Theatre

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8min20730

The presence of a loving father greatly increases a child’s chance of success, confidence, resilience, physical and mental well-being. According to community-based organization Shiloh Synergy,  South Africa has one of the highest rates of fatherlessness in the world. In 2017 Statistics SA General Household Survey indicated that a shocking 61.8% of children under the age of 18 live without their fathers. We need to better understand the impact of this disheartening social plight and its legacy on family life in contemporary society, which unfortunately impacts greatly on a boy child. These Are Not My Shoes is a theatre play written and directed by Mxolisi Masilela that addresses this social issue.

A shot from These Are Not My Shoes play. Photo by Nolwazi Mbli Mahlangu
A shot from These Are Not My Shoes play. Photo by Nolwazi Mbali Mahlangu

The play was staged at the Moses Molelekwa Arts Centre’s TX Theatre in Tembisa. It was delivered in a musical melodrama theatrical performance that captured all the essence of theatre production. The play explores and confronts the narrative of fatherhood and fatherlessness. It tells a story of a father’s love and the pleasant environment he had created for his wife and two sons. An environment that was created to mold their development and how they view the world. He persistently introduced discipline, in the form of routines concerned with his sons’ moral standing while grappling with his own demons. It is these unknown challenging points that changed him and led him to leave his family. His sudden departure did not only tear the family apart but left his sons confused, vulnerable, and overwhelmed. This mostly affected and challenged their ability to live a physically and emotionally fulfilling life. The hurdles also threatened the boys’ ability to live a competent life as youth causing irrefutable moral repercussions for the whole family.

The story is based on the Masilela’s real-life experience. He used theatre to highlight and interrogate this subject of parental love and abandonment as well as the traditional role of the African black man. The question is not posed in a disobedient manner, but it is used as means of drawing attention to the issue. It is also a way to engage and learn from each other about the prevailing cultural beliefs and systems of ideals and ideas of what it means to be a father.

EYE TO EYE: A scene from These Are Not My Shoes. Photo by Nolwazi Mbali Mahlangu

The play is used as means of moving forward- through looking back into the past and naming the current reality. A reminder to men to review and evaluate their lives so as to end the cycle of absent fathers. For them to became good examples of fathers or father figures that resist the set traditional role of authority and control and rather subscribe to more nurturing and non-violent forms of care.

The production directed by Masilela himself and managed by Kamogelo Raphadu had many aspects and detailed costumes, props, and technical parts such as sound and lighting managed by Sizwe Ndabana. The set design of the shanty house set the scene, bringing back memories and experiences of growing up in a township. Another aspect of the production that stood out is the stellar performance of the cast of actors consisting of Itumeleng Moeketse, Mongezi Mabunda, Thabang Chauke, and Tshwarelo Selolo. Their acting on the open,  displayed innocent and vigorous freedom, as well as a proud showcase of their craft. They delivered their lines characterized by multilingual dialogue, significant actions, and gestures that contributed to the play’s meaning. The actors were accompanied by dynamic vocals of music arrangement by Muzi Shili, Thulani Hlophe, Velile Mkhabela, and Hlabelela ensemble. Their music rooted in emotion had a powerful hand in bringing the story to life.

ALL THE PROPS: These Are Not My Shoes stage. Photo by Nolwazi Mbali Mahlangu

These Are Not My Shoes delivered a successful emotional and inspirational theatrical show. The staged drama and captivating performance with all the elements and complexities of theatre-making unpacked the issues and referenced realistically unimaginable raw and ragged scenes that highlight the trauma, frustration, anger, and anguish playing out in our communities.

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12min304017

Creativity, check. Technical astuteness and the ability to communicate ideas through design, check. Great visual awareness, check. There isn’t a prerequisite box that set-designers need to tick that Noluthando Lobese hasn’t. Being a hip black female and with a uniquely dope moniker like Hashtag Texture, she’s an off-kilter set-designer that tells stories authentically.

Lobese is currently the Art Director on the hit drama series, Vula Vala. The show is directed by Mandla N with Tiyane Nyembe as the DP (Director of Photography).

“Having an artistic leader as Mandla N, everyday was a wonderful challenge that my team and myself had to overcome. I think we really did well from transforming spaces to fit within our world to serve the story,” Lobese says.

