Alan Committie has to date entertained audiences with 20 one-man shows. His latest offering, Planet Mirth is currently on stage at Theatre on the Bay. Of these 20 one-man comedy offerings, 19 have been directed by Chris Weare. In Part 1 of this Spotlight we talked to Committie’s favourite stage manager, Progress Mphande, about his comedy evolution over this time. So, then it is definitely apt that we ask Weare to similarly reflect on Committie’s creative journey as his long-standing director.
From a professional relationship perspective, Weare and Committie have quite a history. However, their paths did not initially cross as director and actor. Weare’s first impression of Committie was that of him as a, somewhat different, UCT drama student.
“It has been an extremely stimulating and rewarding journey with Alan since our professional debut in 2002”, Weare reflects. “I count myself very lucky receiving a call from Alan asking if I would consider being a 'third eye' for a production Dracula which he was doing with Gaetan Schmidt at the time. That was the beginning of a professional relationship. I hopefully recall my very first impression of Alan, certainly not my first sighting, in a voice class in the impressive UCT Hiddingh Hall above the library. He was in a very impressive intake of highly talented students and he seemed somewhat unimpressive and out of place! I thought at the time he should possibly have been in the Michaelis Art School sculpture class! Perhaps it was the shorts and T-shirt, whereas most of the others wore the classic drama school attire - leotards or tights and very body hugging tops. I certainly had no visions or hallucinations of directing him professionally in his first year of study.”
That with time changed, and so too did Committie’s apparent unwillingness to wear leotards if one looks back at his one-man shows now. The audiences that get their much-needed dose of end-of-year laughter from the Weare directed Committie-shows definitely thank the theatre fates that their paths crossed, albeit in a somewhat awkward first impression fashion.
From that telling of their first encounter, it appears that Committie does not like to conform to any norm, which then in turn reflects in the fact that he does not merely see himself as a just a stand-up comedian, but also a director, actor, writer and MC.
Perhaps then one of the reasons Weare and Committie work so well together is because both of them shy away from restrictive labels. Weare definitely does not regard his directing as having a set style, “I prefer to say that I really understand how to tell a story that I believe in; that I really understand acting; that I have developed the skills to understand the actor giving me skilful processes that I can apply to most styles embodied in different genres.” That approach aligns with Committie’s theatrical focus on the story to be told – even when he is working on his stand-up shows, which is also informed by a script though people tend to forget that theatrical angle when a comedian brings the laughs.
Linking that perspective to Committie unique approach to theatre as performer, Weare elaborates, “I relate to Alan's professional endeavours to be the best; to his passion, ambition and respect for the craft; to his hard work; his sense of humour, and to his principles. We are both constantly intrigued and therefore intellectually challenged by the medium of comedy making us team players in the process of making a piece of theatre. My directing process embraces patience and embodies facilitation. Alan responds well to facilitation above instruction.”
Along with this collaborative approach to Committie’s comedy, Weare then also brings a wealth of knowledge, as he has been directing since 1969. By the time he then started directing Committie, his directing processes were already strongly established. Weare however acknowledges that regardless, Committie, to some degree, still challenged him as much as he in return helped him develop his comedic processes.
“I can say without any hesitation that working with Alan over this time has made me a better director”, Weare shares, “because I have learnt so much working with him, watching him perform and we constantly dialogue about the work over the respective show seasons. Alan has used the phrase, ‘which I learnt from you' quite often, so I'll speak for him and suggest he has been influenced by our partnership as actor and director in his own right.”
Within that dialogue, which draws from their respective creative processes, there is then a clear mutual respect and honesty of opinion at play when they join forces to present Committie’s much anticipated one-man shows. “Everything is about direct honesty”, Weare agrees. “We certainly do work collaboratively throughout the process whereby Alan is very much in the driving seat with the ideas and content. We are mostly both in the driving seat in shaping the material and perhaps I am more in the driving seat in the refining of the performance of the material. However, once the show is in performance, Alan is a master of his craft and never stops refining in relation to his experience with his audiences. I love staying close to the show by frequently popping in to see the show and sharing responses with him.”
