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For the adults at the children’s table

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IOL Thanks

Neil Baynes

Theresa Smith

HE HAS not quite been put at the odd job table, but Nicholas Spagnoletti has been attending several weddings of late. So, naturally it seemed liked a good idea to him to write a play about the adults who get seated at the children’s table.

Which is how the third play in Artscape’s Spring Drama Festival – Special Thanks to Guests from Afar – came about.

Spagnoletti performed with Theatresport for seven years in between bursts of writing, but it was only once he entered London Road into the Pansa Play reading competition that people really stood up and took notice. Even then it was a long process.

The play was picked up by Kalk Bay Theatre owner Simon Cooper, first performed in 2010 and has been picking up awards ever since.

Spagnoletti has now finally bitten the bullet and written another drama, though he has been playing around with the idea for almost four years.

The 34-year-old is an inveterate writer, constantly writing in bursts, and sometimes things go in the drawer for a while, but he’s always busy on something.

The Cape Town-based playwright, software developer (he did his undergrad in English lit at UCT, but rediscovered a childhood love for computers and started a software company with partner Edward van Kuik), actor, bar/café owner and now also owner of a tiny theatre auditorium, wears many hats and hands out different business cards depending on whom he is talking to.

“Just pick one,” he chuckles. “I like that the things sort of feed each other,” he said on a serious note.

Spagnoletti has always wanted to own a theatre, “since I was five years old, making shows for my parents and charging them tickets and making a little restaurant in the lounge.”

Van Kuik had the same childhood experience, so it was a natural fit that they open the Alexander Bar & Café together, and now there’s also the theatre space upstairs.

“The plan with this is to bring people here on a week-night, and it seems to be working,” said Spagnoletti.

He’s excited about bringing The Epicene Butcher and Other Tales for Consenting Adults (written by Jemma Khan) to the space from December 7 to 13.

He’s not averse to mounting his own work in the space, but that’s something for the future, because Special Thanks to Guests from Afar starts next week at Artscape Arena.

The great thing about having written London Road is that people now read his e-mails and don’t necessarily insist on rewrites, but he relished the opportunity to work with a script editor courtesy of Artscape’s eighth annual Spring Drama Festival.

“She [Alex Halligey] and I went through an editing process, which was nice because I didn’t have that with the last one. [Director] Lara Bye kind of had to do that role.

“It’s not someone looking at it from the director’s eye, they just kind of clean the text up and find any issues with strange things that don’t make sense,” he explained.

Special Thanks to Guests from Afar is being directed by Matthew Wild and stars Nicholas Dallas, Chi Mhende and Gideon Lombard. He has sat in on one rehearsal, but is happy with what he’s seen and definitely doesn’t want to meddle.

“The cast is good and Matthew [Wild] is brilliant. What I love about writing for theatre is that you get to write something that stays intact, but is enhanced and imbued with other wonderful things.

“If you write for film by the time 40 people have all put their paws on it, whatever you wrote, you’re lucky if it’s still there.

“Theatre is the perfect balance of collaboration. They’re still saying your words, but they might be doing it in ways you didn’t imagine and it’s better. It’s still what you created, but… more.”

The characters in Special Thanks to Guests from Afar are a mishmash of people he knows and lots of imagination, though the Germanic stage setting is based on a place he has been to for a friend’s wedding.

In the play two South African friends who haven’t seen each other in years are reunited at a wedding in a small town on the Baltic coast in the former East Germany when they mistakenly arrive a day early.

They spend the weekend to-gether with the brother of groom, grumbling about the wonders and strangeness of intimacy, relationships and friendship.

Spagnoletti says he was intrigued by the familiarity of freaks, weirdos and people who just don’t fit in and simply wanted to write about relationships.

“And, then, discovering that you more than recognise these people, that you relate to them and understand them. Also, discovering that the ordinary person is a freak.

“I’m not someone who wants to get married, but I like going to weddings, but I also find them quite bizarre experiences. I always feel like I’m an extra-terrestrial when I’m at a wedding.

“I wanted to write a play about the people who get seated at the children’s table. That’s who the play is about, and for. It’s all about relationships that are very meaningful – this is obviously a bit of a thing I have because London Road was a bit similar – unusual relationships.

“Not boy meets girl… whether they’re gay relationships or asexual relationships or intimate friendships, they’re not labelled in a conventional way.

“That’s what I was getting at, finding the freakishness of the normal world, or what we think is normal, and finding what’s familiar and recognisable in the freaks.”

Special Thanks to Guests from Afar, Artscape Arena Theatre, Thursday to November 24. R50 for previews on Thursday and Friday and R85 thereafter via Computicket or 0214217695.


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