Jefferson Tshabalala. Picture: Jan Potgieter

Independent theatre maker Jefferson Tshabalala thinks theatre is boring. In protest of this, he is on a hiatus from it. Well kind of. He's done something about it.

Tshabalala, better known as Jbobs, is part of a collective that’s bringing to theatres a production called JBOBS Live. A game show theatre production, it allows the audience to participate in the show. It is also presented by Jbobs.

“It works with teams. Sometimes the guests are invited, other times the teams are the audience. And then those teams compete. The audience is also split along team lines. 

The two competitions are Off the Record and Location Lekeyshini Lokasie. And the accumulation of points is what makes you the victor at the end,” he said.

The game show, Double Bill, features two different styles of game show formats pitched at the same level, but with different audiences, separated by a short interval. The shows have had audiences banging down the door to attend, as witnessed at the National Arts Festival. It’s here where audiences can revel in a mash-up of theatre, improv, sketch and game shows, all compiled by the show’s writers to offer insight into South African realities.

By way of explanation of how he got here, where he created a show that breaks the idea of what we consider to be contemporary theatre, he said: “One of the most interesting things about creating theatre in South Africa is that it’s always around topical subjects, and people are always in a frenzy after the shows in the foyer.

“People go into shows, the subject matter is handled, but afterwards, you find people discussing the subject matter at length. We’re a melting pot of talking about things in Mzansi. So what about a show where you can engage with the show as you’re watching it? Because usually you can only respond as a receptive vessel of the work. What if you can confront the show and deal immediately with what it’s saying and doing?”

“As part of demystifying the bore of theatre, what if you can be at a show where you have your phone on? The traditional Thespians at some point or the other will realise that it’s 2018, and if we’re out here claiming that we’re making mobile theatre that’s going towards incorporating the times we live in now, we need to think about what the people want.”

“It’s that that made me think of game show material. With that, we push the genre of sketching forward, we do something with comedy other than just pandering to common humour,” he said.

An integral part of developing the show has been the residency that the PopArt Theatre has given to Jbobs and the team, allowing them the space to develop the show further after returning from the shows they perform in countrywide.

“PopArt is where we do our ongoing residency, so we’re there every first Monday and Tuesday of the month. Earlier this month, we were in Grahamstown, so that’s why it’s happening later this month. From August, we’re back to the first Monday and Tuesday.”

“Essentially, the residency programme is where we anchor the development of the project. We’ve been fortunate enough to travel across the country with this work. But, what we realised in its initial phases is that it’s always difficult to continue chasing our tails without reconciling and consolidating the material we’ve collected in other parts of the country.

“What PopArt offers to us is a place where we can go and tease out the new material. Because once we’ve done it there, it grows. So by the time we return to PopArt, we showcase the improved version of the work,” he said.

As with any show that’s as unpredictable as this, it’s expected there will be a couple of interesting experiences to be had.

“What’s been most exciting for me is that when you are envisioning a project before you pilot it or show it to anyone, you write down things like I want people to engage with me. And that’s nice and romantic until people engage with you and you don’t agree with what they’re saying, until you’re confronted with direct racism in the venue, or you’re confronted with bigotry in the venue or someone is a homophobe and they’re offering it as a pure opinion. Now, the distance between when I’m the creative and when am I an agent for something else is tested. That’s been most interesting to me.

“We’ve had shows where people are extremely heated because the subject matter is not as light as the game show concept may appear,” he said.

While Jbob played it safe and avoided giving away too much about what themes would run through the show, he did say the show would turn towards discussing serious subjects, but while maintaining the entertaining elements associated with the game show.

By way of what to expect, Jbobs said: “They are coming to see themselves to be quite honest. So as much as we say the show has a new format and an exciting topic line, what you’re really coming to see is where you fit in, in the larger South African discourse.”

JBOBS Live is on at the PopArt Theatre in Maboneng on today and tomorrow in celebration of a successful showing at the National Arts Festival.

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