Reading Gayby Thato Tsotetsi / 04.11.2011
It was a mad scramble to try and get to the UJ Bunting road campus on time for what would be the first night of the Reading Gay series. I had no idea what to expect, so I brought along Gift, a Wits drama graduate, to guide me through the intricacies of the event. Proving, yet again, that black people are always be late, we were forced to sneak in from the side of the cramped Con Cowan theatre, careful not to knock things over lest we irritate the avid theatre lovers and finally shuffle-shuffle, “excuse me, sorry, thanks” our way to sit down in the humid room on the carpeted stairs and immediately begrudge those smart enough to have brought a cushion.
The spotlight is on the character of Simon as he fumbles through a monologue about the reasons why he hates being gay. You know, the usual “oh I hate the stereotype verbiage”. The play (or reading thereof) is called The Boy Who Fell From The Roof, having read the rave reviews, I brace myself for dramatic, poignant and sweeping moments. None come. All I manage is to scoff at the actors who seem uncomfortable reading their lines.
“This is completely unrehearsed” says Gift trying to explain. I shush him trying to concentrate. The only bright moment came when the character of Patricia, Simon’s mom, did her monologue about losing her husband. It’s emotional, evocative, and it gets me where I’ve been yearning to be got.
I begrudge the people smart enough to have brought their drinks into the venue. That would have helped. There are comedic moments as themes of race relations, art vs science and overall self loathing creep through the well written but poorly executed reading. It’s only when we’re outside that I begin to understand exactly what was happening.
“Readings aren’t very big in Joburg, it’s really a Cape Town thing,” says Grace, the Production manager, dressed corporate, a stark contrast to the faded denims and all stars worn by everyone else. Suddenly it feels like I should redo the feedback questionnaire given to us to rate the overall experience. I caught a glimpse of Gift writing: “the worst thing I have ever seen”. But that’s hardly fair, I mean a reading is just that, a reading. But as a spectacle he has a point, it leaves much to be desired.
We gulp down two glasses of wine while pretentiously discussing the artistic state of Johannesburg with the neo liberals scattered around the makeshift bar. I’m not bothered. I’m here to be entertained, and I still haven’t figured out why they decided on reading specifically gay plays.
“Oh, I suggest you speak to Albie, he would know. I think the proceeds are going to some organization of sorts, he will be able to tell you more.” Says a UJ student called Lenny. I decided that speaking to Albie would be pointless since he hadn’t replied to any of my emails about attending one of their rehearsals. I shrug my shoulders and decide I’d bother with that the next day.
Thursday fared better even though Gift, decided he wasn’t going to, “waste his time on another ill executed play.”
We get there on time and celebrate our arrival with beer. Two beers are enough to get me lubricated enough to take in yet another, uhm, haphazard reading. At least that’s what I told myself. I was to be pleasantly surprised. As we sit, the projector flashes images of what could be considered gay art to Rihanna’s latest single, “We Found Love”. Albie takes the stage and introduces the night’s play, but before doing so he explains the concept of a reading and the reasoning behind this particular series.
“The questionnaires you get at the end of each show are for us to know which show is the best and ultimately, with enough funding and support we might go into full production with the possibility of a tour. So basically, these readings are proposals for a play.”
It all makes sense now. The director of the play The Myth of Andrew and Jo, UJ Arts Academy alumnus Motlatji Ditodi introduces herself, adding that this is her debut and she is nervous. Applause. Within the first five minutes I know that this is what I had been waiting for. The story revolves around André, a struggling set designer, living the common gay Cape Town existence; substances, sex, partying and a black corporate boyfriend with a penchant for dragging. André meets a lesbian in a committed relationship, Jo, and they end up at her place, high and drunk and they have sex.
The story then follows the two in their separate lives with their partners trying to come to terms with a pregnancy and the eventuality of their lives having to change, for the better, one imagines.
What made this the highlight, is that it didn’t feel like a reading at all. I would definitely put my money on this one, retaining both the cast and the director. Of course I liked seeing naked boys on stage, but it was more than that. The story seemed a little far fetched, but the underlying themes were powerful and they resonated. Great acting and the backing audiovisual extravaganza were the cherry on top.
While doing the uppity theatre snob thing at the makeshift bar outside, again, I still wanted to know why they decided on all this. I accosted Grace once again, she was at the time discussing theatre, art critique and the future thereof with someone I assumed to be a journalist. It had something to do with opinions being governed by whoever had the deepest pockets. I could relate because I still don’t know what I’m saying about the series, but I do know that I was commissioned specifically because I’m gay and well, it’s a gay thing.
Simply saying “gay thing” is relative because self loathing gays have different ideas on what that is. Ironic that The Boy Who Fell From The Roof addressed the same thing, the “vintage store shopping Nonhle Thema-esque queens” by which standard we are all measured as opposed to the “alternative, well read critic” that all the faggots scattered outside the Con Cowan theatre aspire to be. And me? Well, watching my first theatre reading could count as an addition to my gay rap sheet, smoking pot on the balcony of Rooftop at MSL simply doesn’t cut it anymore. I’m alternative damn it.