To that understanding of their professional relationship Weare adds another, the most defining, element: “One word sums up this relationship - trust! Progress is and has been integral in the working relationship [too], as he really respects, appreciates, and knows Alan's sense of humor and the way he likes to work with his material and with his audience. Progress is a cast member. He is invested in the show and that makes all the difference. And he has a great sense of humour.”
Given their honesty and trust driven structure, as well as inclusiveness of the opinions of all associated with the staging of a show, it then also helps that Weare is himself a fan of the unusual when it comes to conceptualising a comedy show. This being important, as Committie himself tends to come up with some peculiar ideas – it is not every day that a performer wants to hang from a ceiling to enhance his comedic expression! One wonders if it is at all possible for a director to even veto any such idea once Committie starts running with it?
Weare candidly admits, “I love bizarre ideas. It is always finally down to how the skit serves the show and then to ‘Can he do it?’. Safety is always considered first and then the practicality. I do recall persuading him not to do a trapeze act while explaining banting! I'm not sure one can veto Alan but he does respond to persuasion.”
Perhaps then that explains why audiences saw Committie (banting defiantly) eating a bread roll, while dangling from a silk rope in his Sound of Laughter aerial act. With such stunts regularly at play, does Weare have a most memorable Committie-show moment from the last 19 years?
“There are many moments in the stand-up comedy shows”, Weare comments, “and those moments specifically belong to his repartee with the audience, whereby he is not only quick but clever in how he connects comments to the theme of the show.” Though Weare does profess that, much like Mphande, “I do rate Love Factually highly and as an actor his performance in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is my most memorable show with him.”
Considering Weare’s own unique process-driven approach to theatre, and his high opinion of not only Committie’s theatrical performance standards, but also his motivation and commitment to constantly learn and push the boundaries, what about his latest docucomedy, Planet Mirth, excites Weare as a director most?
“Alan has developed a brand of stand-up comedy which, to put it succinctly, is framed by a theatricality. The brand does not change but his ability to surprise by using his professional theatrical skills is his forte - and it is this ability to surprise that produces a comment such as 'like you have never seen him before!’ [as Mphande describes the show]. His skill as a performer rather than the content, is what excites me. His delivery of the content to each and every audience is scripted, yet he has the unique ability to keep it so fresh each and every night.”
Even though Planet Mirth may show Committie embracing a different approach to comedy – by pushing the commentary perspective that usually lingers in the comedy background to the forefront – those who generally relate to the well-established Committie brand of comedy, as per his previous shows, will continue to do so. Audiences will find that, although new and different, Planet Mirth still embraces all things quintessentially Committie.
The reason for this, according to Weare, being that Committie’s approach to comedy is “charming, clean, clever and entertaining”. These elements “are key to his brand of comedy. The cleverness lies in his ability to bring to an audience’s attention very recognisable things (important, serious, mundane and silly) and to view them through a lens, which allows one to have a fresh perspective. Families of all ages can trust that the show is clean and I believe this is one of many reasons why people relate to him.”
A fresh Committie perspective audiences will then indeed find in Plane Mirth. But whereto from here for Weare and Committie’s collaborative theatre journey?
“I hope that we can sustain and grow the brand in the first place by being theatrically skilful. I would like to see us achieving bolder ventures in the shows - such as a trapeze act with Alan and Progress as the catcher now that the trust is so strong. The future of our collaborative journey hinges on whether we both continue to ask and continue to be interested in ‘WHY IS THAT SO FUNNY?’ and ‘What can we learn from the answer?’. I hope that we can work together on a Shakespeare. I would like to direct Alan as… It will have to remain a secret for the time being.”
So while Committie comedy enthusiast can start dreaming of what a Committie and Mphande trapeze trick could look like, as well as wonder what character of The Bard best suites Committie’s performance style, for now all can indulge in his hilarious docucomedy, Planet Mirth, at Theatre on the Bay until 16 January 2018.
Tickets can be booked through Computicket. You can even laugh your way into 2018, with a new year’s eve performance, because we all know there is no such thing as kicking a year off with too much laughter. Spoil yourself and go wish Committie a happy new year too!