Profile: Market Theatre Laboratory students put the wind under Windybrow’s wings

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At the Ovations Award ceremony for Fringe Productions at the end of the National Arts Festival in 2017, the highest honours – the coveted Gold Award – went not to one, but two Market Theatre Foundation productions; Tau, and Hani: The Legacy.

Last year the Market Theatre Laboratory took top honours again, this time with Marose, which won best student production.

The Market Theatre Laboratory which runs a two-year theatre training course, has become synonymous with good South African theatre.

And the revamped Windybrow Arts Centre is now home to the Kwasha! Theatre company, which forms a springboard for Market Theatre Laboratory graduates and other graduates with a new batch of graduates moving in every year, as the old ones step off to create their own companies, or contribute their skills to existing ones.

Barely had the ink dried on their name last year when Kwasha! brought their first production, The Little Prince, to the National Arts Festival. As it was situated on the Main programme (a feat in itself for a newly hatched company) it wasn’t eligible for awards, but did receive rave reviews, including from The Critter’s Sheena Stannard.

The new Kwasha! company members return to the National Arts Festival this year, celebrating their launch with two productions. Again they are on the Main, with the fascinating DEURnis/Uzwelo, and on the Fringe, with Currently (G)old.

The original DEURnis was created by Theatrerocket productions and breaks down the door between audience and actor. It is an immersive, site-specific experience in which one audience member experiences storytelling by one actor. It has in the past taken place in a house, with an actor in each room performing a story related to the space, whether it be bedroom, kitchen, or bathroom. The script for each room is different and a ticket ‘package’ gives you access to three different stories, of about 20 minutes each.

Theatrerocket has taken the show to Woordfees and KKNK, and now Kwasha! is producing it, adding Sotho, Xhosa, Sepedi, and tsotsitaal to the original Afrikaans. The Makhanda venue where it is being set is a school, so the scripts have been altered or newly written, to suit the site.

“There are some really exciting stories,” says Windybrow Arts Centre head Keitu Gwangwa, adding that being a one-on-one experience, you also realise what role you play as the audience.

“It’s like virtual reality for theatre,” says Kwasha! Manager Rudy Motseatsea.

Then, vying for an Ovation on the Fringe is Kwasha!’s other production, Currently (G)old.

It is directed by Sinenhlanhla Mgeyi and Aaliyah Matintela, who was also co-director of award-winning Marose.

Mining the rich vein of the Market Theatre’s tradition and vision of presenting work that speaks to contemporary South African society, Currently (G)old interrogates what freedom means for young people in this country.

Motseatsea says it was devised for Human Rights Day and was so great it had a run on the Market Theatre’s stage and at the independent PopArt theatre in Maboneng. He describes it as satire that speaks to the Zuma era, Marikana, and the current political changes, all with a rich subtext of the freedom promises of the Mandela years.

Gwangwa sees it as taking an absurdist comedic approach to the #mustfall movement.

“It’s the political arena from a youth perspective. It’s really riveting and exciting,” says Gwangwa.

It’s new writing by new theatremakers and in this sense provides a taste of what the next generation is thinking and feeling.

On the Student Festival, the current crop of Market Theatre Laboratory students will be adding to the school’s reputation for outstanding work with Le Journal.

Part of the reason work by the Market Theatre Laboratory does so well is because each student has to pitch their ideas and vision, and these get thrashed out until only the best idea – agreed on by all – makes it off the floor. The entire class then throws their energy into making the show and are tutored by some of the best theatremakers in the country. In this case, the concept informing the work is the death of news stories. The news stories that make news headlines for a few days, shocking everyone, and then simply disappearing. Le Journal explores these. And they’ve done their research, setting up interviews with the SABC and hanging around the newsroom.

The theatre grounding the Market Theatre Laboratory has shown to provide its students and graduates in recent years makes Le Journal and Currently (G)old sure favourites on the Fringe for theatre lovers, while the very structure of DEURnis/Uzwalo is intriguing.

And with two new works being presented on South Africa’s premier performing arts platform, the Windybrow Arts Centre is not only marking its national and international launch, but is adding to the canon of original plays, while striving to maintain the internationally-renowned standard of South African Theatre.

We’ll be there to witness their birth at Makhanda, the arts Mecca.

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