New talent hatches at Arts Incubator’s Trade Fair

Isithunzi, presented by the Market Theatre, looks at the effects of the infamous, racist UOFS Reitz hostel video on two brothers whose mother was forced to partake in the shocking ‘games’ devised by four white students for black cleaning staff. The play was the first of nine shows being performed at the inaugural Arts Incubator’s Trade Fair this week. At left is author and actor Sipho Zakwe, with director Luthando Mngomezulu and stage manager Ali Madiga. Photo: Market Theatre Instagram

The new generation of theatremakers, about 100 of them, converged on the Market Theatre yesterday, a space that has nurtured many of today’s luminaries.

These future stars, who are almost exclusively young, black, and gifted, are the hatchlings of the incubator programmes at the South African State Theatre, Durban Playhouse, Performing Arts Centre of the Free State (Pacofs), Artscape, and the Market Theatre – which includes the Windybrow Arts Centre.

These state-funded performing arts institutions were two years ago given a grant from the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) Incubator Fund in order to provide skills training and development, and, according to former DAC acting director-general, Vuyo Jack, “invest in the early stages of an artist’s development by providing market exposure to their products”.

Jack was speaking at the launch of 5th Arts Incubator Programme at, neatly enough, the Market Theatre in 2015. It’s all part of the Mzansi Golden Economy we’ve heard touted by government, and the gathering of the talent that has been benefitting from this funding is an innovative showcase of what the performing arts institutioins are doing with it.

Hanging out at the Market Theatre for a week, 20 participants from each of the five institutions are taking part in this first ever Arts Incubator’s Trade Fair instigated by Market Theatre Foundation fundraiser Penny Morris. Morris managed to squeeze R1.2m out of the DAC for the Trade Fair, with the Market Theatre Foundation supplementing the funds so that all attendees could receive a per diem, lecturers could be paid an honorarium and tickets to the shows kept at a low R30 for the public.

With nine performances being staged, the Trade Fair is part showcase, part professional training ground, part networking zone and part idea swopping event.

Two years into the three-year grant, it’s a chance for the institutions to “break out of their silos”, says Market Theatre Foundation CEO Ismail Mohamed.

“Before we get to spend the third year of the grant, let’s see how it’s happening,” says Mohamed, speaking off-the-cuff in the Joburg winter sunshine outside the Market.

And, theatre after all is a collaborative art, so how better to advance the aims of the incubator programme than to create an event in which collaboration across institutions can take place, both for the incubators, and the incubatees (I just winced as I typed that word, but, this is the creative industries, and language is not exempt)

Besides lectures on creative practice such as directing, writing, design, and acting, the business side of performing arts is also being attended to with lectures on copyright, publicity and social networking scheduled. The incubatees also get a taste of what it is like to put on a show in a festival situation. Each of the nine shows have two performances, one during the week and then they run back-to-back this coming Saturday. For the first show, says Mohamed, they have a few hours to set up, but on Saturday, they have only half-an-hour to get in while the previous show strikes. This duplicates what they would experience on a festival platform should they want to take their work to the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, for instance.

There are also trips to the Apartheid Museum and the Constitutional Court, which Mohamed told a theatre-full of incubatees was scheduled as a lot of their creative work deals with social issues, and the Apartheid Museum and Constitutional Court provide a context for where we come from and what liberties are now enshrined.

He urged the attendees to make the most of the opportunity to rub shoulders with their peers and theatre professionals.

“It’s challenging industry as it is,” said Mahomed, “get to know the directors and publicists from other theatres. Notice who the journalists are who come here. Network, comment, find out the key people in other organisations. If you don’t you’re doing yourself a disfavour.”

Morris said a successful inaugural Trade Fair could unlock funding to make it an annual event, rotating among the five state-funded institutions.

Should that become a reality, the Trade Fair could well become the a conduit for nurturing theatre talent the way the Standard Bank Jazz Festival has nurtured Jazz musicians; pushing them from school level, onto the jazz festival stage and out to the rest of the world.

Although the Trade Fair began yesterday and is chock-a-block with activities today, the official opening and presentation of the Sophie Mgcina Award takes place in the John Kani theatre tonight at 19:00.

— Steve Kretzmann

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