Officially survived week 1 in Johannesburg, South Africa... success! I even have a working phone and a regular yoga studio to go to. #winning
So much has happened in just the last 8 days I have been here, I can barely wrap my mind around it. I've been meeting people- amazing, talented, vibrant people- by the dozens everyday, and running into them at cool, dimly lit intimate poetry gatherings as if my life were a well-written Hollywood movie about Johannesburg's young and beautiful. #blessed
Some other highlights of the week:
- Being blown away by the virtuosic dancers of Jessica Nupen's "Rebellion & Johannesburg" who seamlessly blended text with video with movement with song and explosive South African urban dances with captivating contemporary dance. Sure, it was an adaptation of Shakespeare's "Romeo & Juliet" that was quite impossible to follow and it could have used some dramaturgy help, but even so, it worked.
- Hearing fellow Latin people able to pronounce my name, Marina, with that latin-sounding rolled "r"... How incredible it is to find "your people" in a new and foreign place! I could feel my entire body sigh out in relief at the sound of that "r"... aaaahhhh :)
- Being introduced to Gregory Maqoma's Rehearsal Director and then her inviting me to meet with her and take company classes while I'm here... YES PLEASE!
A huge highlight was getting to visit Wits University and the incredible Drama For Life department, where I will be conducting my artist residency for the next several months. I am blown away by this unique social justice-focused art-activist program housed within the Wits School of the Arts, a somewhat conventional performing arts institution. The DFL center has really carved out its own identity and mission-driven presence at Wits, its walls covered in portraits of human rights leaders & activists from all over the world and its staff spilling over with radical agendas, critical conversations, and vibrant energy.
Warren Nebe is the Founding Director of this ship, and he was described to me by one of the staff as a genuine Moby Dick- a larger than life presence that permeates the space but whose schedule keeps him so busy and out-of-sight that his very existence seems to be a myth, until he creeps up behind you in the middle of a debrief conversation about your class and offers up invaluable insight that changes your work and life. Indeed, just this past week I have witnessed this very dynamic take place countless times, catching epic phrases like "what you see as confusion in the students is actually plain denial, a reflection of the state of this country". Boom.
Warren and the DFL staff have established various strategies that help them to constantly assess the curriculum and general state of the program. Such strategies include weekly mandatory town hall meetings for students and staff, regular Reflection & Praxis classes devoted solely to processing the students' experiences, and quarterly academic staff meetings where teachers share class themes in an attempt to find cross-overs and keep the curriculum as interconnected as possible. These meetings are also an opportunity for teachers to share successes and challenges they're experiencing with their students, and ask for support where it may be needed.
At one such academic staff meeting on Tuesday, Refiloe Lepere, a young, energetic and super sharp drama therapy teacher, was sharing about her Reflection & Praxis class, an enthusiastic and green group anxious to be open and vulnerable with one another. She mentioned employing a metaphor in class to help the students understand what this process of critical self-reflection was like, one that I found to be totally genius in its simplicity.
"Mirror, mirror, blindspot."
Meaning, when we engage in self-reflection, we are confronted with mirrors that we are able to recognize and look into. But every now and then, rather than being able to hold up a mirror to ourselves, we come across a blindspot- an area that we have no idea is even there or giving us trouble at all. This is where the group process can really come in handy, the ability to critically self-reflect as part of a group challenges us to hear others' truths and perhaps look at our previously held assumptions in ways that we could not otherwise do by ourselves.
And it occurred to me what a wonderful tool this would be for myself as well, as I embark in my own process of Reflection & Praxis. The very nature of a blindspot is exactly that- it is invisible to us and we are blind to it. Until a particular experience or something someone says to us at the right moment angles the mirror in exactly the right way so we can bravely and curiously peer into it and say for the first time, "aaahhh.....".
So here's to mirrors and blindspots, to being brave and curious. Week 2, I'm ready for yah.