As art director, Lobese created the world that the audience has been immersed in on the drama series. “From creating our own mealiemeal branding, newspaper branding and logo designs for the  soccer team ( Scorpions team) that includes banners, soccer balls and flags. It was all in the detail that can sometimes be overlooked by the viewer.”

Detail is imperative in this type of work, hence her nickname. “It definitely has to do with my work, telling stories through texture plays a great deal in my work. Texture is everything. It is authentic, through landscapes of texture stories can be told in an authentic visual aesthetic,” Lobese says of her nickname given to her by film director and friend King Shaft.

ALL SMILES: Noluthando Lobese. Photo by Zac Modirapela
ALL SMILES: Noluthando Lobese. Photo by Zac Modirapela

An award-winning designer, Lobese has been in the industry for over a decade now. She was introduced into the world of theatre by renowned set-designer Nadya Cohen.  “I studied fashion, however I’ve been lucky to have met Regina Sebright in 2008 at The Market theatre who introduced me to my mentor Nadya Cohen and James Ngcobo.”

“I design stage and costumes in theatre, production designer in commercials, TV and an art installation artist. I use my hands to create and mould materials that take a different form or shape. I call this work Mutation by using found materials, thread, and wool, plastic and other objects. Theatre and television is more collaborative, bringing a script to life through sets, locations, lighting and costumes. To be inspired and cautious of your surroundings plays a huge role in my work,” Lobese tells me.

Under the guidance of Cohen as set-designer and Ngcobo as director, Lobese made her debut as a costume-designer in 2009 in the production Thirst which was rewritten for a South African context and drew from Nguni mythology, which resonated with the past and the future.

Along with Cohen, Lobese credits Ngcobo for having given her opportunities to learn and immerse herself in the theatre world. “The Market theatre has been my school of design knowledge through the connections and collaborations I’ve made whilst there. Not so many directors are willing to give young designers / talents a chance like James Ngcobo.”

In 2008 Lobese studied in Stockholm Stadsteatern, Sweden as a design apprentice under the mentorship of Charlie Koroly. Four years later she was a designer in Salzburg at the Young Directors Festival as a production designer. She was accepted in New York, at the MacDowell Colony (NH) as an installation artist for work she developed while there, titled What It Is and it continued as an installation piece at Studio X, Johannesburg (GSAPP Columbia University).

OUT AT WORK: Hashtag Texture. Photo by Que Ntuli
OUT AT WORK: Hashtag Texture. Photo by Que Ntuli

She was an observer at the Glimmerglass Opera Festival (Cooperstown) New York. Lobese also worked on the Floating Stage (Bregenz Festspielehaus, Austria, 2013) as a design intern. She was part of the group of artists from ‘JHB Massive’ that went to showcase at The annual street festival in Accra, Ghana 2015.

Lobese is a consummate professional who has earned her stripes through her extensive travels, but even so, she says she still comes across people who don’t give her, her due respect as a working creative. “Being undermined especially the first time people work with you. It’s a constant struggle of convincing and proving yourself. Sometimes it’s because you’re laid back and do not feel the need to be dancing and sell yourself in the most basic way that the industry is expecting. I prefer the work to speak for itself and be given the freedom to create.”

She has a range of work and finds it difficult to say which stands out because the work is all unique, but said “Trapped that I costume designed in 2012, Salzburg Festspiele. It was directed by Zinzi Princess Mhlongo; It was also my first set design which was aired on SABC 1(Life is a stage) we had a crew of film makers (Born free media) documenting the behind the scenes process. A recent one is Rhinoceros which played last year at The Market Theatre.”

“I’ve designed most productions directed by James Ngcobo and have collaborated with various directors and other designers who are the best in the game. This involves working with friends and international collaborators”

Lobese spent her early stages of childhood in the Eastern Cape and then moved to Yeoville where she grew up. Being raised in a cosmopolitan space like Yeotown can nudge one into eccentricity and Lobese wears her oddness well.

She finds Yoga and shooting hoops as some of the best ways of unwinding. “I believe that I’m an inspiration to most people out there, I have not met most of them but they exist. I need a clear mind to keep moving forward and reach my highest, if I don’t do it I will never know how far I can bend my mind and remain fluid,” she says.

