UCT THEATRE-MAKER GRADUATE EXTRACTS. Performed at The Bindery. TRACEY SAUNDERS reviews and interviews.
THERE is no shortage of good directors and theatre-makers in Cape Town and it is encouraging that there is a quality cohort of creative youngsters waiting in the wings. Last week the fourth year UCT theatre students showcased their directing talents with extracts from a wide range of work. Thando Mangcu quoted the American playwright Suzan-Lori Parks in her director’s statement, “The relationship between throwing up and laughing is so close.” She chose an extract from The Shipment (written in 2009 by Korean-American playwright Young Jean Lee) “as an escape.”
She feels that “the arts is vital in bringing in new ways of thinking. As a tool used by most to communicate, it has the power to reach all minds and to therefore conscientize us and change the way we approach and “do” the academy. Used wisely, it has the power to creatively communicate without alienating people.”
Her choice of a comic piece about five friends who confirm and destroy stereotypes of young black professionals in one tragi-comical alcohol-fuelled evening was a change of direction of her. “After repeatedly selecting and replacing many traumatic plays, I found a satirical comedy that would allow me to deal with relevant social issues, whilst allowing me room to play with other themes surrounding identity, besides trauma.”
The cast of Cleo Raatus, Shalima Mkongi, Sihle Mnqwazana, Tailyn Ramsamy and Tankiso Mamabolo delivered hilarious performances with Raatus in particular playing a despondent and suicidal millennial with a cutting wit. Mangcu had heeded Claire Stopford's advice that, “before imposing any judgement or statement”, she had to “focus on the story, emotional themes and the humanity of the characters.”
Although the details of her dream project keep on changing, she aspires to making theatre that “takes bold steps at making people think differently about the impact they have on society.”
Kei Ella Loewe loves magic realism, which prompted her choice of Reza de Wet’s Missing. “Anything with a sense of eerie other-worldliness just gets my blood pumping and I thought I might challenge myself a play by the fairy-god mother of the South African gothic. And who does not just love anything to do with the circus? It’s dark and so exciting.” Her training as a visual artist informs her set designs, but theatre allows her more freedom. She says, “there's nothing quite so exhilarating as making something breathe. Suppose that's why it was theatre for me, instead of art.” Her dream project would involve objects “and dancing. And monsters. And shadows. And birds. And lace. And a forest.”
The Afrikaans story which is performed in English is a South African classic and Loewe evoked the other worldly sense of the macabre family drama replete with creepy carnival music off stage. Mdu Kweyama will direct Missing at the Baxter in October.
Nwabisa Plaatjie also chose a South African text, The Native Who Caused All the Trouble, which she describes as “a bitter, painful, crippling, depressing historical play.” The play written by Vanessa Cooke, Fink Haysom and Danny Keogh in 1983 struck a chord with the young director who wanted to counter the racial groupings that occur on campus.
“When I realized that I have not worked with white actors and I probably will never work with them, I thought I owe it to myself to find a play that is multi- racial before I graduate, so that I can work with them. All the multi-racial plays that I read dealt with the uncomfortable history of South Africa.” The current debates on campuses around South Africa, from UCT to Rhodes cannot be avoided and the young director did not shy away from the angry frustration that currently prevails. Oaribile Ditsele was phenomenal in the role of Tselilo. Speaking about her process with him she explained, “on the fourth day of rehearsal when I felt those first impulses of anger and judgement were gone, I allowed Tselilo, the protagonist to go to his anger. But still I made him realize that his power was not in anger but in teaching. Besides that, if he only used anger, then he further perpetuated the stereotype of the angry black. I did not want to perpetuate this anger stereotype, I just wanted to break the silence a little bit.”
Plaatjie aspires to direct a “multi lingual, multi–racial South African production where we just flaunt African languages. I think the world knows now that we can sing beautifully and we’re amazing dancers… but what they do not know is how beautiful our languages are… Asimnandi isiXhosa nkosi yam! I really wish to work on a multi-lingual project which promotes the use of African languages in theatre.”
David Mamet’s Speed the Plow, which dissects the movie industry in Hollywood caught Ameera Conrad's attention. “I’ve always been fond of black comedies, and have been accused of being too cynical about my view of the world and of the arts – which is why I think I was most drawn to this.” Her stark white set was the perfect backdrop for the flamboyant and highly colourful Schalk Bezuidenhout and Sizwesandile Mnisi to unleash their comic talent.
They were hilarious and it would be wonderful to see the pair in a full length production of the play. The feminist director found the traditionally male narrative a challenge and says that she strived to “to stay true to Mamet’s text, but use it to highlight (her) own issues with the way that society treats women.” Conrad describes herself as a complete nerd and would like to make “tech-savvy theatre – something that combines the live body with technology appeals to me in a big way, such as Machine Makes Man by the Old Sound Room. As far as the kind of stories I’d like to tell, I think I’m starting to wrestle with what I see as tensions within religion and feminism – so my dream would be to do a high tech piece about women and Islam.”
From the testosterone drenched Mamet, Katya Mendelson choice swung to the very female centric narrative of Crooked. Written by Catherine Trieschmann she chose the script because she felt that “relationships between women and girls, be they familial, platonic or romantic, deserve continuous and thorough exploration.”
She is fascinated by “the impact religion has on people, the morals and biases that are communicated to children through religious learnings and narratives.” She found the time constraints challenging, but felt that “the piece was sharper and more concise for it.”
The tense dialogue between the 14 year-old Laney Waters and her mother Elise in a sitting room in Mississippi was beautifully executed by Jamie-Lee Money and Donna Cormack-Thomson and the emotion in the room was palpable. Mendelson wants to direct a “self-written piece with young actors that focuses on the female experience in South Africa through a fantastical or mythical medium.”
The extracts ran the gamut from comedy to high political drama showcasing the insight and ingenuity of the new generation of theatre-makers. Don't be surprised when you see these name up in lights soon. They have a clear understanding of who they are and what they want and the value of theatre.
As Mangcu says, theatre “is important because it is sneaky; it does not take the form of a traditional ‘lesson’, but can carry out the same task. Targeted accurately to the right people, it can dig itself into the mind. “I look forward to the excavations of the future.”