SURREAL: Katya Mendelson's The Harlot, The Virgin and The Sparerib looks at the creation myth.
SURREAL: Katya Mendelson's The Harlot, The Virgin and The Sparerib looks at the creation myth.

Young theatre makers of 2015 rise up

By Tracey Saunders Time of article published Dec 28, 2015

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BLOOM by Ameera Conrad, THE HARLOT, THE VIRGIN AND THE SPARERIB by Katya Mendelson, IDENTIRRHAGING by Nwabisa Plaatjie, MONSTER by Kei Ella Loewe performed at The Arena and the Bindery in November 2015. TRACEY SAUNDERS reviews

THIS year was in many ways the year of the student and the Daily Maverick pronounced the student as the person of the year. When the class of 2015 look back at their final year at UCT it is sure to be with a sense of wonder given the momentous events that were an integral part of their studies. The rise of the #FeesMustFall campaign and the concomitant protests had a practical impact as well.

The graduating class of theatre makers had to postpone their year end performances and had limited time to rehearse. Despite these challenges, or perhaps because of them they presented engaging work which spoke to and about life experiences with a clarity that belied their youth. The subjects dealt with ranged from love to death, some works rooted in realism, others surreal. Each showcased the individual talents and personality of the directors. Regardless of what does or not fall in the years ahead, I have no doubt that these young theatre makers will be rising and making work that will raise us all a little higher and make us think a little deeper.

Ameera Conrad’s production bloom was a love letter and an elegy to heartbreak. She managed to nab Khathuthselo Ramabulana who made such an impression in Black Dog/Inj’emnyama earlier in the year. The one man show presented a writer addressing a monologue, reminiscing about early lovers and unrequited love to an audience. In addition to the imagery conjured up in words the use of technology had jelly fish drifting along the stage. The image related to the recollection of his lover smoking, the puffs of smoke exhaled like ephemeral jelly fish. This alongside a sliver of the moon and text dancing on the floor lingered long after the lecture and love affair was over. Conrad’s writing combined with Ramabulana’s engaging performance made for a beautiful production presenting not a paradise lost or found, but glimpses of the purgatory of a broken heart. Conrad will continue her streak of working with brilliant actors when she acts alongside Wessel Pretorius in Dr Godenstein’s Man written by Callum Tilbury early in 2016 In March she will be creating a new production with fellow UCT graduates before she focuses on working as a scriptwriter for television and film. Acknowledging that a drama degree has benefits in all spheres of life she says “the most important thing I’ve learnt is how to turn conceptual ideas into practical solutions.” Having seen her create sea creatures out of air I can attest to that.

Nwabisa Plaatjie’s Identirrhaging was a powerful piece which brought the protest from campus onto the stage. Examining language and the place of indigenous language in tertiary institutions her engaging piece made the struggles of students very real and personal.

The battle to find a voice when one is rendered literally speechless in a post modern, post colonial society was made visible with imagery of endless travel in search of a place destined never to be found. The potential of students to create their own meaning in a realm of eternal nothingness was beautifully illustrated. The young director has already secured an internship with a theatre company in Cape Town where she will be mentored and create at least two new productions. She credits one of her valuable lessons at university to Luke Ellenbogen who stressed the importance of theatre as a team sport.

She said, “I learnt that it is important to have a definite purpose for your life (for your studies) to know what you want and to plan and organise your life accordingly. That way you get to spend your time effectively and wisely.” Good advice from someone who has clearly discovered her purpose.

Katya Mendelson’s intriguingly titled The Harlot, The Virgin and The Sparerib was a surreal deconstruction of the creation myth set in an apartment where the slightly unusual habits of one of the occupants made for some very dark comedic moments.

Mendelson must be lauded for including a shipwreck, a flood, a doomed love affair and feminist theory in a highly entertaining piece which she hopes to develop and stage as a full production. Even Solomon’s wisdom was questioned and the definition of a harlot was up for debate.

She also created a phrase which I suspect will be added to the drama lexicon, “Two words- gladiator pit.” She doesn’t have firm plans for 2016 yet but has already written two monologues that fellow ex-Hiddingh students are keen to take further. A Masters in script writing is also something she has her sights on and while she is considering furthering her studies abroad she said,”I think that there’s a strength to theatre in South Africa that I would be reluctant to leave behind for long.”

She feels that the most valuable learning from her degree was “treatment of other people”.

“It’s how to behave towards other people that has been the most important. Working in such close proximity and with such powerful emotions really reveals things about others that I would never have seen in any other course. It feels like a simple thing to learn, just treating other people with respect, but so many people fail spectacularly at it.”

Monster created and directed by Kei-Ella Loewe was a dark fairytale dealing with loss and grief. The main character’s fears were made manifest in various forms throughout the piece making innovative use of the stage and props. Strewn with paper and with pencil sketches holding prominent place on the stage the piece was visually dense.

One of the most beautiful, and possibly the most haunting, image of the year was that of a sister watching her sibling dance on television, bathed in the reflected image which shone on her and through her on to an easel. It was just one moment in the play, but encapsulated the haunting nature of grief and how one never ever really escapes it. Dealing with monsters in her head and under her bed, Monster made manifest the reality of emotions that can completely consume one’s life.

The final productions created by graduating students are arguably some of the most engaging and exciting performances that I see during the year.

The fearlessness and scope of creativity which the students risk always make for interesting and provocative work. My sincere hope is that they continue with the courage they have exhibited not just in their performances but off the stage as well.

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