SMOKE: How Tashi And I Met

Originally published: 31 August 2005

1994 was a cruel and unusual year for me. I was in my second year as a professional actor and no better off than in my first year, and I was taking any sort of acting work I could get.

Towards the end of the year I was contacted by Cape Town children's theatre doyenne Cheryl Abromowitz and asked to perform in her end-of-year pantomime, which was to take place at the all-new Tygervalley Shopping Centre.

I'd done some children's theatre work for Cheryl before and you have to know that - considering my aversion to humans that don't come up to my belt buckle - I was really desperate to do such work.

Painting big red dimples on my cheeks and wearing a wimple hat and speaking to three-year olds about fairytale characters is not my idea of a productive, successful, nor enjoyable career.

But Cheryl was offering a reasonable salary and far more importantly - my ex-girlfriend, Lee-Ann, was also cast in the play.

Up until that fateful December of '94 Lee-Ann had been the only love of my life, and despite us having split six months previously I was still not over her - not by a long shot.

I saw the show as the perfect opportunity to convince her that we were meant to be together, because I truly and utterly believed we were.

So I signed up on the spot.

The show was Cinderella/Aspoestertjie (we had to do performances in English and Afrikaans, alternating), and I was cast as one of the two ugly stepsisters.

Figures, really. The only logical casting.

The director - Anthony Bishop - was a nutter who'd been a year ahead of me when we were at drama school and he'd been given carte blanche by Cheryl to get a bit alternative with the production.

Earlier in the year he'd directed my second musical - Insane - and the pair of us together (he too was a kid-hater) were a lethal combination.

Lee-Ann was cast as Cinderella, another bloke called Munro as my twin sister and someone I'd seen about occasionally on the drama school campus was cast as the narrator - a cat.

Her name was Tashi.

She'd been a drama honours student when I was there and the performer's diploma actors never mixed with the BA Honours students. We were way too good for them. We were proper actors.

But at the end of my second year of drama school (1992) I watched the honours production that she scripted and directed (Wuthering Heights) and I was mightily impressed. She was clearly someone with an eye for the dramatic.

But I never thought of her again and in those first rehearsals for Cinderella I paid her scant attention.

All my attention was focussed on Cinderella, who I would watch through a crack in the screens that separated us from the audience.

Looking through that crack I could watch her fine ass, and watch it I did.

But one morning before rehearsal I was having an omelette and tea in the canteen and Tashi came in and sat down with me. We got chatting properly for the first time ever and when she told me that she was in love with and would one day marry mad French theatre innovator Antonin Artaud I merely nodded in understanding, and told her I was sure she would if she wanted to badly enough.

Years later she told me that in that moment she fell in love, because the usual reaction to her mad ramblings was for people to think her mad.

That I found her obsession with Artaud so perfectly normal shook something up in her, and the machinery started to move and the beast began to hum.

I didn't think anything of that first breakfast, but I did notice my gaze from behind the screens started to shift. Lee-Ann's ass started fading somewhat, and Tashi's began swimming into view.

I'd found new direction.

Problem was - it was a little difficult to romance someone when dressed in a floral green old-lady dress with huge fake melons and a bright green wig. Not to mention layer upon layer of thick, badly overdone make-up (Anthony wanted us to look as grotesque as possible - this was no ordinary kiddies play).

The best was yet to come, of course.

The show started and the flirting intensified, but one fine day things came to a head.

We were performing to a room crowded wall-to-wall with kids - hundreds of the little bastards. It was really hot as centre management had not yet installed airconditioning and since the doors had to be kept closed the place rapidly became a furnace.

At one point in the play Ant had choreographed a game between the two ugly sisters. We each strapped on ridiculous skin-tight hats, which had velcro strips on the outside.

Both Munro and I had a handful of sponge balls, which we threw at each other's heads in an effort to get them to stick on the velcro.

In the middle of the game on this day the wheels started coming off.

I felt a brief coolness in my nose as I was bending down to retrieve one of the sponge balls, and then the nosebleed of the century began. Litres of blood started pouring in a steady stream from my nose and I had absolutely nowhere to go.

The game we were playing was to give someone else time for a hurried costume change behind the screens, so I couldn't just leave the stage. Besides - I was of the firm opinion that the show must go on no matter what, so I resolved to turn the crisis into something worthwhile.

I picked up the sponge ball with my nose pouring violently onto the stage beneath me, and made a huge meal of inspecting the ball thoroughly before I brought it up to my nose and very slowly and deliberately - in full view of the kiddies - wiped the ball across my nose, covering it in crimson blood.

Taking the now-saturated ball I lobbed it over to Munro and without missing a beat he caught it on his head.

A collective scream went up from the children as he stumbled with a bloody sponge ball clinging absurdly to the side of his hat, and as soon as I saw he was prepared to go along with it I launched in full throttle, throwing caution to the winds.

I started staggering around roaring, and leaning close towards the children and baring my bloodied teeth. I saw tears welling up and looks of pure and utter horror, and it did nothing but spur me on.

Munro threw the bloody ball back at me and I snatched it out of the air with force, and roaring like a primal caveman on top of a hill I half stuffed it up my bloody nose.

My entire face, chin, neck and the top of my dress were awash with blood, and Munro slipped in a pool of it and almost fell into the children, who screamed in fright and scattered.

Mothers started ushering their kids out but Munro and I couldn't stop - by now we'd completely lost not only the script but the entire plot as well and were improvising death threats and moaning and crying like zombies.

Those poor kids just weren't up for it, I'm afraid.

I eventually made if off stage and the first person waiting for me was Tashi.

There I stood before her: a 6'2" male with a goatee - dressed in a bloodstained garish dress with one fake boob hanging almost down to my knees, with a ridiculous curly green wig on my head to which a bloody sponge ball still stuck, a nose which was still gently pulsing blood and teeth which looked like they'd been put through seven straight hours of Tassies.

In short - the most hideous apparition in the history of theatre, who'd just cleared a room of some 300 kids and their outraged mothers.

And that apparition - as I tell folks these days - is the man Tashi fell in love with.

Which was why I fell in love with her, of course. We drove off into the sunset and the rest - as they say - is history. Chicks, huh? Sheesh.

It's not your average love story. But it's a love story nonetheless.

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
Spending time online does bad things to a person, but I'm OK.

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Copyright © Luke Tagg. All rights reserved. A few lefts as well.

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