[intro]The City of Cape Town hosted South Africa’s freshest arts festival between 24 September and 4 October 2015. With stages at a variety of venues around Cape Town CBD and in Langa, the Fringe festival programme featured the work of the country’s emerging and established theatre-makers.
The Journalist intern, Linda Fekisi attended some of the productions. She reports on her experiences and zooms in on some of the characters.[/intro]
A Fringe Festival is characterised by staging small productions, mostly by independent practitioners. It typically uses small and unconventional spaces as venues, working them hard to get between six and eight performances a day per venue, making it cheaper for everyone who participates.
How stories began
How stories began, a Jungle Theatre Company production, kick-started my Fringe Festival experience.
The featured artists Ntombi Mkhasibe and Vincent Meyburgh play a married couple who take the audience through the retelling of the traditional Zulu folktale set in ancient times on the Wild Coast before people knew how to tell stories.
A part of me connects almost immediately to the captivating storyline. I am taken back to days when my imagination was blossoming and how my mind would wonder as I listened to Gcina Mhlophe on Umhlobo Wene FM.
Mkhasibe, who plays Manzandaba, a Durban University of Technology graduate, fell in love with theatre when she was in high school. Despite not growing up with grandparents to tell her folktales, she brings her character to life in such a way that she, like her character, was the first person who received the gift of sharing stories.
She shares a startling strategic choice that she took while preparing for her character.
“As Zulus, we tend to ‘articulate’ when speaking English. So, while I was preparing for Manzandaba I decided that she should speak Zunglish in order to breathe life in to her, a women from the deep rural areas,” she said.
A play at the Grahamstown Arts Festival did the trick for Meyburgh, who is a co-founder of Jungle Theatre and an artistic director. How stories began is his best-loved story.
“I read a lot of African folk stories to my kids because I’ve got three daughters, but for me this stands out even though I’ve heard it many times in different platforms and from a DVD by Gcina Mhlophe. I love it because it’s where stories come from.
We also do other plays, on animals, which tell folktales but they are not where we come from. With this one, the story is the main thing,” he said.
Meyburgh said that we often come to terms with our cultural heritage through folk tales.
I land myself a quick folk tale treat while discussing how the cultural connection is relived in the clan names such as aMavundle, after the hare, Bakwena, after the crocodile, and no Ndlovu, the elephants.
“You do know how the Ndlovu clan came about right?” Meyburg asks and he begins to narrate even before I could shake my head.
“In a folktale, a king chased away a girl out of the village because she was ugly. She then ended up meeting an elephant and married it. Her children then became the clan Ndlovu“.
I am marvelled and captivated. As I mark down my first day of the festival, I play around with the puzzles of a particular folk tale on how the rock badger, imbila, lost its tail.
7 Deadly Sins
Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy and Pride.
I remember learning about these fellows for the first time during Catechism classes and how a group of friends and I would make fun of each by going through silly examples of sins while learning about the value and importance of the sacrament of confession. I remember engaging Everyman and doing a personal analysis of my own life and journey as a Catholic Christian and my views on Penance and Reconciliation.
Of course, I remember all the conservative characters and their interpretation of what sin is and how easy it is for one to be ‘sinful’ but nothing, and I repeat nothing, prepared me for the genius performance by Aaron McIlroy and Lisa Bobbert.
7 Deadly sins, is definitely one of the best morality plays of our time. It is humorous, interactive, thought-provoking and highly dynamic.
I left City Hall 1 with aching jaws from the laughter and a nagging thought at the back of my mind…Forgive me father, I have sinned.
B!*ch stole my doek
Durban born teacher by day and actress by night, Shona Johnson, breathes life to this award winning hit comedy by Clinton Marius.
Shona has been singing since she was a child and took up drama in high school.
“I felt my highest self when I walked on stage and realised this was it. I’ve never looked back. Throughout high school I was that girl, I was the lead and pop idol. I never tried for track because they needed me for the plays.
She studied at Durban University of Technology (DUT), completed her honours at University of KwaZulu Natal and had her internship at the Catalina Theatre.
“I haven’t done anything except for theatre since. On stage, off stage and around stage. My life is drama,” she passionately shares.
Her love for storytelling has drawn her to new scripts which are mostly South African and ones which “someone out there wants to hear”.
In this tailor made one woman play Johnson’s main character Salome, gets involved in a dramatic spat with a neighbour after a very sentimental doek of hers goes missing.
I have never set foot in Wentworth, a historically coloured area in Durban where the story is set, but I have met a Salome and where I am from, we call her Mamgobhozi. I ask Johnson how she relates to her character.
“Oh I relate to her in every way. I grew up in a block of flats in Melbourne Road where everyone was your aunty. Everyone is your aunt, everyone is your uncle and neighbours walk in and out of your house without knocking and so Salome is every single coloured women I’ve met. That’s the beauty of her. I play every woman I have ever known and I relate because I have met so many versions of her,” she said.
From all the characters in the play Laverne, Salome’s daughter, came first to Johnson’s imagination as she read the script for the first time.
“I teach at the Helen O’Grady Drama Academy and I am surrounded by teenagers and pouty lips. I couldn’t wait to play her because she was clear in my mind, crystal clear,” she said.
Contrary to her outspoken, nosey and hilarious portrayal of Salome on stage, she maintains that the two of them are worlds apart.
“I seem loud and happy now but I am actually very shy. I don’t really quite care about other people’s business. You’re not going to find me questioning the neighbours, I like staying in my house and I would never wear blue eye-shadow and rollers in the light of day. And be in my pyjamas while speaking to the neighbours.
So, she is very different from me. Much louder but we both laugh a lot and we both love telling stories,” she said.
Johnson shares exciting news with me.
“Keep a look out for Salome. She’s coming back to Cape Town with a bang. The sequel is called Bitch stole my Snoek, where Salome comes down to Mitchells Plain to visit the in-laws”.