THA WOMAN BEHIND THA THA BRAND: Thando rocking one of her U Ts. Photo by Norman Maake
ROCKIN’ MY SHIII: Thando modeling her Unongayindoda Ts. Photo by Norman Maake

Unongayindoda, a term shoved at a girl who is said to be a boy-lookalike, has become Lobese personal task.

Unongayindoda is what I was called by the village community growing up in the Eastern Cape. Most Xhosa girls can relate to the term.  So Unongayindoda is a personal project and for the ones that can relate, I’m embracing the term. It is time we embrace shameful words that have been given to us through hate. The same way we have learned to love Soweto even though it was not by choice to vacate Sophiatown,”she says.

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16min5240

Nyeleti Ndubane is black, Tsonga and female. This innate power combination has put her in a lifelong tussle for representation and equality in society, which she does unflinchingly with grace. But the untimely demise of her partner Manoko ‘Snooks’ Ramotshela in 2018 gored her with a novel sharp pain of loss.

“Snooks’ death had a profound effect on me. When we started dating, we fell madly in love and started making plans for our future together. I declared to everyone in my life that I had found my husband- I was done! So his accidental drowning knocked the wind out of me because that was not part of the plan!” Ndubane tells me.

The love they shared was mighty palpable, beautiful and rich in uniqueness. Snooks the musician, model and all round creative with Nyeleti the actress, writer and a fireball. It was reminiscent of a young Zam and Khensani Nkosi. Funky, genuine and authentically black.

BLACK LOVE: Nyeleti and Snooks . Photo supplied
BLACK LOVE: Nyeleti and Snooks . Photo supplied

They met at a house party six years ago and hit it off immediately. “To my disappointment, he told me he had a girlfriend. So as attracted as I was to him, I knew that I couldn’t pursue anything with him because I’m a big believer in the girl code so he was off-limits!” After two years the two met again and they were both available this time. “And so began our whirlwind romance filled with incredible highs and heart-breaking lows.”

Snooks drowned on December first in 2018. In her 1969 book titled On Death and Dying, American psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross introduced the five stages of grief, a sequence of emotions that terminally ill patients or someone whose lost a loved one goes through. “…I remember feeling very angry with him for dying because I felt like he left me all alone. I swam in this anger for a long time but luckily, I didn’t drown in it.”

According to Kübler-Ross, Denial comes at you before Anger but it was the other way around for Ndubane, who tried hard to push herself to being better by putting a big smile on her face and pretend as though the loss was a case of shit happens. “But that way of thinking backfired on me because what I went through was a painful trauma that completely shifted my world. It was then that I realized that being healed doesn’t mean that my pain and trauma magically disappeared. Healing for me means that I acknowledge that my pain may always exist, but I won’t let it define or break me.”

STAR GIRL: Nyeleti Ndubane. Photo supplied
STAR GIRL: Nyeleti Ndubane. Photo supplied

And so the real healing began, where she says there was a lot of crying, reading, art and family. “Whenever I would get consumed with the knowledge that I will never see the man I love ever again, a good cry would make me feel a little bit better. Any chance I could get during weekends or days off; I would go straight to my mother’s house for home-cooked meals and hugs,” the Soshanguvan tells me.

Sometimes you just need to hear that everything will be okay and more often than not, those words have more assurance when coming from a parent. “My mother is my best friend and biggest cheerleader, and if it wasn’t for her talking me through it and assuring me that I will heal and be okay- I don’t know where I’d be.

It also helps a great deal listening to people who’ve gone through exactly what you’re in the midst of. It serves the same purpose as group therapy- taking in people’s testimonies as encouragement that things do pass. “I read a lot during my grieving period… there were two books in particular that helped soothe my soul: Elizabeth Taylor’s autobiography, and Jackie Kennedy’s autobiography. Both of these women lost the men they loved, and reading about how they dealt with the pain and made it to the other side gave me hope that I too will be fine.”

