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TCK TALENT: Lisa Liang takes her show back on the road; second stop: Cape Town, South Africa (2/2)

TCK Talent columnist Lisa and her husband (and techie), Dan, head to Cape Town. Photo credits: (from left) Alien Citizen poster; Lisa and Dan in front of Little Theatre on University of Cape Town campus (supplied, by Daniel Lawrence); and view of Table Mountain through bus window (supplied, by Lisa Liang).

Having delivered a successful show, TCK Talent columnist Lisa and her husband (and techie), Dan, explore Cape Town. Photo credits: (from left) Alien Citizen poster; Lisa and Dan on the street where they rented a cottage in Woodstock; Lisa in front of the clock tower on the V&A Waterfront. (All photos supplied, taken by either Lisa or her husband, Daniel Lawrence.)

TCK Talent columnist Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang has had an exciting summer, even by her own, well-traveled standards. First she performed her one-woman show about growing up as a mixed-race TCK in Valencia, Spain, after which she headed for Cape Town, South Africa, for another performance, which she told us about in her last post. Today we’ll be treated to Part Two of her South African adventure!

Howzit, dear readers—molweni! Kunjani?

As some of you may recall, in my previous post I described the experience of taking Alien Citizen: an earth odyssey, my one-woman show about growing up as a Third Culture Kid (TCK) of mixed heritage, to the Women Playwrights International Conference, held June 29–July 3 in Cape Town.

This month’s post is about the second half of said trip, during which my husband, Dan, and I explored the city and its surroundings. A travelogue, if you will.

The day after the conference ended, we took an Uber cab to our new digs in Woodstock, about half a mile east of the city centre. (We’re not fans of Uber as a company—but as the Cape Town drivers were excellent and we were on a budget, we compromised.) Our AirBnB guest cottage had an en suite bathroom with a big shower—an upgrade from the dorm life we’d experienced at the conference.

We took it easy that day because I was wiped out from a week of conferencing that had culminated in performing my show. (Dan had played a role in the performance, too, as my techie.) We went grocery shopping in what South Africans call a “lower rent” area, a couple of blocks away. It offered far fewer choices than you would find in the USA or Europe—similar to the shops of my childhood and adolescence, spent in Central America and North Africa. Our most memorable buys were the potato chips or “crisps” and the gingersnap cookies or “biscuits”: both excellent!

Regarding safety in the city: we had read warnings about crime, but we witnessed none. As we walked along the main road, young men shouted at us through the windows of vans speeding by, offering us rides. At first we were intimidated, but by the end of our stay it was so familiar that we would just call back “No thanks!”

On the way home, we stopped at a cafe, the Field Office, where we enjoyed a great lunch and decent WiFi connection.

Dan is a coffee aficionado and I love the way Cape Town serves chai lattes in pretty glass mugs, so we were especially happy hanging out at this cafe, which aspires to be an office-away-from-the-office (hence its name).

When we returned to the cottage, we nearly froze—my teeth literally chattered! As I mentioned last month, most homes in Cape Town don’t have heating or insulation for the colder months. Luckily, our host realized this and loaned us a space heater the next day. (We had foolishly assumed he didn’t have one.)

The next day we went to the V&A Waterfront, which I loved for the clock tower, the public art, the restaurants and shops—and the fact that so many of our fellow tourists were from African countries. It was a pleasure to be among travelers from the African continent for a change. We discovered some fantastic traditional arts-and-crafts shopping at the African Trading Port.

Impilo! (Cheers!)

The following day we took a winelands tour. The countryside was beautiful; we passed a farm that had a zebra, a springbok, an ostrich, and more animals you never see on US farmland. Without having eaten breakfast, we tasted five wines (!) in Paarl valley, which was perhaps not the healthiest way to begin the morning.

Our next stop was charming Franschhoek, where I insisted on getting breakfast—a lovely muffin-like scone with butter/cream/jam coupled with a caffe latte…I felt much better. We also bought chocolate at a pretty chocolate shop because…chocolate!

The second winery was very fancy; then we continued on to Stellenbosch, where we had a tasty lunch. The towns were pretty with Cape Dutch, Georgian, and Victorian architecture.

The final winery on our tour had lots of character in the form of gigantic spider webs hanging by the stained glass windows. It was there we learned that fortified wine is to port what sparkling wine is to champagne. In total that day we tasted 12 wines and three ports fortified wines. We liked the ports fortified wines the best.

