Mike Hirschbach




Part One - January, 2004

Cape Town

Friday, August 20 - I depart from Halifax, with clear skies, auguring for a smooth trip half way around the world. John, the social instructor, and I meet in Montreal, board the next flight, and wait. And wait, while the ground crew looks for the cause of the 'minor mechanical problem' that they've discovered. If there have to be mechanical problems, on the ground is my favourite place for them to be discovered. The flight is finally postponed to the following day while the faulty piece is flown in from another airport and replaced. This affects all the rest of our connections, and the workshop itself may start late. We make various phone calls to South Africa and the Cirque, then sit back for another in a continuing series of coffees.

Saturday - Since I have an extra day in Montreal, I get to wander around my old stomping grounds and have an unanticipated lunch with Mom. The plane leaves in the afternoon, with all passengers, flight crew, and the newly arrived and replaced piece of technology in our respective places.

Sunday - We arrive in South Africa late at night, but because of revised flight plans, we're in Johannesburg, and on our way to a hotel where we'll sleep for a glorious 5 hours before the next flight to Cape Town. On the way to the hotel, I sit in the back behind the driver, and can just see his head over the headrest. I notice with rising alarm that the driver is not looking at the road at all, but is almost completely inattentive, talking with his friend in the passengers seat. Sweat running down my forehead, I'm just about to insist he "Pay Attention!" when I realize he's not driving at all, the steering wheel is on the other side of the car where the, well, where the driver is. Oh yes, this is South Africa, heh, heh, they drive on the other side here, and I drowsily relax until we reach the hotel.
Monday -After 4 days of travel, we arrive in Cape Town. Unfortunately, the luggage has not. There's no time to deal with that however, as Brent picks us up, we head off to ZipZap Circus, and jump immediately into the workshop. I'm feeling more than a little ragged and tired, yet am buoyed by the energy of the students, who are excited and energetic.

We start with the First Day ritual. John opens up a large box, and asks every one to put into it all their blocks, fears, doubts, anxieties, and concerns about their abilities. This will then sealed until the last day when, he assures the trainers, they can pick up whatever they deposited. The trainers all enter into the spirit of this, some carrying enormous imaginary loads and stuffing them in with great effort, others pulling smaller, but more numerous contributions from a seemingly endless series of pockets. Some loads are inert and sluggish, some are bundles of frantic energy, and some require several people to round them up and herd them into the box before the lid is finally jammed tightly on.
For the next five days one of the main themes is safety and the forms it takes; physical safety, psychologicalCape Town safety, and creating a safe environment for the kids and the trainers.

This is the second workshop that John and I have taught together. His teaching style is very accepting and generous; he's observant and responsive, and listens closely to the trainer's concerns. I teach performance, games, and circus work, emphasizing how the teacher should always go first, and take great pleasure in the activities. John and I work well together, and veer between discussions about the scheduling and progress of the workshop, and lunatic laughter

First Impressions: Zip Zap Circus www.zip-zap.co.za is a very well equipped and efficiently run circus facility in a large warehouse structure in an industrial section of the city. It's incredible what Laurence and Brent have accomplished in 12 years. The kids who attend have attained very high technical levels. The older, more experienced ones teach the younger students in a real spirit of cooperation. There is an almost tangible sense of belonging among the students, and a high level of trust and caring between the teachers and students. The tuition is free for all, thanks in part to a partnership the school has with a corporate sponsor. The kids perform regularly, in South Africa and in selected venues outside the country as well, and so have clear performance goals that they are always striving towards. Teachers with specialized training are brought in regularly; all this week a trampoline and trapeze teacher from the National Centre for Circus Arts in France, Arnauld Thomas, is working with the students in a separate part of the room.

Monday night, we all go to see "The Fire Raisers" at the Baxter Theatre Centre. It's a co-production of a Max Frisch play with a joint Swiss/South African cast. I watch the play while drifting in and out of sleep; I try heroically to stay awake, but four days of travel amid numerous time zones have caught up with a vengeance. Suddenly, in a rare lucid moment, I see that one of the actors looks like…Patrick Mohr, a friend and fellow student from the Lecoq School. I haven't seen him in 17 years, but it's unmistakably him. Then, in the next moment, a long concealing wig is whisked off one of the other actors, and it's Jenny Reznick, another fellow student!

After the play, arrangements have been made for us to meet the actors at the upstairs bar. Jenny has worked with Zip Zap on several projects, and I arrange with Laurence to tell Patrick and Jenny that there's a surprise for them. As they approach, I stand with my back to them, deep in pretend conversation with several people who know what's coming up. At the tempe juste, I suddenly turn and am rewarded with a look of astonishment from both, and real pleasure at seeing each other again. Whew! We catch up as best we can in the short time we all have - they're involved in the performances, I'm teaching all day, so this will be our only opportunity to talk.

Tuesday - A surreal conversation with one of the directors from Circus Ethiopia,

Him: You are from Canada? I know someone from Canada.
: Oh yes? ( ... Do you know just how big Canada is?)

: Yes, he is a clown.

: Oh yes? (... Well, that narrows it down to mere hundreds instead of tens of millions).

: We met him in Germany when we were performing there.

: Oh...yes? (... This is starting to sound a little familiar, although it's still very unlikely...)

: Yes, his name is...Derek...Derek something...

: Derek...Scott? Do I know him? I practically invented him!

Derek (www.derekscott.ca) and I shared an apartment in Paris while I was studying there, and he was working with Phillipe Gaulier. He's currently in New York performing in "Slava's Snow Show" (www.slavasnowshow.com) and when I write to him a week later, he's equally incredulous and bemused.

Tuesday night the whole group goes to see the local Theatresports troupe, a very quick and inventive group. I appreciate being in the audience instead of on the stage; as a founding member of the Halifax Theatresports troupe, I performed with them every week for over seven years. Seeing playful theatre, doing activities together in a different context is helping to bring this workshop group together very quickly.

Still no luggage.

... more in Part Two

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