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BY their very nature theatre festivals attract people who work on more than one project. It is the practical consideration to share resources. But, Christiaan Olwagen seems to be taking it a bit far.
The 24-year-old Capetonian is directing four of the shows at Aardklop this year – the first time he has presented work at the theatre festival held in Potchefstroom at the beginning of October.
There’s the comedy N is vir Neurose (which he also wrote), the political satires Ubu en die Secrecy Bill and Woza Andries?! and the cabaret Vagina Dentata. While the first is a wholly Afrikaans production, the other three mix English and Afrikaans, indicative of the easy way Olwagen code switches between the languages.
“They’re bilingual productions and so organic we adapt them for the audience. Vagina Dentata at KKNK incorporated more Afrikaans. If we played it at Grahamstown we’d tailor it to the place,” he explained.
It’s only fitting, though, considering Aardklop is where the acting bug bit when he first saw two of Marthinus Basson’s productions.
Years later, Basson would become Olwagen’s mentor at Stellenbosch University where the Capetonian is now working on his masters thesis (about Hamlet adaptations and appropriations).
Basson was also the one who nudged the youngster to get more involved in directing, which is how he won last year’s Rosalie van der Gucht award at the Fleur du Cap’s for directing Woza Andries?!
Ubu is still a work in progress, with the cast helping him to shape the text, but as the name suggests it is an adaptation of Jane Taylor’s multi-media Ubu and the Truth Commission, written in 1997, which itself drew extensively on Alfred Jarry’s absurdist Ubu Roi, which was written in 1896.
Olwagen likes working on adaptations, but doesn’t think it is necessary for an audience to know the source material to enjoy the new product.
He likes the way working on a political satire stretches his writing ability.
“Allegiances change every day, things happen, you literally have to be able to incorporate anything noteworthy of the day into the play, even if it happens four hours before the play.
“Especially in our country, things change every single day. We have so much material to work with.
“Audiences’ attention spans are 90 minutes max at a festival. You need to, in a way, condense it without simplifying.
“With Woza Andries?!, with Vagina Dentata, and with Ubu, we have had to do it. You have to look at the essence of something and how you can, in an allegorical sense, sum it up.”
Vagina Dentata was originally performed at the KKNK, and now moves to Aardklop and there’s a possibility it could be performed at the Suidoosterfees next year: “Its Vagina Monologues with bite,” he described the cabaret.
“It’s so strange. I live in Cape Town, but most of my work is performed outside of Cape Town.”
It’s simply a confluence of funding issues and availability of space which conspires to keep his work on the festival circuit at the moment, but rather than bemoan his lot, Olwagen is making the most of the opportunities he can create to get his name (and that of the theatre production company Polony) out into the open.