A cobwebbed window at one of the wineries; a glass of port, a fortified wine[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fortified_wine#/media/File:Port_wine.jpg], by Jon Sullivan via Wikimedia Commons; Lisa at La Motte Winery.

A cobwebbed window at one of the wineries on Lisa and Dan’s tour; a glass of port, a fortified wine, by Jon Sullivan via Wikimedia Commons; Lisa at La Motte Winery.

Benza iKapa (Beautiful Cape Town)

The next day we took a city tour. We were supposed to go to the top of Table Mountain but it was too windy. (We were finally able to reach the top on our second-to-last day. It was so beautiful, I feel enormously lucky and grateful to have experienced it.)
Table Mountain_top
Our guide showed us some of the beaches near the town. The water was such a beautiful shade of light blue—I’ve never seen water like that before! And the view from Signal Hill was spectacular—I can’t use that word enough for the natural beauty surrounding Cape Town.

And on this tour, I finally had the chance to see the outside of all the places that Dan had visited during our first week while I was “conferencing”:

We walked through a small section of the Company’s Garden, a beautiful park with very old trees and Egyptian geese having Make Way for Ducklings moments, to the Iziko South African Museum.

This tour ended with the requisite visit to a diamond shop, which no one in the van was interested in, but we all ultimately decided to go in for the demonstration on how the jewels are made from gems (and, I’ll admit, for the free champagne). There was loads of tanzanite (named for Tanzania, where it was discovered) on display—a good investment, apparently. We didn’t invest.

Legacy of apartheid

While at the South African Museum, it was disturbing to learn that the museum’s first curators had created life-sized models from molds of actual living “Bushmen” (who were never credited) to demonstrate an “authentic, primitive, and it’s being lived today” lifestyle. Since the end of apartheid, the museum has been re-curated from the indigenous perspective.

On our second-to-last day we visited Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 of the 27 years he served behind bars before the fall of apartheid. (The prison is now a museum.) We had a great guide in the bus, who stressed that the prison was not about Nelson Mandela. The prisoners chose Mandela to speak for them, but they told him what to say and asked him to refashion their words because he was so eloquent and was also trained as a lawyer. At the prison itself, we had a former prisoner as our guide, who showed us Mandela’s cell. No white prisoners were held in that prison—only “blacks” and “coloureds,” who were not treated the same (there was worse treatment for blacks).

Mandela’s last prison was Drakenstein Correctional Centre (formerly Victor Verster Prison), which we’d seen during our winery tour. (We stopped to take pictures beneath the inspiring Nelson Mandela statue at the entrance.)

On our last day we went to the District Six Museum, which is a beautifully and intimately designed and curated memorial to the forced movement of 60,000 inhabitants of various races in District Six during 1970s apartheid. My eyes started welling up in the first five minutes. I felt anxious, angry, and moved.

(Top) Robben Island Prison Museum; District Six Museum.

(Top) Robben Island Prison Museum; District Six Museum.

At the conference I had remarked to a young South African theatremaker that I hadn’t perceived any racial tension among the diverse group of actors and directors who staged the play readings; she replied that that was because we were at the university, but things were different off campus. Dan and I were unpleasantly surprised when one of our tour guides, an older white man, stated that “black neighborhood” equaled “ghetto,” and pointed out a section of the city that he considered “awful”—but it looked like any populated section of a city in a developing nation to me.

I grew up mostly in poor countries, so I’m accustomed to the scrappy, grimy, not-at-all-pretty-yet-functional aspect of many an urban area. We actually bought our groceries on the block that the guide was pointing out.

Ubuhle bendalo (Spectacular scenery)

In disconcerting contrast to its painful history, South Africa has spectacular scenery. We went on a tour to the Cape Peninsula, including Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point. Spectacular vistas and beaches—again, I’ve never seen that color of ocean.

We also loved seeing animals that were new to us. We took a boat to see Cape fur seals on Duiker Island. Along the road throughout the day we passed zebras, baboons, bontebok, and ostriches—mostly not penned in—just by the road! And ever so many African penguins on Boulders Beach!

We ended that particular day at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, which were lush and green, and I treated myself to a new mug at the gift shop. (A mug of tea being part of my writing ritual!

