Theatre students from the UK and SA are saying it for themselves – on stage

DIANE DE BEER

 

It’s time to update this story which is moving into its immediate end phase. There will be more lasting benefits that linger. I first did this interview approximately a month ago in time for the local performances which I witnessed and now the South African students are on their way to Britain for the performance with ODDMANOUT theatre company, in Darlington, UK. I’ve added current details with impressions of the show as well as kept the relevant info on this amazing showcase for a group of young local storytellers. To hitch a ride with this savvy group, know that the theme focusing on young women and their particular problems and potential was chosen long before this current worldwide focus on #me too in the wake of the Weinstein scandal with others tumbling out at the rate of knots:

Picture: Craig Chitima

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Darlington Khoza, Boikobo Masibi, Sinenhlanhla Mgeyi, Ncumisa Ndimeni and Mathews Rantsoma

Walking into one of the Market Theatre’s new-ish rehearsal spaces in Newtown (more than a month ago), I’m confronted with one of the rehearsals for the latest Market Lab collaboration, Encountering the Other, with ODDMANOUT theatre company, in Darlington, UK.

Twelve young people, six from South Africa and six from North East England,  were in the process of coming together in a few days to create a production exploring the realities and possibilities of young women in the current moment in a global context.

But before they got there, the two groups worked separately in their respective countries  creating as much work as they could through their specific processes which in the Lab’s case was mostly improv. “I think where our processes are very much movement based, the UK works much more from a text based space,” explains The Head of the Market Theatre Laboratory, who is also a director on the project, Clara Vaughan. And she confirmed this once the two groups started working together to shape the final product.

Supported by British Council Connect ZA, it is a creative partnership involving both live and digital performance and a coming together of young actors from different countries who can learn from each other both socially and artistically.

And having watched a bit of what the South African Lab students were doing while rehearsing, I know that their enthusiasm, their particular skill sets and their improv abilities would bring extraordinary energy to the project. I did in fact have to check whether this really was improv while watching.

And in the final production, the two groups coming together is so fascinating because of their different approaches and where they come from. The universality of these youngsters’ world is what they worked with most strongly as they played off each others particular energy.

This project came from a strong sense of the shared values of the two organisations: The Market Theatre Lab describes themselves as a creative hub supporting the development and emergence of talented young theatre-makers and contemporary, socially engaged, experimental performing arts.  And having witnessed their work through the years and the graduates moving on to further enrich our theatre landscape, what they’re doing works brilliantly.
ODDMANOUT was established by North East England theatre-makers, Scott Young and Katy Weir to create work with a strong focus on stories of social change and theatre with story-telling at its heart.

And so the twain met.

In the selection of actors who auditioned, the South African contingent split into an equal gender mix, three men and three women: Ncumisa Ndimeni, Mathews Rantsoma, Sinenhlanhla Mgeyi, Darlington Khoza, Tumeka Matintela and Boikobo Masibi.

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Ncumisa Ndimeni, Sinenhlanhla Mgeyi, Mathews Rantsoma , Boikobo Masibi, Darlington Khoza and Tumeka Matintela

“We simply selected them according to the best auditions,” notes Vaughan. But what that particular mix meant in the rehearsal context, is that both the women and the men benefited in particular ways while exploring issues. “The women for example were surprised that the men had as many body issues as they did,” she says. It also meant that the men were much more aware of sounding sexist. “But we’ve tried to create the safety of a playful environment which will encourage everyone to participate and learn,” explains Vaughan as she includes her fellow director Jacques De Silva.

Because the British contingent were all women it also meant that the three South African men added a distinct flavour to the piece representing both genders while focusing on female issues.

Following two performances of Encountering the Other locally last month, the South African team fly to the UK on Friday (November 17), to host a series of workshops on specifically South African theatre-making techniques with the budding actors from the North East of England. This will be followed by a one-off performance of Encountering the Other at the newly restored Darlington Hippodrome on 27 November.

And they should knock their audience’s socks off. They did ours!

And says Clara Vaughan, the shows with mainly young audiences went fantastically and the Q&A sessions afterwards were vibrant and exploratory.

When last we spoke, she was hoping to make a detour to London for these first-time travelers but she had to find funding. Contact her urgently at clara@marketlab.co.za if you can help.

 

 

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