Windybrow to come alive

WE gathered at the Windybrow Theatre on Friday after being invited to the institution at short notice. And given the theatre's history of false starts in the past, it was tempting to ignore this latest invite.

WE gathered at the Windybrow Theatre on Friday after being invited to the institution at short notice. And given the theatre's history of false starts in the past, it was tempting to ignore this latest invite.

But like several other people, mainly from the arts community, we honoured the invite because we were told the theatre was to launch an exciting new artistic programme.

Given that this theatre has for some time operated without an artistic programme - or at best an ad hoc one - we all wanted to know whether there was something of substance this time from the theatre, which for all practical purposes is well-situated to thrive artistically.

It is situated in a densely populated Hillbrow, a fertile ground for entertainment initiatives. But for some reason the theatre seems to have failed to capitalise on this perfect geographical location to attract hordes of entertainment loving people of Hillbrow and the surrounding suburbs of Berea, Yeoville, Observatory, Bez Valley and Bertrams.

And it had better catch up fast, because the events of this past week in neighbouring Yeoville, where the suburb celebrated Africa Day on Saturday, demonstrated that it was possible to revive the fortunes of a decaying suburb through the arts.

So arts initiatives do not only provide entertainment, but bring life to a suburb. What this means is that Hillbrow will have to fight a smart battle to catch up with its neighbouring suburb, which seems to be well on its way to full recovery from its squalid status to the vibrant cultural melting pot it once was in the 1990s.

Encouragingly, Windybrow Theatre has come up with another new programme, and the theatre has promised that the lights will never go out again.

I know you might have heard such promises from the theatre in the past and I am sure you are thinking - yet another false promise.

But this time Windybrow seems to be damned serious, judging by the impressive programme they have drawn up for the duration of the World Cup games.

And this time they want to attract the identified audience - the residents of Hillbrow - by putting together mainly a music programme.

And quite encouragingly the theatre has re-hired visionary artistic director Jerry Pooe to drive this new artistic vision and programme.

He has been there before, had a short stint, but left before he implemented his vision.

According to sources he left the first time because he was frustrated by, among other things, not having a budget to implement an artistic programme.

Pooe says Minister of Arts and Culture Lulu Xingwana was generous with her budget allocation to the theatre for 2010.

But Pooe would not reveal how much moollah was given to the theatre.

Looking at the programme, however, the budget must be good and the theatre is sure to attract huge audiences during June and July because of the topnotch musicians in the line-up.

In the spirit of the World Cup, those billed to perform are South African musicians who will share the stage with Nigerian, Ghanaian and Cameroonian counterparts.

Thandiswa Mazwai and Tu Nokwe will kick off the programme on June 9, Ringo Madlingozi and a Nigerian band are booked for June 12. Simphiwe Dana and a Cameroonian band will perform on June 19, the Ghana Dance Group and Enigma will take the stage on June 27, Sechaba and Vigorous Gospel Band on July 3, Tap Roots from July 6 to 9, Letta Mbulu and Caiphus Semenya on July 10.

But this does not mean that the theatre has now been turned entirely into a music venue.

The theatre programme is equally impressive. There is a line-up of theatrical classics during the same period, aimed at introducing music lovers to theatre.

We shall sing for the Fatherland, penned by Zakes Mda and featuring Arthur Molepo, Mmabatho Mogomotsi and directed by Itumeleng Motsikoe, will be staged from June 15 to 20.

Goree, written by the late Matsemela Manaka, featuring Tu Nokwe, Jeanete Mokhele and Gugu Ngwenya and directed by Zenzi Mbuli, will be staged from June 22 to 27.

The Island, written by Athol Fugard and directed by Mpho Molepo, will be staged from July 6 to 11.

"We have been funded beautifully by Xingwana, and I promise the theatre will never go dark again," said Pooe.