Photo of Nyeleti. Photo sipplied
Photo of Nyeleti. Photo sipplied

Going through grief, as it was just three months after Snooks’ passing, Ndubane landed a part on TV series Giyani: Land Of Blood. “Being an actress of Tsonga heritage, I really wanted a role on Giyani- any role in fact! Being a part of the first Tsonga TV series to grace South African screens was a dream job for me. But when I found out exactly which role I landed- a woman who becomes a widow after her husband is murdered at the end of the first episode- I started to get scared…”

Ndubane has been acting professionally for a decade now “but I do consider it[Esther] to be my break-out role because of all the characters I’ve played, this character really connected with audiences. I get stopped by fans of the show all the time and they tell me that they really felt for Esther and what she was going through.”

But the trepidation that came with the role wasn’t because this was her biggest in term of impact, but the fact that she was going to play the character of Esther, a woman who becomes widowed on the first episode. “I was hoping to play a character that was on a completely different journey to what I was going through so that I could escape the pain and grief that was engulfing me at that point. But lo and behold! Esther ends up being on a closely identical journey to what I was going through. Sure, there were a few differences: Esther was a newly-wed, pregnant humble village woman who works on a banana farm. But our similarities overlapped greatly: we both had to deal with the sudden loss of the man we loved, and we both experienced the gut-wrenching pain of seeing the body of our loved one at the scene of his death.”

IN CHARACTER: Nyeleti on Giyani: Land Of Blood
IN CHARACTER: Nyeleti on Giyani: Land Of Blood. Photo supplied

She played the part so brilliantly, you’d swear she’s a widow who resides ka Malamulele not the feisty damsel who could take on anyone on MTV‘s Lip Sync Battles performing Kendrick Lamar’s For Free. “The shoot was right in the middle of my grieving period, the pain was still raw and I feel like it enhanced my performance because I could relate to Esther’s pain on a genuine level.”

“Lauryn Hill once said: ‘As an artist, you have to live your life so that you have something substantial to share with your audience…’ This quote perfectly encapsulates my experience playing the role of Esther,” says Ndubane who is also a teacher’s assistant at the Joburg Theatre for the Duma Ndlovu Academy (DNA).

‘Language-hierarchy’ in South Africa is realer than the chaos at Eskom. If you don’t speak isiZulu, isiXhosa or Sesotho you’re an alien or less of a human being in this country. That Giyani: Land Of Blood is the first ever Xitsonga TV series is embarrassing, but it’s a start none the less. “…The existence of ‘Giyani: Land of Blood‘ on our screens is huge because it speaks to representation. Growing up, I never saw Xitsonga-speaking actresses on TV speaking our language and representing our culture. Society has always made Xitsonga people feel ostracized and ridiculed for our looks, culture and language. So to be on a show that celebrates the things that we were made to be embarrassed about for so long is simply incredible!”

Having proud, beautiful ambassadors of the all cultures is important to breaking down pillars of ignorance. “Hopefully, South Africans will begin to un-learn the insulting stereotypes and misconceptions about the Xitsonga people because the show will help to put our culture in the mainstream in the same way that Sho Madjozi is doing so beautifully.”

HER AND ART: Nyeleti standing in front of artwork
HER AND ART: Nyeleti standing in front of artwork

Ndubane is currently busy with theatre rehearsals for Alice In Wonderland which will be staged at the Peter Torien Theatre at Monte Casino in March. And also “Writing a feminist theatre piece about the plight of black women. It’s a work in progress, and my working title for the project is: ‘Black girl, you are on your own’, which is a wink to the Steve Biko quote: ‘Black man, you are on your own’.

Clement Gama08/23/2019
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6min3741

You’ve heard of it before right, the Pull Her Down Syndrome where women pull each other down, seemingly because of intimidation or gross baseless hatred toward other women. But the exaggerated animosity doesn’t stand at the Vavasati Women’s International Festival. It hasn’t for the seven years of the festival’s existence.

Today marks the fourth Friday since the festival commenced this month. The works at the festival address systemic structures of power that continue to discriminate against women, under the theme Inequality: Seizing the Megaphone! The name Vavasati is a Xitsonga word meaning women, reiterating the power and strength that women possess when they unite.

The internationally acclaimed women’s arts festival annually takes place at the State Theatre in Pretoria throughout the month of August, with over 20 works created solely by powerful creative women from different spheres of the art world- in photography, music, choreography and performance art.

