Exploring the boundaries of masculinity and the triumph of the human spirit is one of the things that seem to capture the imaginations of artists. The production Tau is no exception.
Detailing the experiences of a young man named Tau, the play penned in 2014 by Thabiso Rammala, it is set in modern-day Free State where cultural norms and traditional practices play a huge part in the community.
The main character Tau lives in a conflict of modern and traditional domestic rules deeply rooted in African history and mythology. His father is a traditionalist and a community elder and his mother is a neo-traditionalist with the ability to be swayed.
Once confronted with this conflict, he embarks on a journey of discovering his manhood, himself and his Sesotho culture.
Chatting to the production’s co-director Momo Matsunyane she explained that the journey to the creation of the play was preceded by Rammala reading heart-wrenching story about the deaths of young men in intiation schools.
“Thabiso read the paper about a group of 22 young men, who had all died on a mountain. And after many conversations with various people around him, his main question was how it would happen that so many young men die.
"I mean we’d heard of stories where maybe three or four die, but never such a big number. In his position as a writer, he then started exploring the ideas of masculinity, in a society that’s constantly evolving, and how westernization has impacted the practice of these traditions.
"What was also intriguing to him, is how a society of this sort, would react to say two men being found in a position where they are exploring some kind of homo-erotic relationship on the mountain. And that’s how the story was born,” Matsunyane explained.
After a colleague of mine experienced Tau during a successful run at the National Arts Festival, Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown) last year and was moved beyond words, I realized the emotional impact that the story had on those who’s experienced it and resonated with it, because of its deep spiritual themes. I quizzed Matsunyane on how the collective worked through the heavy work.
“Already as a writer, Thabiso was very wary of misrepresenting the Black man, even going to the extent of consulting me on how to mention the women in the play, and I was very clear that they are represented in a way that’s fair and truthful.
"Also our lead Kgothatso, on many levels he shares his personal story in this. He’s often told narratives of this kind. As a team, what we wanted to create was something that reflects rituals and it dips in and out of the spiritual world taking the viewer on a journey,” she said.
Responses to Tau have been according Matsunyane rather varied, with some people going to the extent of staging a walk-out of the theatre in some form of protest to the work.
“Firstly I think the popularity around Tau has been that its a Sesotho based production. And I think audiences are excited to see their stories reflected on mainstream theatre. And also, the curiosity to see how this was going to be executed.
"We’ve had a few audiences that have been to initiation schools, to watch the play.
"Surprisingly, they are not the ones that walked out of the play. Maybe once or twice, we’d have one or two people leave and it would later turn out in conversation with them that it wasn’t because they didn’t enjoy the show, but rather that there was a lot they could identify with from personal experience of being on the mountain,” she said.
On why people should come to see the play, Matsunyane said: “I think firstly, Tau’s biggest selling point is that its an African story. It's important that big institutions like the State Theatre are giving it this platform.
"Secondly, its a story about young Black people and how they are navigating this society that’s changing, and I think that’s relevant to everybody. Even if they leave the show with questions or unsatisfied, that has given them the opportunity to experience something new,” she said.
Tau will be on at the South African State Theatre from December 5. Visit: State Theater for more details.