Profile: Market Theatre students in the game for repeat success

Marosee is one of two productions brought to Grahamstown by Market Theatre Laboratory students.

Jo’burg theatre-makers cleaned up at last year’s Standard Bank Ovation Awards and students from The Market Theatre Laboratory were right up at the top.

They won a rare and highly-coveted Gold for Hani: The Legacy, and the school, which punches well above its weight in the world of theatre, is back at this year’s National Arts Festival with two new student productions, 21 Wandah! and Marosee

True to the Market Theatre Laboratory’s credo of preparing its students for the hurly-burly of the real world of theatre-making, one of the students’ productions is not placed in the more hospitable Student Theatre section of the programme which is on the Main, but is square in the cut-throat Fringe. This gives the 11 graduate students of the laboratory’s two-year course (all of whom are involved in both productions) a taste of both spheres of the festival programme.

In a nod to the difficulty of getting an audience on the Fringe, we’ll look at 21 Wandah! first.

In 21 Wandah!, the frustration of shouting answers to game shows on TV, or slapping your forehead in frustration at participants is solved by watching it live, in the theatre. Yes, theatre as game shows is a thing. A pretty cool thing.

The form is highly entertaining, particularly as you become invested in ‘winning’ despite yourself, and in South Africa it allows for sublime social and political commentary.

The lab students have chosen the this form for 21 Wandah! And it promises to be a hoot.

Director Campbell Meas, who graduated from Wits in 2016 and already has a Naledi award on her shelf for the teenager-focused Just Antigone, says the students “dipped their toes into the game show thing last year” when they staged 21 Wandah! as an exam piece for the first-year students.

But it wasn’t shown to the broader public and it was decided to refine it for fest.

They brought Jefferson Tshabalala in, says Meas, because he’s the “game show expert”. Tshabalala, who has his new show J.Bobs Live Location Lekeyshini Lokasie on the Main and his Off The Record show on the Fringe, is a theatremaker “and understands dramatic theories”, says Meas.

“He was able to really help us weave a narrative within the story and use the game show as a vehicle to tell that narrative.”

The narrative here revolves around hitting the milestone of 21 years old. “We can’t be existential about turning 21,” says Meas, “it’s really about having fun and putting the participants in a place where in a very short time they’ve got to come up with answers, do things, be things…”

The characters, she says, are “ridiculous, satirical”, and in a Survivor-like format, they are whittled down from 11 to a final two.

So get involved and shout at real people in the theatre rather than at an uncaring TV.

The production under the Student Festival banner, Marosee, deals with more serious matters. Here the same cast of 11 students interrogate the concept of masculinity; what society and culture defines as what a man does or does not do.

Like 21 Wandah!, it is an ensemble piece – partly because ensemble work is part of the Market Theatre Laboratory’s training – but has eight of the students performing rather than all 11. Of the other three, Aalliyah Zama Matintela and Thabang Gabogope are directing and Sibahle Mangena is state manager.

It was a woman, Matintela, who introduced the idea of producing a play about manhood.

Over cappuccinos in Grahamstown Matintela said it was her brother who “inspired me to think about this species called man”.

She said her brother was going through a tough time and was carrying his heavy burden alone.

“Who told him he must carry it alone?” she wondered.

“So I pitched it (to the class) and we chose this one, and it grew as we worked on it. Aspects of the patriarchy hurts everyone.”

She said it was the women in the class who were open to the idea of creating a play on perceptions of masculinity while the men were suspicious of the idea being presented by a woman. It was when Gabogope came on board as co-director that the fears of the men were eased.

Without giving too much away, the plot involves a woman going under cover as man to research what happens in a military-style camp where men are trained to be men. In this it has echoes of Xhosa initiation schools, boot camps and boys boarding school environments.

Within a nation of rape culture and horrific abuse of women, children and members of the LGBTQIA+ community, Marosee just not try to justify the reasons for male violence but “put things on the table”, says Gabogope. It also asks whether the ideas of masculinity are inherited, dictated by culture and religion, or can men choose what defines masculinity.

“Men must decide what it is that makes a man. Is it that you beat your woman and bully your kids, or is it to talk with your children nicely or spend time with your family?”

21 Wandah! Is on today (30 June) at 19:00, Sunday 1 July at 19:30, and Monday 2 July at 17:00. Book HERE.

Marosee is on tomorrow (1 July) at 12:30 and 22:30, and on Monday 2 July at 14:30. Book HERE.

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