master, and thus, we must choose wisely!