Over the past few weeks I’ve given you a few teasers of what happened on my trip to Makhanda to perform in a show at the National Arts Festival 2019. Of course, there’s far more I could tell you about, but here’s a general overview… and a final surprise.
First, a huge shout out to everyone involved in the show. I had great fun getting to know the other performers, their sighted assistants and the amazing crew who worked with us. The entire trip was filled with special moments, laughter and fun. Whether it was sitting in the Pothole and Donkey pub cheering on others from the group who took to the stage to play a few songs, relaxing over supper and a glass of wine at one of the local restaurants with some of the group, or comparing experiences as we sat backstage waiting for the show to start.
One memory that will remain with me was sitting backstage on the second day. One of the performers, PJ Durr was idly running through one of the songs he was going to be performing, Chris Isaac’s Wicked Game. Our show director, Niqui began adding harmonies … and it wasn’t long before Gavin, Laurice and I added our own harmonies.
I know I haven’t really blogged about anything but the show. That’s because the show was the focus of our time in Makhanda. However, we did get some downtime – visited some great local restaurants, and I even got to see one other show. Fiji joined Craig on two runs – the Makhanda park run and a run through Makhanda and the surrounding area. And Craig and Afsana got to see a few shows and sample a few exhibitions and markets.
I will admit I was startled to see three donkeys pilfering from refuse bins as they strolled down the main road. And my surprise was nothing compared to Fiji’s. But I guess that’s just what happens in Makhanda!
A week after we got home we heard that our show had been awarded a Standard Bank Ovation Spirit of the Fringe award. Which rounded off the whole experience perfectly!
Here’s how the Standard Bank Ovation Awards are described on the National Arts Festival website:
“The Standard Bank Ovation Awards celebrate artistic innovation, excellence, the exploration of new performance styles and the courage to open new conversations during the National Arts Festival held in Makhanda.”
You can see all this year’s award winners here: https://www.nationalartsfestival.co.za/news/naf2019-ovation-awards-ceremony/
I’d definitely return to the National Arts Festival – I’d love to see more shows, spend time browsing the many attractions and immerse myself in the atmosphere of this amazing annual event.
The photo shows all the Blind Date performers and their sighted assistants… and Fiji… onstage right at the end of the show, just before taking our final bows.
When mom and I were in Makhanda the last thing I expected was to have an all-too-brief playdate with another guide dog. So, when mom, dad and I slipped away from the farewell meeting of all those involved in the Blind date Concert and disappeared into the depths of the SA Library for the Blind building I wasn’t certain where we were going.
Much to my joy, we turned a corner and there was a black Labrador – a guide dog named Vanilla. Well, to be exact, a recently retired guide dog named Vanilla.
And it was such fun to say hello and exchange quick nose sniffs and tail wags. I could tell that Vanilla wasn’t very well – mom told me later that she had cancer – so I was careful to be gentle while also having a good play.
Sadly, Vanilla has since gone to doggy heaven, but I know she’s having great fun playing there with all the other guide dogs, including my aunts Leila and Eccles.
I’m just glad I got to meet her, even if we had to rush off to catch the bus for our trip home to Cape Town.
The photo is of me and mom and Vanilla and her mom, Pasha.
I was preparing for our first Blind Date Show when my phone pinged to let me know I had a voice message. It was from Paul, a Capetonian colleague, who told me he’d just seen my books in an art exhibition in Makhanda.
And yes, while all the excitement of the Blind Date Concert was happening, my books weren’t forgotten. They were having an adventure of their own!
I’ve mentioned before that the Blind Date Show was part of the 100th year celebration of the SA Library for the Blind. Apart from the show, they also decided to put on an exhibition of creative art works created by blind and visually impaired artists from South Africa. And I was honoured to have been asked to allow my books to be part of that exhibition.
Here’s a photo of the exhibit where my books were displayed – both A Different Way of Seeing and The Adventures of Missy Mouse.
With thanks to Craig Strachan for the photograph, and to Francois Hendrikz of SA Library for the Blind and Catherine Baron, of Inkanyezi Events, for inviting me to be part of both the show and the exhibition.
I wish I had time to describe the entire Blind Date Concert I took part in at the National Arts festival in Makhanda in June this year – the rich diversity of personalities, music, poetry and performances; the energy and wit of our dynamic MC, Fiks Mahola; the professionalism of our stage crew who managed our sound, lighting and props so efficiently; and, of course, our wonderfully responsive audiences.
I’d love to be able to share the entire experience with you so you could understand what a special show this was. But sadly, all I can do at this stage is to share a video of my own performance.
This was recorded on the second night of the show and includes an introduction by award-winning blind poet Lelethu “Poetic Soul” Mahambehlala, who graced each of us with a poem based on our own stories. Lelethu was dynamite, as I’m sure you’ll see when you watch the clip.
On that note, it’s showtime, folks! So, get ready for your cue…
I know many people feel out of their depth when they’re put into a crowd of people they don’t know. And I suppose I can understand why – unless you’re comfortable chatting to people you don’t know, it can be quite a daunting experience.
So, how would you facilitate introducing a group of blind performers who haven’t met before? One would think it would be even harder, right?
As the group of the blind performers, sighted assistants, technical crew and one guide dog met for lunch and a rehearsal ahead of the Blind Date Concert performances, it really didn’t seem hard at all. After the welcome by the SA Library for the Blind, we sat down over lunch to get to know one another, and very soon were laughing over stories of our experiences as blind and visually impaired people living in a sighted world. You’d be amazed at how much common ground we found about the tools and techniques we use to do the things we want to do.
