Protest theatre alive at Cape Town Fringe festival

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Within a few days, theatre-makers from across South Africa will gather in the city for the Cape Town Fringe festival to stage stories of protest, provocation and pure entertainment.

Seventy-one productions over 11 days at venues across the city will reveal thoughts about contemporary society and its usual collective angst: sexuality, race and politics.

Xenophobia, as an ongoing conversation in the local and global context, makes an appearance too at the second edition of what intends to be an annual event.

Cape Town actress and director Natalia Da Rocha brings Afrikaans writer Adam Small’s thoughts about life under apartheid to the stage at the Cape Town Fringe Festival. In the show ‘Adam Small BeJazzed’, younger audiences especially are introduced to the writer who used his pen against apartheid. Picture Supplied

Cape Town actress and director Natalia Da Rocha brings Afrikaans writer Adam Small’s thoughts about life under apartheid to the stage at the Cape Town Fringe Festival. In the show ‘Adam Small BeJazzed’, younger audiences especially are introduced to the writer who used his pen against apartheid. Picture Supplied

The heartening part, for myself as one of the festival selection committee members, is that theatre-makers are vigorously interrogating realities. They are not aloof to voices around them. And they are talking back.

This is heartening because during my recent interview with legendary actor and director John Kani the question came up on whether protest theatre was alive.

Kani recently was in Cape Town to show his anti-apartheid masterpiece, Sizwe Banzi Is Dead, at the Baxter Theatre.

Kani acted in this play during apartheid and his son took up his role in the recent run.

During this interview, Kani shared the belief that protest theatre would always be alive as long as theatre-makers questioned and challenged the status quo.

So, yes, protest theatre lives on. And it will be on stage at the Fringe, even if not in the form of blatant anti-apartheid style sloganeering.

Ismail Mahomed, the Fringe’s artistic director, believes fringe theatre gatherings “give us the impetus to engage the arts to heal ourselves from our past, to unravel truths about our current challenges, to envision hope for the future and to sometimes just temporarily escape into oblivion”.

It is a noble intention as the city readies for summer with its onslaught of vulgar entertainment cashing in on festive season overspending.

Mahomed believes the Fringe festival, as others of its kind, “give us the freedom to test the limits of our liberty”.

“It is an affirmation that our artists remain committed to investing their talents to raise debates that are relevant. They have the boldness to be creative and experimental even when arts funding can be challenging for them,” he says.

“Fringe artists can be seething. They can be rebellious. They may be young and have no money but they are the investors in how we envision and shape our future.

“This isn’t rocket science. It’s the historical nature of how the arts has always spurred society to move forward. In our society which is at a crossroads that is once again grappling with our past legacies, our current challenges and how we shape our future.”

The festival’s organisers say in a statement they want to be “encouraging the audience to re-think any biased views they may have as opposed to scolding them for having those opinions”.

Politics past and present on the line-up include ‘The Politics of Love & Femininity… Black Hair & All That Jazz’ as well as a theatre production about Afrikaans writer Adam Small.

‘Black Hair’ employs indigenous African instruments, such as the marimba and djembe drums, and aims to be a theatre piece that is “thought provoking and than socially aware”.

“Taking into account the topics of gender, race, class, identity politics and such, the script has been written to bring honesty to its surroundings without being offensive. Provoking without hurting.”

Cape Town actress and director Natalia Da Rocha brings Small’s writing to the stage with music.

In ‘Adam Small BeJazzed’, younger audiences especially are introduced to the writer who used his pen against apartheid.

‘Blood Orange’, a dance and physical theatre piece, meanwhile “tells the story of a young white boy, who grew into a young man during South Africa’s turbulent, exciting and sometimes confusing transition into a young democracy”.

Its synopsis informs the “character provides some interesting insights and observations of the various demographic characters which punctuate South Africa’s diverse landscape”.

With these and other voices, this year’s Fringe shows that theatre-makers are not only relevant to their society. As usual, they are an essential part of it.

For more information log on to the website http://www.capetownfringe.co.za.

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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