Actors’ youthful passion is enchanting

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With the young cast bubbling over, artistic director James Ngcobo is hoping that The Colored Museum will bring all ages to the revamped main theatre at Jozi’s Market. DIANE DE BEER talks to him about a production that introduces a little known team. But watch out for these names.

 

Selecting George C Wolfe’s The Colored Museum as his first play for The Market’s main stage this year, artistic director James Ngcobo had a few things in mind.

“I wanted to offer a large young cast the opportunity to play in this kind of celebrated work,” he said.

While keeping in the Afro-American genre, Ngcobo also wanted to counteract the realism of James Baldwin’s The Amen Corner, which he’d staged earlier, with the wildness and satire of Wolfe who was seen as the natural replacement of the older playwright. “The one is the flip side of the other,” says Ngcobo.

The Colored Museum was performed at The Market 20 years ago and Ngcobo fretted that it might have dated, but then realised history doesn’t date.

“We speak about South Africa that is finally part of the world. This play represents our curiosity about the diaspora, the history of those who ended up in faraway places and had to evolve to take on board the new soul that they called home. I wonder about people who have to abandon their language,” he says.

It’s all of this that encouraged him to tackle a play that he has been scratching his head about.

“It’s so sketchy,” he says.

And he exacerbated that problem by using a much bigger cast which by its very make-up means the episodic nature shifts up a few notches. We don’t identify with any of the characters specifically.

But when Ngcobo put some of his young cast through their paces, my excitement grew. It is the raw talent of the young, their versatility that is going to be explored and hopefully explode in this one. One of the biggest headaches from the start was how to link the different sketches.

But with his musical ear, the answer was an obvious one.

And dealing with the stories of African-Americans through their history, he wanted to find the sound or at least the lyrics that would capture a certain mood.

Think of great voices like Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday or a genre that fills an auditorium with soul like the blues or negro spirituals. All of this allows his cast to shine. With his ear always to the ground and being someone who eats, breathes and sleeps theatre, he only had to scour his memory bank to know where he could find the talent deserving of this kind of production.

Leading his team, he needed a bit of experience but, as is his wont, he turned left field to secure a man more familiar for his melodious voice and musical theatre, Aubrey Poo. But he’s up for the challenge.

“He plays the part of the court jester,” says the director, “the link between the audience and the author. I wanted youth to be part of the enchantment of the production,” he underlines, and he wanted names and faces outside the expected crowd. On occasion, he picks the big names as he did with Nongogo and its all-star cast including Desmond Dube, Hamilton Dlamini, Tony Kgoroge, Masasa Mbangeni and Fana Mokoena. They will be touring to Canada later this year.

But now his mind is mesmerised by The Colored Museum. “He is a playwright who takes ownership of the pain of his people,” says Ngcobo about Wolfe. He was way ahead of his time, drawing on satire to show his people their often sad lives. “He plays with the stereotypes and then there’s a bit of madness thrown in.”

Even if first staged almost three decades ago, because of the style of the writing and the staging, the young cast are expecting their contemporaries to see it. “Families should come,” says one of them.

“We need them to aspire, to do better,” says Ngcobo about his actors. They’ve worked hard on the American accents and it will be fun to watch when the whole finally comes together this week. This world is also far removed from their landscape but that adds to the learning experience.

Ngcobo has always been some- one who honours the writer but acknowledges that a tweak or two could add to a particular work. In this instance, he encouraged the young poet/actor/singer Naima Mclean to write her own monologue to add the voice of today. It’s stirring stuff and while you stumble through some of the pain, you will be taken on what could be a harrowing ride with much merriment.

 

• The Colored Museum previews from tonight and runs until February 23 in the main theatre at Joburg’s Market.

 

MEET THE CAST...

Aubrey Poo
He’s the veteran of this young group and an actor/singer who has made his mark on stage and screen. Most recently he toured the US as the male lead in Dreamgirls and will be touring internationally later this year with Mandela’s Trilogy. He received Naledi nominations for both roles. A graduate of Tshwane University for Technology’s Musical Theatre, he is also a producer who hopes to encourage new audiences to discover live theatre.

Altovise Lawrence
Only 22, she was born and raised in Boksburg, and recently completed her Honours degree in film and television at Wits. A fresh face in the industry, she has not featured much professionally, but she performed in many plays as a student. One of her biggest dreams is to become an influential figure for the coloured community in the arts.

