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The kids of Alexandra kept nagging Meschack Mavuso to plough back. Star of Yizo Yizo and Isidingo, they wanted this Alex boy to bring back the arts to this township.
Finally, almost two years ago, he thought he had something to say. It was Alexandra’s centenary and they could celebrate that.
“So many people are not even aware of its existence,” he says. He realises much of that has to do with the celebrity status of Soweto.
But he rattles off the names of the famous that either come from or lived in Alex at some stage. “I wanted to tell the story.”
He decided to home in on the square mile that once was Alex.
“I wanted to recapture the past, tell the stories and I wanted the kids to help me shape it,” he says.
They were the ones who pulled him in.
“Alex is home, that’s where you started,” they told him. And his mom still lives there.
He also wanted to show that the township was more than just crime and squatter camps.
“There’s a great history hidden here,” he notes.
But he already knew the cast he had in mind. Through the years he had been to the shows and poetry readings of these budding actors and he had hand-picked those with potential. They would need the stamina and the passion. “We’ve never had funding,” he says.
And the show about Alex has also never played in Alex. That is Mavuso’s dream.
“We have to take theatre back to the people. Many can’t afford to travel to the Joburg Theatre or the Market.”
What they have for the moment is a season at the Soweto Theatre and that makes Mavuso smile.
“The youngsters are becoming used to a professional stage and learning the ropes,” he says about a former season at the State Theatre.
That’s what he’s really interested in. Not only telling the stories but also encouraging and stretching out a hand to young talent.
“When I look back, I will know I tried,” he says. He has taken time out from his television career, but he knows this is what life’s about.
“Even my wife understands that these are our kids,” he says.
He is sadly aware that today we have more celebrities than actors and it’s a situation that he believes the more experienced actors should help change.
“The respect for our art is gone,” he says.
But he has been inspired by the cast of One Square Mile.
“Their dedication and determination to pull it off has been amazing,” he says.
It is written by Monde Mayephu (The Pen), and, helped by child- hood friend Zakhele Mabasa, they workshopped the production and in the process trained the actors.
“I would send them into the streets or to the hostels to go and listen to the music and to return with ideas,” he says. “We wanted them to own the production, not to spoonfeed them.”
The music, song and dance is still a part of the culture of Alex, says Mavuso.
“That’s who we are,” he emphasises, and that is why he is troubled that there isn’t more nurturing of this way of life today.
“The kids aren’t bad, they just don’t have anything to do and don’t see their way out.”
It’s about empowerment and he knows that is what One Square Mile has done for his young group.
They have learnt along the way but have also experienced how hard it is to put on a show. “It doesn’t come easy, but the rewards are there,” he says.” That’s what he wanted them to know.
“We all have to return to stage to reconnect with the discipline, where we started.”
That’s also why the celebration of Alex was so important.
“It’s all about perception. Alex isn’t just about one thing.”
That’s the news he hopes to spread far and wide.
One Square Mile relives the township’s vibrancy on stage, creatively telling its untold stories; from how it started; situated on the edge of opulent suburbia, showing the hardships and triumphs by its people, for more to witness.
It’s a colourful concoction that combines music, dance and singing featuring the moves of the times from Pantsula, Mkhukhu and the smooth steps on the streets today.
“It’s all about Alex culture,” says Mavuso proudly.
It’s a trip down memory lane from the 1957 Alexandra Bus Boycott, Msomi and the Spoilers Gang and so much more.
That’s the thing about our stories. For some it will be nostalgia, a look back, for others, a revelation.
• One Square Mile opens at 7pm today and runs until February 23 at Soweto Theatre. In the meantime, Mavuso is hoping for funding and that he can finally bring this story to the place it really has to go to – Alex.