South African animals collage

Clockwise, from top left: Ostrich between road and sea; South African farm animals; African penguins at Boulders Beach; the Egyptian geese in Company Gardens.

Glorious food

We had been wanting to try the best Cape Malay food in town. We were told it was at Biesmiellah, so went there for dinner. Best comfort food ever after a day that had run the emotional gamut from a grim yet inspiring prison-turned-museum, to one of the world’s natural wonders with jaw-dropping vistas, to a fantastic restaurant where the cooks are Muslim women who feed you after sunset during Ramadan (so you can only hope they’ve broken their own fasts while taking care of tourists).

We ate wonderfully well in Cape Town. I can also recommend:

Paradoxically, almost every day we were approached by a homeless person, each one of a
different ethnicity/race (white, black, Malaysian, etc.), often young, always deeply courteous, asking for a meal. It finally occurred to me to carry an energy bar in my coat for giving away.

Last but not least…

While at the District Six Museum on our last day, we happened to run into a few WPIC delegates, one of whom complimented my performance of Alien Citizen from the previous week: a great way to cap off our visit.

One of the last things we did was to return to Company’s Park to walk the length of it; there were numerous romantic couples on the grass, which reminded me of Rome’s Villa Borghese Gardens and L.A.’s Griffith Park. We also saw many guinea fowl in and around Cape Town—again, we loved seeing animals we never get to see in the States.

We also visited St. George’s Cathedral, which was lovely and smaller than I had expected. It’s so famous for Desmond Tutu that in my head it was the size of Chartres—until I actually saw it and went inside.

We even took in the South African National Gallery, which had two incredible exhibits by South African artists:

  1. photography and more by Omar Badsha, and
  2. a multimedia-with-moving-sculpture work by William Kentridge called The Refusal of Time.

Hamba kakuhle! (Go well!)

All too soon it was time to wend our way back to L.A. The first leg of our flight was at night. On the British Airways plane back to Heathrow, the flight attendants sprayed something throughout the cabin, saying that it was not toxic but that we should still take our contact lenses out and not lick the mist. Um…

I’ll spare you the details of our layover in Heathrow, but be warned: that airport goes well out of its way to make you miserable. Meanwhile, our flight out of Cape Town left late, so we missed the connection and were rerouted to San Francisco…and our luggage got lost at SFO. It was finally delivered to us four days later—intact! Hooray!

Looking back, I think we were lucky to have mostly clear weather during our time in Cape Town as I was able to take extraordinarily vivid impressions of the majestic Table Mountain, the city and its surroundings, which are still with me…

On another level, I found Cape Town stimulating as an artist. It’s the kind of place that compels you to be brave and keep trying to tell your story truthfully. That’s also what I took away from our trip, along with an abiding gratitude to the WPIC programming committee for choosing Alien Citizen as the closing show—and of course to my generous backers who made the trip possible. Without a doubt, it counts as one of the highlights of my creative international life.

* * *

Thank you, Lisa! I really appreciated hearing about your travels within and around Cape Town from your ATCK perspective: it was fascinating, as well as moving, to take this virtual tour. Readers, please leave questions or comments for Lisa below. —ML Awanohara

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TCK TALENT: Lisa Liang takes her show back on the road; second stop: Cape Town, South Africa (1/2)

TCK Talent columnist Lisa and her husband (and techie), Dan, head to Cape Town. Photo credits: (from left) Alien Citizen poster; Lisa and Dan in front of Little Theatre on University of Cape Town campus; and view of xxx through bus window (supplied).

TCK Talent columnist Lisa and her husband (and techie), Dan, head to Cape Town. Photo credits: (from left) Alien Citizen poster; Lisa and Dan in front of Little Theatre on University of Cape Town campus (supplied, by Daniel Lawrence); and view of Table Mountain through bus window (supplied, by Lisa Liang).

For the second month running, our TCK Talent columnist Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang updates us on her own creative life. This is the first of a two-part post on her South African experience.

Howzit, dear readers—molweni!

I’m devoting this month’s column to the experience of taking  Alien Citizen: an earth odyssey, my one-woman show about growing up as a Third Culture Kid (TCK) of mixed heritage, to Cape Town, South Africa.

