If you don’t know anything g about the Market Theatre Laboratory in Newtown, it means you haven’t been paying attention. Some of our top talent in the acting world – from directors to actors – come from this rich and diverse training school established as a training and development arm for the Market Theatre. DIANE DE BEER spoke to the head of the Market Lab, the innovative Clara Vaughan about their latest endeavours and plans for 2018 and it’s all systems go right from the start with all kinds of new plans being hatched and executed:
The big news at the Market Theatre Laboratory in 2018 is the launch of a new drama company, in collaboration with the Windybrow Arts Centre.“We’re currently busy with auditions,” says Clara Vaughan, head of the Market Lab, who hopes that for a few of their graduates (from the past five years), this will function as a bridge at the beginning of their professional lives.
“For actors there are no structures in place,” she argues and especially for the newbies, this is a tough ask at the start of what is usually a taxing if rewarding career choice.
The company which will be based at the Windybrow Art Centre, will consist of six young people, four from the Lab and two from other institutions. Vaughan is excited, for example, that two of the UK actors who had participated in the Lab/UK collaboration have also applied.
The Market Theatre Foundation has appointed Keituletse “Keitu” Gwangwa, daughter of legendary SA jazz musician Jonas Gwangwa and social activist Violet Gwangwa, as the head of the Windybrow Arts Centre. She will be running the company with Vaughan and the Market Lab contributing to programming, partnerships and operations.
The Centre has been given a new lease on life as a division of the Market Theatre Foundation since April 2016. The once-mothballed theatre has been refurbished and now brands itself with the tagline “More than just a theatre” to reflect the changing nature of the space including as a base for the newly-launched drama company (still in search of a catchy name).
The programme for the company will be one of productions as well as workshops and teaching opportunities and the aim is to select six people who have the skills to work without outside intervention, while certain exciting individuals will be introduced on specific programmes.
One of these already in the planning stages is the current recipient of the Julie Taymor World Theatre fellowship, with the founding principle to provide travel opportunities for enterprising young theatre directors to immerse themselves in artistic experiences beyond the US borders thereby expanding their creative horisons.
He will be doing The Comedy of Errors with the company in collaboration with PopArt.
They are also looking at a site-specific work to investigate the history of this historic landmark building that will become their home for a year.
All kinds of collaborations are already envisioned with, for example, Gerard Bester and the Hillbrow Theatre Community Centre.
Vaughan knows that working in the same area both geographically and philosophically, they want to make sure they are complementing rather than replicating services. “There’s such a need,” she says and that’s what they hope to serve.
Similarly, the actors will benefit from the teaching experience – as some of the Lab students already have when participating in the Hillbrow Theatre’s Inner-City festival, discovering their skills and love for directing, for example. “One of our students co-directed the winning production last year,” she notes.
These are just some of ways the students and graduates are guided gently into the industry where possible. It also opens learning experiences for those who will become part of the company to work with one company of actors for a full year in a diversity of projects, the value of which should not be underestimated and something that is regarded as a necessity in the industry in order to learn, develop and grow.
The other expanding enterprise at the Lab is the acting class for anyone over 16. “It is so over-subscribed,” says Vaughan which tells her that there’s a need out there for affordable classes which is what they’re offering. Theirs is a 12-week course every Saturday and it attracts people from across the board – race, gender and age. “The diversity is exciting,” says Vaughan who explains that anyone – from those acting in soap operas (“sometimes the production house pays”) to individuals who have always wanted to act but have never had any coaching – can apply.
For the Lab, it is a way to generate money for other projects as well as invest in growing their audiences.
What they have realised is that audiences who are invested in the acting process are loyal and interested in what they do. “It’s as if they suddenly care about acting and it’s not just someone randomly attending one of our shows. They’re invested which means they will keep coming back.” That, she believes, is a terrific way of building and establishing their audiences.
But they also learn, and some stay on for more courses after the first round having decided to tap into this rich vein of experience that so many have benefitted from in some way in the past.
In the meantime, there are the Lab students who will be working on exciting projects while learning their craft. Vaughan has for example obtained the services of Andrew Buckland who will be working with the students. Like with Leila Henriques who directed the successful Hani, The Legacy, she feels it’s important to use the resources available to them. “Just think of the skills we’re tapping into,” she says as she points to people like Dorothy Ann Gould and others, all who have invested in the Market Lab over the years.
Another avenue Vaughan is keeping on point with this year is international collaborations having witnessed what their UK experience taught her students last year. “It’s been amazing to witness,” she says. But also, to watch and see what they experience and how they internalise everything they have learnt.
This year she’s hoping to work with the Market Photoworkshop on a collaboration, a New York Instagram outfit with the handle Everyday Africa. It seems like the perfect fit and will bring new horisons for them to master and hopefully turn into yet another great learning experience for the then soon-to-be graduates which they can again pass on.
That’s the important thing about the set-up at the Market Lab. While there’s only immediate opportunity for a few, every student that walks through those Newtown doors can reach a much larger audience on many diverse levels.
That’s why a director like Leila Henriques waxes lyrical about her experience with the students. They understand how many lives they touch.
Viva theatre and storytelling, viva!