There have long been debates about the application, or responsibility, of the arts to deliver social commentary. Is it their role to savour or save Life?
Art as a form of activism is now in high demand. Science alone has failed to inspire the urgent transformation we need – to change how we do life and craft a new and regenerative future.
We need to implement our creative imagination to see and feel our way forward. Not only artists of course. It is every profession’s duty to rethink what it does and transform how it functions. For how we do engineering, medicine, teaching, ministry, even accounting and banking, must now align with a vision of a healthy and fair future, with humans sustaining themselves as humble and responsible members of the web of life.
Recently I experienced one beautiful example of Art in service to Life, hence to our cause, moved to tears whilst attending the enchanting show “I Started a Joke” by the Stellenbosch based choir, Theatrix Singers, formerly Klein Libertas Theatre Choir.
“I started a joke, which started the whole world crying. But I didn’t see that the joke was on me.
I look inside myself and see my heart is black.
Hello darkness my old friend.”
Led by piano maestro Rika Vermeulen (pictured above), on stage unfolded this post-apocalyptic tableau of harmonious voices in ragged clothes releasing tunes that we all know. But with a difference. Words re-aligned to the horrors of self-destructing humans in the eerie blackness of beyond doom.
“The people bowed and prayed to the neon god they’d made.
There’s always a joker in the pack, there’s always a cardboard clown. The poor painted fool falls on his back and everyone laughs when he’s down.
The fool on the hill never listens to them, he knows that they’re the fools.”
“The idea of the show is deliberately ambiguous.
Albeit based on the lyrics of the song “I Started A Joke” by the Bee Gees, it has no storyline. It holds up a mirror to the audience. There is regret, mistakes and wrongdoing as a basic theme that could refer or be applied to the listener’s personal journey or a group, or a political reflection, a psychological dysfunction etc. It does not preach, heal or advise – the audience is left at the end to interpret it and make up their own minds. It shows the stupid, the funny, the irrational, the unaware aspects of the human condition and its actions.
The idea was inspired by the COVID pandemic and all the political, economic, medical, psychological effects and uncertainty it had on humanity. The production was conceived and written in December 2021.
The music was arranged to be accompanied mostly by electronic instruments and synthesized sounds, with synthesized backtracks on some songs, and piano, with a very distinct 80’s sound. The orchestration is purposely discomforting and at times more reassuring.
The lyrics, read as an essay, convey the concept.”
The music is by (performed and/or composed):
The Bee Gees; The Doors; Roger Whittaker; Nataniël; Queen; The Moody Blues; The Rolling Stones; Simon & Garfunkel; The Beatles; Pink Floyd; Rod Stewart; Leonard Cohen; The Seekers; Afrikaans songs, traditional folk songs and songs from the musicals Hair and The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
“Can this be over so soon?
Did you exchange a walk-on part in the war for a lead role in a cage? Did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts?
And crawling on the planet’s face, some insects called the human race.
Those were the days my friend, we thought they’d never end.
I don’t believe in if anymore. If is for children, it’s an illusion.”
The show ends poignantly with Rika bowing down to a globe, with a mother in the darkness behind holding a baby … is there a future for us?
Can such a timeous and important show have only one run, albeit sold out, in the town of Stellenbosch? Surely not. May the rest of this country also experience the magic, sorrow and inspiration with which such pathos left me – and determination to do much, much more.
Words and videos by Elma Pollard