The occasion was the 2015 Women Playwrights International (WPI) Conference, held June 29–July 3. WPI has brought together women playwrights and allied theatre artists, cultural workers, and scholars since 1988. It facilitates communication and collaboration among the international community of women in theatre by holding conferences every three years.

In last month’s column I remarked: “It sounds like my kind of crowd.”

Well…it was!!

It felt enormously special to be at the conference’s 10th assembly and its first gathering on the African continent—my first time back in Africa since I graduated from high school, and my first visit to Cape Town. I’ll always be grateful to the donors who financed the trip via my online crowd-funding campaign.

Into Africa

It takes a gajillion hours to get from Los Angeles, California, where I live, to Cape Town (with a layover at Heathrow). My husband (and techie), Dan, and I can’t sleep on planes (!) so were jet lagged on arrival—and only too glad to reach our lodging at Graça Machel Hall at the University of Cape Town (a residence hall, or dorm), the cost of which was generously covered by a housing grant from the Writers’ Guild of Norway.

The room and especially the communal bathrooms gave us flashbacks to our college years—except this dorm was cleaner and full of adult delegates to WPI and other conferences, which we appreciated. We were also happy that the bathrooms provided a good hot shower—and were taken aback (but ultimately impressed) by the free condoms offered in every bathroom on campus.

Note to travelers: If you visit Cape Town in winter (May–July), be warned: indoors is colder than outdoors. Virtually no one has heating or insulation, so bring thermal socks and long johns to wear beneath your pajamas at night, and a thick sweater for any day you lounge indoors—and you’ll be fine. I also recommend gloves and winter hats, unless you’re from a below-freezing-in-winter climate, in which case you’ll likely shake your head and chuckle at all the other tourists complaining of the cold. (The Canadian delegates seemed to be the most bemused by the rest of us.)

The conferencing experience

Every day Dan and I rode the shuttle taking WPIC delegates to the conference site on UCT’s Hiddingh Campus. During the 15-minute drive along the highway, we thrilled at the sight of Table Mountain, Lion’s Head, Devil’s Peak, the harbor, and the Atlantic. It’s impossible to miss the mountains—they loom over, or cradle (depending on your perspective), Cape Town and are magnificent.

My conferencing mornings began with a fantastic keynote by an African theatremaker or a fascinating panel of mostly African playwrights, all women. This was followed by a tea/coffee/yummy-snack break, then workshops led by theatremakers from all over the world, and then a tasty lunch provided by WPIC. Then: readings of excerpts from plays written by playwrights from everywhere and read by South African actors of every race/ethnicity, doing accents from all over Africa and the English-speaking world. Then another tea break, more readings, then panels/sessions/networking/presentations, then supper break (not provided, and we learned that we could not get a bad meal in Cape Town—every dinner out was delicious). The evenings ended with full-length performances.

I was conferencing 12–13 hours daily, and there was usually a smorgasbord of offerings from which to choose in any given hour.

She's really there! Typical beak between conference sessions 9selfie); conference poster on campus (supplied, by Daniel Lawrence).

She’s really there! Photo credits: Typical break between conference sessions (supplied, selfie); conference poster on campus (supplied, by Daniel Lawrence).

Prep for show time

Dan, meanwhile, toured around Cape Town—but joined me for the two technical rehearsals for Alien Citizen in the Little Theatre on campus. After the classroom debacle learning experience at SIETAR Europa in Valencia in May, we were so happy to be in an actual theatre again! The theatre was a bit run down, but it had a booth, professional lighting grid, and Sean (WPIC15’s excellent production manager), so we were stylin’.

If you’ve been following this column for at least a year, then you know what happened with my first old-fashioned slide projector in Iceland. (Woe.) Well, it nearly happened again. I forgot to attach the slide projector to the voltage converter that I bought expressly for Valencia and Cape Town. Instead, I plugged the projector to the wall with a little plug adapter…and it roared as a burning-wires-and-plastic smell permeated the air.

Gah!!!!

I unplugged everything, made adjustments, replaced the bulb, et voila! The projector worked normally…as long as you could ignore the lingering odor of burned something-or-other.

Conferencing highlights

After making sure that my laptop could communicate with the theatre’s screen projector (EVERY venue’s screen projector is its own special starflake), Dan went back to his Cape Town exploring while I attended another conference lunch. Lunches tended to be three quarters sociable (talktalktalk) and one quarter zombie apocalypse (many of us on iPads/iPhones while digesting). At every lunch, I sat with new people, all of whom were interesting and amiable and from everywhere. That was one of my favorite aspects of the conference.