Aya Mpama
Born in Mbabane, Swaziland, raised in Zambia and Durban, Aya has a BA degree in music and drama from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Her move to Johannesburg was motivated by her 6th place in Idols SA in 2005. It was that exposure that landed her a recording contract with Sony Music Africa, then known as Sony BMG. She has subsequently released a studio album called A State of Aya and has presented TV shows such as Soul Sundays and Talk SA and acted in Muvhango.

Lesedi Job-Smith
Her most recent performance in Gauteng was in Sue Pam-Grant’s revamped Curl up and Dye. An actress/singer/voice artist, she obtained her Honours degree in dramatic arts from Wits. She has starred in two Ngcobo productions, The Lion and the Jewel and his stage adaptation of journalist Fred Khumalo’s autobiography, Touch My Blood, as well as Pam-Grant’s installation, Guard on Shift. Television and films include Elalini, A Place called Home, Binneland/ Subjudice and Sokhulu & Partners.

Ziyanda Yako
Born in culturally rich Grahamstown, this is where she fell in love with the arts. She studied musical theatre at TUT and performed in productions such as Urinetown, Celebration, Sweet Charity and Rooikeppie en die Sewe Bergies.
Most recently she skated her way through Starlight Express and
has performed in three of Janice Honeyman’s annual pantomimes at the Joburg Theatre. She was also seen in Scandal on e.tv.

Michael Themba
Growing up, Michael could be spotted in children’s TV programmes such as Kideo and Fundani Nathi. He studied at TUT, performing in several musical productions including The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Parade and the musical revue Believe in the Magic. He is a self-taught pianist and musical director and co-musically directed and orchestrated TUT’s Sarafina! In Black and White. He founded a music production house/brand called Aristocratic Riffs, starred as the Red Caboose in Starlight Express and will be seen as the lead in this year’s panto, Peter Pan.

Mona Monyane
She studied drama at UP where she performed in various productions, including the lead in a physical theatre piece, Ororo. She has
shown great range as a per-
former, but also as a director and stage manager. Her experience includes Dreaming of Jozi (e.tv) and Hooked on Books (touring theatre show).

Naima Mclean
Naima Mclean is a talented actress, poet and vocalist. Born in New York, she lived in many cities across South Africa. She studied at UCT in theatre and performing arts and has performed both locally and internationally. A singer/poet and actor, she was part of the Verbalized Poetry Tour SA & UK, Urban Voices International, South African Heritage Day (Portugal), National Woman’s Day celebrations and The African Leadership Network Conference in Ethiopia. TV work includes Wild at Heart and Generations and she starred opposite Paul Walker in the action movie Vehicle 19. She has also launched a solo music career and is working on her debut album.

Bronwyn Van Graan
After graduating from UCT, she travelled the country with the African Repertory and Educational Performance Programme (Arepp). She went on to work with Bush Radio as a broadcaster and producer, as well as a supervisor on a media and youth exchange programme between South Africa, Botswana and Canada. She is one of Nicola Hanekom’s regular cast, which includes Land van Skedels, Babbel, Lot and Betesda, all award-winning productions. Other productions include Angels Everywhere, Mag/Unplugged, Soutgatpassie, Bullets over Bishop Lavis, Kroes and Shirley Goodness and Mercy. She’s currently part of SAfm’s daily series, Radio Vuka, and she has performed in many radio dramas.

Elisha Mudley
She graduated from Rhodes University in 2012 with drama Honours, specialising in acting, physical theatre and choreography. She has performed at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival many times, including on the main festival in 2006 in a two-hander, Camille’s Way, and last year alongside Andrew Buckland in Hoss, directed by Rob Murray. She worked as a performer and facilitator for Ubom! Eastern Cape Drama Company in 2013. She played Tiger-Lily in Kickstart’s Peter Pan in 2009 at the Sneddon Theatre in Durban, directed by Steven Stead, and also played a lead under the direction of Themi Venturas in Fiddler on the Roof.

Tshepiso Tshabalala
The baby of the group, she is young, driven, intelligent and self-described as an attention-grabbing, aspiring actress. Only 16 and still at the National School of the Arts, drama is her major and within that subject she loves movement and acting. She doesn’t see herself as a one-trick pony and is learning to dance and sing and also trains as a motivational speaker. Theatre is her home and her dream is to tour to all major theatres before she turns 30.

Rori Motuba
She was born and raised in Jozi. She studied drama, political studies and film and media studies at UCT and continued her studies in Los Angeles, where she was fortunate to study at the New York Film Academy and the Baron/DW Brown studio. In the past 12 months she added screenwriter to her résumé. She explains: “I am a storyteller, a fearless performer and a proud South African woman who aspires to educate, entertain and enlighten through my art.”

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