Standard Bank Young Artist for Theatre 2016, Jade Bowers presented Black an adaptation of CA Davids’ Blacks of Cape Town by Penelope Youngleson (winner of the Standard Bank Gold Ovation Award for Sillage) at the National Arts Festival.
The narrative, in split chapter form, shifts between past and present – from New Jersey where Zara finds herself alone and displaced, to South Africa of the past and present. Her task is great and she grapples with constructing a history for herself and her family from between fragmented recollections and family lore.
Weekend Argus’ content producer Andrew Robertson, chatted to the production’s Director, Jade Bowers, after it’s final show, in Grahamstown. The production is on in Cape Town from 6 to 12 July.
Andrew: So, JADE, tell me a little bit about Black?
Jade: BLACK is a one woman show – featuring Ameera Patel (Naledi Award for best Supporting Actress) and music composition by Daniel Geddes. It is based on the novel by CA Davids THE BLACKS OF CAPE TOWN and the script was adapted by Penelope Youngleson (Standard Bank Gold Ovation)
The story follows historian, Zara Black, is in an unfamiliar room in a country far from home, when she is awoken by music that evokes memories she has been trying to forget. It is this call from her father, seemingly from beyond the grave, that finally pushes Zara to accept that it falls to her to understand the occurrences that forced her away from Cape Town and into a scholarly position that she does not entirely want, at a New Jersey University.
In the officious but vague letter from the South African government, Zara learns that documents once sealed and implicating her father in an act (while not clearly defined, was committed against the anti-apartheid movement decades earlier) will soon be released to the public. The letter becomes the start of a journey into Zara’s past.
This unearthing of the past begins with Isaiah Black the grandfather that ‘started it all’ when he stole a handful of diamonds from one of the world’s largest diamond mines in Kimberley. This act, however, is overshadowed by what the family acknowledges as the greater crime – concealing his race (Isaiah was ‘mixed race’) to escape the harsh realities of the mines before abandoning his mother and ultimately changing his name to Isaiah Black. A name that, according to granddaughter Zara is not without irony, because, ‘…Her grandfather, self-named Isaiah Black, had been classified as mixed, had passed as white and given rise to a line of coloured children and grandchildren.’
A: How did it come about?
J: I had read the novel and had just connected to it on a personal level. I think I am naturally drawn to stories that deal with a longing to find your own personal history and how you fit into the macro-narrative of the country and its politics.
This story resonates with me on many different levels of archiving, family lore and secrets as well as politics of race from a Coloured perspective.
A: When you approached CA Davids, how did that do down?
J: I first approached CA Davids for permission and she was quite interested in the idea, I then approached Penelope Youngleson to do the adaptation as we had been talking about collaborating on a project again for a long time. Penelope then read the book and produced a first draft which we read and gave notes on, we then got a second draft and put the work on the floor, working with Ameera and Daniel and saw what worked in performance. And the work went from there with little changes as we went along.
A: What’s the first hook that gets a new play started for you? Is it an image, a theme, a character?
J: For different plays, it is always something different. For this play, it was the music and the time period. Cape Town jazz and timeline stretching from 1891 to 2008. The interesting family dynamics that I can completely relate to from my family.
Video: Jason Miller
A: I suppose the most obvious question to ask is if the character played by Ameera Patel, is it autobiographical or based on anyone?
J: If it is – I’m not sure if it was based on a person or a combination of many people – it would have come from the novel. I see many similarities with many micro-histories from Cape Town, I think we all have that family story of how we came to be where we are as a family unit.
A: How did you find managing the two roles as Director and Designer?
J: It is generally the norm for me, working on smaller productions with a small budget it becomes necessary to play different roles such as producer, designer, director as I was for this show. I think it sometimes works well, but sometimes it can limit the work in that there fewer minds working on the play that could add different dimensions.
A: Were there any times when for example, your roles conflicted with each other?
J: Not conflicted, I think, but rather, with the short rehearsal period we had, some things could have had more thought and work put into it had it been 2 different people. Moving forward we will explore these design and directing elements to push it further.
A: What is your profession’s greatest challenge today?
J: For me, it is sustainability. How do we (in this case I am talking about small production companies like Jade Bowers Design & Management) keep making work and making money off the work to be able to stay afloat? It is a constant hustle for collaboration, partnerships and marketing to try to keep it going.
A: What are you currently working on?
J: BLACK is going to 969 Festival at Wits Theatre (26 & 29 July) and PopArt (3-6 August)
SCORCHED (premiered at National Arts Festival 2016) will be playing at the Playhouse in Durban 16 – 19 August
I am then starting work on a new production for next year and hopefully bring BLACK back for some further runs.