“The fact that the festival is in its 7th year, already that is growth alone. Actually the State Theatre has done an amazing job to cater for women. We are enhancing the festival some more now. The budgets have grown and the number of participants or works put in the programme has increased. Some women debut their works here and others find their voice here in this platform to grow and become the best. There are collaborations that grow from and within the festival. So women can work together!” says co-curator of Vasati International Festival Mamela Nyamza. Kgaogelo Tshabalala is the other co-curator.

 

According to Nyamza, the programme invites (through a call out) artists and companies to submit proposals each year for the month-long fest. “When we receive them, we have readers that are asked to go through the proposals and recommend works. We went through some of the works that they have recommended. I also being new in Pretoria, I met Kgaugelo Tshalabala who knows the artists in Pretoria, and asked her to come join me in curating.  We have a pool for musicians, poets, dancers and actors. Some proposals were taken out and others taken in. I made my selection and so as Kgaugelo,” she said.

Mamela Nyamza. Photo by Esa Alexander/Sunday Times
Mamela Nyamza. Photo by Esa Alexander/Sunday Times

The team has something novel in this year’s programme, with the Open Market and Live Music segment that take place every Sunday. This is a lively setting on an open-air rooftop towered by landmark surrounds overlooking the arts complex.

Created and inspired by women, but the festival is for all- including men and young boys who are often perpetrators of the abuse received by women and girls. So attracting a diverse audience is important for Vasati International Festival’s impact in society. “We are continuously making an awareness of the festival. With the exposure that is out there, we have been loud than ever. The participating artists have been active in the joining the campaigns. The programme is diverse in such a way that it caters across all genres. There is everything for everyone. There are educational works, provocative works and family inclusive works,”says the choreographer Nyamza.

Inclusive and progressive works are synonymous with the State Theatre, which supports young artists and has opened its doors to stimulating uncaptured work. “Including other provinces nationally and other country’s participating, already it puts State Theatre as thee theatre for Africa. This aligns with our overall vision and artistic mandate to be a pan African theatre that is inclusive in its programme offering. Already I have calls from artists abroad asking when is the next festival.”

Thato Mahlangu06/03/2019
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5min3130

Filled with so many emotions, I wonder how Aubrey Sekhabi and Kabelo “Bonafide Billi” Togoe managed to actually write the whole script of the musical. Freedom, which was inspired by the efforts of brave young people who took their issues to the streets when university vice-chancellors flatly ignored their pleas of free education.

Students fought hard (with some being arrested and others succumbing to wounds which were inflicted by the police and community members) to get what is now a free education, which others still argue there is nothing free about it as taxpayers will have to forge some cents if not more to pay for billions of fees in the next coming years.

The musical by Sekhabi which has been running at the SA State Theatre summaries the dramatic events which led to the then president of the republic, Jacob Zuma, announcing this free education.

Phindile Ndlovu, who is one of the main characters lived to tell the tale of how she was raped by her musician boyfriend, Bonafide- the music star’s life was taken by a member of the SA Police Service. His story reminds me that of Katlego Monareng from the Tshwane University of Technology whose life, like that of Bonafide’s, was cut short by a trigger-happy policeman. Bonafide’s character was portrayed by rapper PdotO.

There are many stories that will never be told on mainstream media including those of young men who sell their bodies to men and women just to be able to pay for an apartment.

But I must say, I appreciate both Sekhabi and Togoe’s hunger to tell those stories so authentically and so honestly. One has to salute the Freedom team for having chosen to tell the stories of these young people who were failed by the government and the higher education department’s minister Blade Nzimande (who features in the musical in the form of the talented opera singer Otto Maidi).

Students fighting for theirs.Photo by Sanmari Marais

So many issues are explored in the musical including femicide, which has claimed the lives of many women. Young women like Karabo Mokoena and model Reeva Steenkamp, who like many women whose bodies lay cold in cemeteries and morgues, were killed by their partners.

I pray and hope that this musical, which has now been adapted into a book, will be bought by some TV station and turned into a film or TV series for it to be seen by many, especially our ‘leaders’ who were elected into power to protect and serve the people. We both know that some people don’t do the theatre like me and you.

Freedom is an award winning musical, with brilliant choreography done by award winning choreographer, director and actor Mduduzi Nhlapo; the story was well-researched with a stellar cast.


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