Saturday, April 12, 2008


Last night during the performance it struck me that it's not only a coincidence that Murray and I re-connected in New York after not having seen one another since childhood, but what a miracle it is that any of us are alive at the same time. Any of us...and by that I mean me, and you! I can explain to you why the odds of our co-existing at this moment in time are far lower than the odds of winning the lottery. We could all be in a state of awe and wonder all the time, even on the subway each morning, we could be saying to one another "what a miracle that we are alive at the same moment, and that we've actually come into contact"....but we tend not to be present to that miracle, to say the least. We tend to take our lives for-granted. At least I do, most of the time.
Would love to write more, but am off to perform Two Men Talking.


Monday, January 14, 2008

Creating community through storytelling

I am dashing out of the door to an interview on WBAI Radio, so I can't write much. But I wanted to create this heading on the blog, as a way of expressing what has emerged as a common theme in responses I've had about performances of Two Men Talking so far.
Its a simple premise. We create community through sharing stories with one another
In the particular we find the universal.
We see our humanity (the struggles, the joys, the triumphs) reflected in others.
The recognition if that commonality is the seed of building community. From there we can actually choose to support one another.
And the practice of doing Two Men Talking makes it abundantly self evident.
Two Men Talking exists in contradistinction to isolation - going it alone.

I've got to go. Maybe I'll carry on this line of thinking on the radio.

Listen in on 99.5 fm at 1.40pm

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Who is that person in the mirror?

Tomorrow night we start a run of shows of Two Men Talking again. This time in New York City. I say "again" because we have done it in London this past summer (thirty times) in Edinburgh last summer (24 times) and many other times in between and before. So of course it's "again". And yet, it doesn't feel like again. I feel a sense of anticipation and anxiety. A feeling as if I have never done this before and have no idea how I will be able to do it. In fact it is of course not "again" because I am not the same person I was six months ago. So how could it possibly be the same experience as it was. That's a ludicrous notion. I am evolving. I didnt' stop evolving six months ago, or six hours ago, I am continually evolving, so are you, right now. Therefore if I am conscious of my own evolution, I perceive myself anew, Murray anew and the space between us feels unfamiliar and new.
Given this, Two Men Talking will be an unpredictable and unique conversation tomorrow and on subsequent days. Today I am present to this particular reality, the awareness of my own evolution, and am therefore not recognizing myself. Who is this person Paul Browde? I feel I should know him, after all I have lived in his experience for all of his life. You could say he is me. Yet, I don't really know him, and just as I think I do, he does things, unpredictable, unexpected, he feels things differently than he always has, or even stranger, he reacts on a visceral levels in new and unexpected ways, even to me. Can we really know anybody? Or when we do are we relating to an image, like a cache in a computer that stores images of websites that have long been changed? When we relate to ourselves or others as if we know them, is that similar to thinking we see the actual star, when what we are seeing is light that left the star millions of years before? Really being with someone, is to not know them. People are a mystery in every moment. I am. You are. Anything is possible. What are the implications of this for the world? Does history really have to repeat itself? do things really have to keep going the way they always have? or do we have the right and capacity to see things anew and thus create a new world every day?
For me, to prepare for tomorrow is to be curious about what might emerge. What is the conversation we will have? and what is the story that wants to be told. It's not for me to know. Just to show up and let it emerge. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Re-membering Spalding Gray

One of the cardinal principles of Two Men Talking is that there is a reciprocal relationship between listening and telling. They create one another in a circular-causal fashion. We actually believe that the listening of our audiences powerfully shapes our stories, which accounts for the fact our performances are never the same twice.

The odd thing about talking on radio or tv is that one has no clue who is listening, apart from the interviewer. Its like this huge invisible amorphous net of listening.

Today in a terrific interview with Bonnie on WLIU Radio, I was asked which storytellers I admired most. My mind went blank for a moment before I started spewing out names. "Ingmar Bergman, and I'm currently reading The God of Small Things and I loved Love in the Time of Cholera". I was way off the point and the interviewer reeled me back in.
"But what about storytelling ... the kind you do?"
The first name that came to mind was Spalding Gray.

This is what I didn't think to say in the interview:

I have often described what Paul and I do as "Spalding Gray x 2".

He was a major influence when I first got to New York in 1990. I heard him at St Mark's Church at one of those marathon New Year's Day affairs. And then the Lincoln Center with Monster in a Box. The guy sat behind a table and held an entire Lincoln Center Audience spellbound with his personal stories.
I'd never seen that before. The theater I went to in South Africa during the 70's and 80's was political. It had to be. The theater was one of the only public venues for finding out what was really going on. There was no place for personal life stories. We weren't free enough.
One of the reasons I came to New York was to find a way to manifest -on stage - what I'd been hearing from my patients. But really, I wanted to, no needed to tell my own story.
So Spalding Gray blew my mind.
I have read and watched Swimming to Cambodia tens of times.
I love the way he does the South Africans.
And lately when I heard archive interviews with/ by Spalding on NPR, I was filled with sadness that he was gone.

When the interview was over, the producer Kathie Russo came back on the line and told me how happy she was that I'd mentioned Spalding. It was his wife. She'd been listening.

Heaven - Nothing to write home about?

Stories are a way of re-membering people.
According to the late great anthropologist Barbara Myerhoff, re-membering is distinct from
mere recollection. It is an intentional act, which is embodied in cultural practices such as storytelling.