Other highlights of the conference included:

  • the opening keynote by Zambian-born Mwenya Kabwe, who spoke humorously and eloquently about theatre and being an African woman theatremaker.
  • the performance of Walk: South Africa, which taught us a grim statistic, that half of all South African women will be raped in their lifetimes.
  • Kenyan actress-playwright Mũmbi Kaigwa’s reading of an excerpt from her smart, funny, and moving solo show, They Call Me Wanjikũ.
  • a panel of extraordinary South African theatremakers who told us that all theatre in South Africa in the 1980s was held in protest to Apartheid, but nowadays the theatre scene has become very segregated—it has regressed.
  • the workshop on Community Play Creation lead by Hope McIntyre of Sarasvàti Productions in Canada.
  • countless amazing women, including another ATCK playwright who grew up in many more countries than I did, and an Egyptian professor who was a budding playwright, which brought back happy memories of Egypt.
  • the final keynote by the incredibly accomplished Napo Masheane of South Africa. She spoke of working in a jewelry store as a teen, where adult white men would come in and immediately say: “Can I please talk to someone more intelligent?” She ended her speech with a poem that had a beautiful refrain, which she repeated with evocative gestures more and more quietly until she was only mouthing the words while making the gestures, and it made me cry:

    Do not shut your temple doors, whatever you seek seeks you, whatever you want wants you, whatever you need needs you.

    Do not shut your temple doors, there is enough space for all of us to shine, let us dance with fire under the stars.

SouthAfricatheatreconference_arrow

The delegates to the 2015 Women Playwrights International Conference, in Cape Town. Photo credit: Nardus Englebrecht Photography.

Show time!

After the final keynote, Dan and I had another tech rehearsal for Alien Citizen to program the lights. Sean gave the sandstorm-in-Casablanca a nice effect with upstage lights flickering, and the high-school-dance-in-Cairo was even more humorous because he spotlit me in purple with white polka dots that shimmied back and forth, reminiscent of a disco ball’s reflection.

And then it was showtime. After my experience in Valencia, I couldn’t help but have doubts over whether we would have a decent audience. But while I was waiting in the wings I heard delegates enter and sing along to some pre-show music (“Dancing Queen” and “Stand by Me”). I was glad they were getting into the mood, and it sounded like there were a lot more than 20! When I began the performance I could see that it was a “good house” (theatre jargon for “numerous seats filled”) and there were lots of laughs (which sounded slightly surprised, probably because most of the other shows at the conference had been about harrowing subject matter).

Afterwards I received amazing feedback from delegates from South Africa, Canada, Lebanon, Sweden, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Germany, Hungary, New Zealand, USA, Australia, Spain, Singapore, Kenya, Brazil, Jamaica, and more. Several said that the show was a great way to end the conference. I felt relieved, gratified, and honored.

That night, we met with other delegates at Addis in Cape for tasty Ethiopian food (and a cosmo for me). I’m always slightly braindead after performing, but it was lovely to “wind down” with other theatremakers who were very positive about the show. The next morning at breakfast, and again as we checked out of the dorm, more delegates praised Alien Citizen, which was the best way to end the conference for me.

Before, during, after the show. Photo credits: Drama of the slide projector (selfie by Lisa Liang, supplied); the show, which closed the conference; post-show cosmo at Addis in Cape Town (the latter two by Daniel Lawrence, supplied).

Can’t get over Africa

Thank you for reading, and stay tuned next month for Part 2 of Alien Citizen: an earth odyssey’s trip to Cape Town, to include tours of the winelands, the Cape Peninsula, Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 of the 21 years he served behind bars), District Six Museum (a tribute to the 60,000 inhabitants of District Six, a former residential area of Cape Town, who were displaced by the apartheid regime), the aforementioned Table Mountain, and more! Until then…hamba kahle!

* * *

Thank you, Lisa! Once again, you’ve taken us on a vicarious journey—not only into a part of the world to which I’ve never been but also into the midst of theatre people, your creative tribe! I found it fascinating, as I’m sure others will as well. Readers, please leave questions or comments for Lisa below.

STAY TUNED for the next fab post!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with news, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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