Almost at the halfway mark of this year’s National Arts Festival (NAF) in Grahamstown, one of the fascinating themes emerging is theatre and art for young people – the 20-somethings and under.
What makes it fun is that the companies and artists presenting these productions are young themselves, which means it is, in essence, peers talking to peers. It’s exciting to watch and to see audiences across the cultural spectrum connect and respond.
If, like me, you’re of a certain age, you’re not excluded from this particular party, because you can tune into the conversations of this age group and discover what they’re thinking about and how they’re dealing with life.
If you’re wondering about the themes, mainly it’s life, but those that from just a few that I’ve been able to watch up to this point.
And guess what? The topic is love. With titles like Wretched and Whistle Stop, it’s boy meets girl, they fall in love, and things go awry as they wander up wonky garden paths.
The talk is romantic and the young audiences lap it up as they recognise the pitfalls and the passion that come with first love.
At least they’re making us privy to their thoughts and where their hearts are at. It’s well put together, it’s the lighter approach to heartache and it is perhaps a signpost to some of what is most prominent in their minds.
It might, of course, be none of that and simply festival fare that these savvy professionals know will sell to a generation that is still sold on theatre.
Veteran actor Michael Richard, whose son Jeremy is part of this trend as one of the duo in Wretched, says that for his generation at that age, things were different. They were all part of theatre companies and mostly doing the classics.
But for this class of the new millennium, it’s a different life – perhaps with more choice, but harsher economic realities. They have also studied in a world where they are taught to fend for themselves and how to create work if none is forthcoming.
That’s what makes this such an intriguing exercise. Not only are they speaking in a language their contemporaries appreciate, they’re also the ones building new audiences.
Everyone involved in theatre is envious of those who can attract young audiences, like Joburg’s Market Theatre, Cape Town’s Baxter and Pretoria’s State Theatre.
They are the future and it doesn’t matter that what’s on their mind is matters of the heart – as long as they discover the power of theatre.
The NAF runs in Grahamstown until Sunday. See daily coverage on www.iol.co.za
Diane de Beer’s five brilliant young festival voices:
• Actor/playwright/director Wessel Pretorius, who is stunning Grahamstown with his solo piece Undone.
• Artist Jenna Burchell, who has found a new way of interpreting her world with sound and live active participation in an exhibition project, Homing, that will travel to Gauteng and Cape Town.
• Director Tara Notcutt, who has six pieces at the festival, stuns them with diversity and drama, with 2011’s The Three Little Pigs still packing them in.
• Kyle Shepherd, this year’s young artist for jazz, speaks eloquently through his music as if tripping the light fantastic.
• Masasa Mbangeni, an actress who earlier this year starred in James Ngcobo’s production of Nongogo, which will be travelling to Japan later this year, again showed her stage smarts in Greg Homann’s Oedipus@Koö-nú!