Telling stories
about the dead is a way of restoring their membership to the present.
As we begin preparing the storytelling space for our upcoming performances of Two Men Talking, I am reminded of the power of story to conjure the presences of people who have died or are far away. My grandparents, their families, my beloved nanny Paula Modisane. My father and mother who are still alive but geographically distant.

The preparation for Two Men Talking always affects my dream life too.

Last night I dreamed that I was visited by my friend Anneliese who died two years ago at the age of 95.
She was visiting from heaven.
Her hand was cold when I reached out to shake it.
And she looked pretty blue.
I asked how it was to be dead.
"Not very pleasant", she told me.
"How about heaven?", I wanted to know.
"There's nothing to do", she complained. "In fact there is nothing at all. Absolutely nothing.
"Basically", she said: "Its nothing to write home about".

Anyone got an alternative description of heaven?
Something to write home about?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

I had a dream, a wonderful dream.

I am sitting in my office waiting for a patient. I am a psychiatrist. I had a dream that for the past six weeks I lived the life of a perfomer, travelling around England and even performing on the stage of the West End in the middle of Trafalgar Square eight times a week. It's hard to believe it happened, and hard to understand that it's over. It was an amazing experience. I feel so proud and accomplished, and also very humbled by the whole thing. Proud that we did what we said we'd do, and that we gave our best, night after night. I watched as Murray and I each became more able to be "present" on the stage, and came to know that we really do what we say we do. Like the proverbial actors nightmare, each show, we stood in the wings, not knowing what was going to happen, no script in mind, and no blocking to remember. And then we went on and each time twomentalking did us...we didn't do it, it did us. Something emerged each time that was new and and a learning. It became an intimate experience for us and the audience. An audience member asked me if it was real, the feeling she felt, that we were very connected with each of them. And it was real. I felt a deep connection to my fellow human beings sitting in that theatre, aware of the heat they suffered (due to an antiquated air conditioning system); touched by their attentive listening, affected by their sometimes distress, warmed by their generous laughter and ultimately moved by the connection we all shared.
I was humbled by the craft of what it means to be an "actor". The discipline and rigor that it takes to give the best one can, night after night, in the heat or the cold, whether happy or sad, knowing that there is an audience out there and they deserve my best.
People ask me where we are going after the successful run in London. I can't say. I don't know. I think time and the gods will decide what's next. In the meantime I am back to being a therapist and psychiatrist, integrating what I have learned, and working at synthesizing these very different work lives that I love.


Saturday, June 16, 2007

Photo from London

With Frith Banbury

The West End

It's hard to write about because it is still happening. It's not yet a story. It's an amazing experience to be in London, walk down St Martin's Lane, past Nelson's Column, cross the Mall, and into the Trafalgar Studios theatre, which feels like home for this brief time....Each day there is the opportunity to tell a story, to co-create an experience for a group of people. I have definitely become more comfortable telling stories, using space, using my voice and body, and yet can see how there is always room for improvement and growth. I have learned is that it's possible to be joyful in telling even the saddest stories. Joy is not the opposite of sadness. It is possible to access joy, and for performing this show, it makes all the difference to the experience. Some nights I find it hard to feel joyful and then its' still a "good show" but it's a different emotional experience for me. Performing Two Men Talking is an intense journey. I am happiest on the stage performing. The times between are liminal betwixt and between space, and sometimes feel long. I can't ever forget there's a show tonight, and can't escape the process even in sleep, as my dreams are filled with images and memories of the past. Last night I had a new memory about a story I have told hundreds of times, to be shared on the stage this afternoon (if I remember). Most nights there is someone in the audience whom I have not seen in many years. Someone from the past. And the re-connections and bringing these relationships into the present is a wonderful gift.
So that's it for now, London in June, and still in the midst of a life altering time, not sure where it's going to go, but remembering that my only job is to show up, and tell my story, the rest is not up to me.


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Resanctifying the desanctified

The theatre in which we perform in Colchester was once a church. There is a sign hanging on the wall saying "this building was once a church and is no longer one. One day it will be a ruin, in which case it will be the ruin of a church".
Colchester is one of the oldest towns in Britain, with an original Roman wall. The history of the place, and the beauty of the old building, with its vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows brought something to the performance, something of the ancient custom of storytelling, and a feeling of being in the realm of the sacred, and a feeling of the hundreds of lives that had been performed in that space in some capacity for centuries and centuries. For me it was a particularly moving experience having in the audience an old childhood friend and her husband who was a friend of mine at university, as well as my mother's cousin, someone I had never met, but with whom I share many well loved family members... These people and the personal history they brought to their listening, gave an immediacy and personal quality to my experience of telling that I will not forget. I am left feeling warm and tender towards Colchester.

Colchester, Manchester, Cambridge, Ipswich

The blog has been suspended in Luton because we've been on the road. And there has been no time to document all those experiences. We get into a place, do our best to learn it, become familiar with the performance space, and off we go again. In our minivan whose carpets were dipped into a disgusting strawberry deodorizer such that cowshit was welcome relief. Now they all seem like dreams. The exquisite Colcheser Arts Center, The Lowry in Salford, the Mumford in Cambridge and The Pulse Festival in Ipswich.
Once these were unfamiliar names on our brochure. No longer.
The last place on our tour was Ipswich. The performance was interrupted by a fire alarm and we had to file out of the theatre along with the audience. Once outside, some of the audience joked that we should carry on there and then. Which is what we did. I can't quite describe the thrill of it - such is the ephemeral nature of live performance. But here are some photographs from the technical manager's cell phone.

Dan about to arrive. I've got to shower and get in a quick meditation. Opening night at the Trafalgar Studios tonight.