My mind is full of Madiba. I have been watching TV and he is everywhere. And yet he is gone. In Heaven, our Lord will be saying: “Hey there, good and faithful servant…” I could and should write about him. But there are people better qualified to do that. So in order to turn my mind to other things, I read through my journal. And I thought: “Yes, that is what I will tell them about this week – My time performing Gaynor Rising at the Baxter Theatre. This was pre-Cochlear Implant, time.
Pandora, my cockatiel and I left for Cape Town. Some people travel with their spouses or partners. I travel with my bird! I was to be performing at The Baxter Theatre for two weeks. I was looking forward to it but was also poop scared. The last time I had performed at The Baxter was before my accident. When I was an actress. A damn good one! That was over. I now performed as Gaynor Young telling her “story”. Would people find it interesting? Would it hold their attention? Maralin Vanrenen, my director, had no doubts whatsoever. I must do what I always do…have faith in Maralin!
I stood at the top of The Baxter’s staircase and looked down into the foyer. I had performed here in quite a few productions before my accident. Oh,yes, I remembered this place. There was the bar where I had spent many an evening after my shows. There was the door leading backstage. There was one leading to the dressing rooms. I remembered this place so well.
I was to be performing in The Studio. It seats about 110 people. Perfect! I was downstairs reading about the various productions on at the theatre when I became aware that I was being watched. I turned to be met by the smiling face of an old friend, Janet Suzman. I hadn’t seen her for about 8 years. We had been e-mailing each other regularly but there is nothing better than being able to put your arms around the actual person and give them the warmest of hugs. Janet was directing Hamlet for The Baxter. I would be opening on the 28th at which stage Jan would be Hamlet-ing in Grahamstown. She got back and then had a couple of days free and then Hamlet opened in the main Baxter Theatre. She would do her utmost to see my show when she returned from Grahamstown.
M and I began rehearsing in The Studio. M is a person that knows me almost better than I know myself. On the day of our final dress rehearsal I went out for lunch with a friend. It was great seeing her again. I then went back to The Studio and I gave an absolutely crummy performance. While M was giving me notes afterwards, she flipped her lid when she heard that I had been out to lunch with a friend.
“But, M, I didn’t have any wine, I promise!”
“It’s not the wine I am furious about. It’s you! Having lunch with someone you have to concentrate – particularly in a restaurant! You have brain damage, Gaynor!” She paused as if to let this sink in. And then in a softer tone, “You have your first performance tomorrow. I want all your concentration to be on that. Not on the friends you are lunching with. During these next two weeks your performance is what I want you to focus on. Totally!”
My preview went well. “And it’ll go even better tomorrow night!” said M.
I arrived at the theatre on Opening Night a bundle of nerves. Maralin and Karen, my Stage-Manager were already there. They had been adding bits to my set and it looked good. In my dressing room I found a letter from M.
“Shine as bright as you always do! Remember:
JUST TELL EACH STORY WITH IT’S OWN SPECIAL ENERGY AND COMMIT YOURSELF TO EVERY DETAIL OF IT’S SPECIFIC EMOTIONAL TRUTH.
You have made the journey. Now take us on that journey with you.
With you all the way, my friend.
Love and bless you
Mum and Dad came to my dressing room before my show to give me my three roses. It had long been a tradition for Mum to give me three Antique Silk roses on every opening night. On one opening night she didn’t do it because I let them know very late on the Saturday morning that I was on that afternoon – Camelot!
She has never missed again!
That night my dressing room was filled with flowers from so many people wishing me well. Oh glory! I was a nervous wreck. I walked to a dark corner backstage and had a much needed chat to God. “Lord, I am freaking out here! I am truly going to need your help. You know that I can’t memorise words so each performance is different. I have to go “as the spirit moves me.”Please let your Spirit move me tonight! So…so over to you, Lord.”
The lights went down. I stood in the wings, acutely aware of my deafness, waiting for my flashing light from Karen which was my signal to move onstage. “Please, Lord, don’t let me make a fool of myself?” I prayed again. FLASH, FLASH, FLASH! Oh, shoot! Here I go…
The light came up on me standing with my back to the audience. Then as if hearing a call my head spun around. Facing the audience I gave a slow delighted smile and my first line came out:“Well, I never!”
I was away. My story had begun…..
I got a standing ovation that night. It was only when I saw M’s face afterwards that I finally relaxed. “Now…that was performing!” she said as she hugged me.
On the third night I gave a great show which was in turn reciprocated by a fabulous audience. I was just slipping into my trousers afterwards when there was a knock at my dressing room door. Without waiting for a reply the door opened and there was Janet. She didn’t say anything. Merely embraced me. For a long time. Her eyes were wet.
I love performing. Because I was unable to hear, M made sure that the lights showed up the first two rows for me. I had to be able to see when people were laughing, when they were clapping. I also saw the faces of people. I saw the man whose wife had obviously dragged him there, much against his will. His eyes were bored and a touch resentful.
I began performing. Gradually I saw the resentment disappear. I saw him begin to listen with interest. I saw him collapse with laughter at some of my funny moments. I saw the tears rolling down his cheeks as I concluded with i thank you God for most this amazing day. Yes, I thought – Gotcha!
After the show one night, I was drinking a glass of wine with friends when I was tapped on my shoulder. A man with a spastic left hand greeted me: “Yes,” he smiled acknowledging my look of recognition and moving his hand. “The same as you except I’m lucky, I’m right handed!” We introduced ourselves and then he said: “I so enjoyed your show. You showed me the joy of living. I had forgotten. Thankyou!”