A decade of exciting growth for SA theatre

James Ngcobo wants accessible theatre.
James Ngcobo wants accessible theatre.
Image: SIZWE NDINGANE

The local theatre industry has been through an interesting phase over the past 10 years, despite lingering concerns about black women being at the bottom of the industry's power dynamics.

Overall, the period saw a big change in how black stories were told and also celebrated black writers such as Zakes Mda, Can Themba, Es'kia Mphahlele, Mbongeni Ngema and Percy Mtwa.

Theatre-goers enjoyed classic stories like King Kong, The Suitcase, Sarafina, Sizwe Banzi is Dead, Asinamali, Nongogo, Woza Albert, Nothing But The Truth, and Ukutshona ko Mendi, among others.

On the other side, new scripts and musicals were created with Marikana: The Musical being rated among the best productions of the past decade.

It was adapted by Aubrey Sekhabi from the novel We Are Going To Kill Each Other Today - The Marikana Story by journalists Felix Dlangamandla, Thanduxolo Jika, Lucas Ledwaba, Sebabatso Mosamo, Athandiwe Saba and Leon Sadiki.

The Market Theatre's artistic director James Ngcobo agrees that the past 10 years were quite delightful and interesting.

Ngcobo, an award-winning director in his own right, praises the incubation programme that was launched by the department of arts & culture in conjunction with different theatre institutions. The programme produced many young and exciting individuals.

"When young people are mentored by people who care about how they get to use their voices, they get into a space of clarity that allows them to grow and get braver about their choices," he said.

Ngcobo noted that he saw a couple of young directors like Mdu Kweyama, who directed a stunning production of Edward Albee titled The Goat which was staged at Baxter Theatre claiming the stake.

"Dominique Gumede's adaptation of Can Themba's Crepuscule was one of the most explosive pieces of the last decade. Gumede also won best director at the Naledi Awards. Lulu Mlangeni, the 2020 recipient of the Standard Bank Award for Dance, is a marvel to watch as a choreographer and dancer."

It will be a big mistake not to highlight black female directors who came in the fore in the past 10 years like poet Napo Masheane, Kholeka Putuma, Lesedi Job, Pamela Nomvete, Zimkitha Kumbaca and Palesa Mazamisa.

Masheane, who has been staging shows at different fringe spaces in the past 10 years, finally graduated to mainstream theatre to compete with big boys.

In 2016, she had her show A Song featured at the Market Theatre.

The female director argues that the past decade saw an amazing pull of female
theatre-makers who were diverse, loud, talented and ground-breaking in the kind of issues they put on stage.

"Some of us [black women] who make up the middle class generation of theatre makers have tried to take up space/s within the industry and reclaim the stage but often times our focus shifts from the aesthetics of making good theatre into battleground of addressing gender inequality and race battles.

"Black female theatre-makers are going to be disobedient and disobey the notion that black women don't have opinions when it comes to politics of the industry, including their bodies, culture, traditions, rituals and artistic art form," Masheane.

Job also excelled, winning the Sophie Mgcina Emerging Voice Award for her efforts.

She won best director at this year's Naledi Theatre Awards for her debut directorial work with Mike van Graan's play When Swallows Cry.

Job, who studied both music and arts at Wits, is also a singer.

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