Of course, as a group we represented pretty much the entire spectrum from quiet and retiring right the way through to outgoing and exuberant, but that didn’t seem to matter as we sat and chatted. And no, I’m not going to tell you where I think I fall on that continuum.
By the time our fun and energetic show director, Niqui Cloete-Barrass, from boost Creative Solutions, called us back to order to begin our first and only rehearsal, we were already a united team. Which listening to one another’s sets as we ran through the show only enhanced since it gave us a shared vision of what we could achieve with the show.
And so, amped with the energy of a great rehearsal, we left the SA Library for the Blind primed and ready for our early morning make-up calls and the following day’s show. Which is where I’m going to leave us – until next time, when I’ll tell you about the show itself…
It’s no small undertaking to arrange a show with 13 performers when 9 of them are visually impaired and 1 of them is a dog. Yet, that’s what the South African Library for the Blind and the truly awesome project coordinator, Catherine Baron from Inkanyezi Events, managed to do. Without a hitch, I might add. And we were treated like royalty every step of the way.
Instead of staying at the Graham Hotel with the rest of the team, Afsana, Fiji and I were booked into the Evelyn Guest House, which is also owned by the hotel. My room was comfortable, spacious and – to my joy – had a garden where Fiji could run around and have necessary grass time.
Admittedly, I found the large open room difficult to navigate at first. Unsurprisingly, since it was an unfamiliar space. So I put my orientation skills training into practise and started to figure out the room layout.
Once I’d navigated my way round the room, I discovered the sound of the refrigerator was a great audio cue. I could always hear the fridge and knew where everything else was relative to it. And suddenly navigating the space became easy.
At the end of our second day in Makhanda, when Craig joined us, I was completely at home in the space. So, when Craig asked if we could turn off the fridge since it would keep him awake, I was so comfortable in the space that I could manage almost as well without it.
Going back to the guest house itself, it was cute to see how the staff took to Fiji. They were really great about making sure both she and I had everything we needed. And I appreciated how conscientious they were about keeping the outside gate shut so there was no danger of Fiji escaping to go and see some shows on her own.
Talking about Fiji, it was meant to be her turn to write an article for the blog today. But she was so warmly snuggled up in her new doggy bed that I didn’t want to disturb her. But don’t worry, I’m sure she’ll post an article soon.
I’ll admit I was a tiny bit nervous when accepting Afsana’s offer to accompany me to Makhanda so I could perform in the Blind Date Show at the National Arts Festival.
I wasn’t nervous about Afsana accompanying me – I knew she’d be a great travelling companion and that I’d be in safe hands. Rather, it was the unfamiliarity of travelling with someone other than Craig that gave me pause. While I’ve known Afsana for several years, we’ve never really spent much time together and I wasn’t certain how well she understood the challenges of travelling with someone who’s not only blind but is also a Type 1 diabetic. Oh, not to mention her occasionally boisterous guide dog, Fiji!
Yet, what a great traveling companion Afsana turned out to be! We spent hours chatting – on the flight to Port Elizabeth, on the two-hour bus journey to Makhanda, and over several meals before meeting the others who were performing in the show. And Afsana connected with Fiji as well, even teaching her a new command (“Reverse, Fiji”).
When Craig joined us at the end of our second day in Makhanda I made a discovery that’s given me lots to think through. When Afsana and I were navigating our way round Makhanda I did so with a greater level of independence than normal. And certainly a greater level of independence than when Craig joined us.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that Craig deprives me of my independence. He doesn’t. But, when I’m with him I fall into the habit of letting him do most of the work when he’s guiding me. It’s just so much easier since I don’t have to concentrate as much on what’s happening around me.
Whereas, since Afsana left it to me to tell her when I might need guidance, I tended to work it out on my own.
What I need to figure out is whether or not I should break the habit of letting Craig do more of the work, or if it’s okay since I manage on my own the rest of the time. In reality, I guess the answer is somewhere between the two. Regardless, understanding how I manage my own independence has taught me that I’m never too old to gain insights into how I live my life. Which is valuable to me.
And, having the opportunity of getting to know Afsana better remains one of the highlights of a truly unforgettable time in Makhanda. I’m so glad I accepted her offer to come with me on the trip.
The photo was taken by Afsana and shows Fiji and me sitting at the back of the bus travelling between Port Elizabeth and Makhanda.
When mom and I arrived in Makhanda, which lots of people also call Grahamstown, I had no idea I was going to have such fun!
First, I met a whole lot of people who were happy to pat me and play with me. Then, since mom and I were walking around lots of new places, I got lots of treats. As well as the enjoyment of learning new routes and going to places I’ve never been before. And then dad arrived to take me on two runs, which was also great. And I even got to meet one of my colleagues – a newly-retired guide dog called Vanilla. Okay, meeting some donkeys was a bit weird, since they were walking down the middle of the main road. And I really missed my doggy sisters, Emily and Allie. But, overall, the trip was lots of fun.
Best of all, I discovered what fun it was performing on stage at a show and wagging at all the people in the audience. I’ll admit waiting backstage wasn’t much fun. But I just loved the excitement, the bright lights and the applause. And I was amazing – everybody said so.
Oh, and mom got to play some songs in the show as well. But she can tell you about that if she wants to.