If you’re looking for something completely different at this year’s US Woordfees (March 1 to 10), check Theatrerocket’s new productions in their latest DEURnis season:
DIANE DE BEER
If there’s one thing that the production company Theatrerocket has proved in its short existence, its that those of us who follow theatre must pay attention.
No one would have given much of a thumbs up to one of their first and probably edgy productions dubbed DEURnis. It just sounds silly – one-on-one theatre!
But they had an idea and they were determined. DEURnis is a one-on-one site-specific theatrical production with a very intimate yet cutting-edge and experimental approach. It involves a single audience member who views three separate dramatic pieces per package (there are four different ones to choose from at Woordfees this year), with each of these having one performer and one audience member.
Each piece is approximately 20 minutes long and written for a particular room/space in a house/building, so as a viewer, you move from one room or even caravan to the next to see your three chosen plays.
It is the social issues that permeate the different works that affect individuals in different ways depending who you are. And for those who aren’t interested in gimmicky theatre, that’s exactly the trap they have avoided by aiming for excellence and substance in the texts. Some will suit specific individuals better than others.
Personally I’m not too excited by the more confrontational ones (there’s usually one that’s slightly more out there in a package), but then other audience members might feel differently.
“We have been inundated by people interested in writing for this venture,” says Johan van der Merwe, who with Rudi Sadler started their production company Theatrerocket a little more than two years ago.
Both theatre fanatics of a kind, they know and understand the pitfalls and what audiences want.
Part of why DEURnis works so well is because it is such a well-executed concept. They understood from the beginning that the control had to be constant to see that everything works superbly. And as they have had many plays to choose from, they have managed to execute their strict code of excellence.
It’s a fascinating experience, being the only one in the room in situations with a stranger telling a story that is often inclusive rather than too intrusive but affects you as the viewer in very specific ways. For many it might also be uncomfortable to be this intimate with someone you’re not familiar with. But if you think about it, it makes it easier that you don’t know the actor.
This is not a financial venture for the company. With only single actors and audience members, the numbers simply don’t add up. But because of the way it has been done, the performance-experience the actors (at this stage mostly young but older actors have joined for this latest venture) accumulate, can’t be calculated.
And chatting to a few of them in-between performances, they are equally thrilled by how much they are learning in the process. “Each performance is different because of the reaction of the individual viewing,” says one performer. Many of them are already in their second play and the growth is obvious in their performances as well as the play’s toughness a second time round.
Prospective directors are also excited about the challenge and safety of testing their skills on such a small and intimate stage. “It’s a safe environment in which to experiment and push your own boundaries,” says Van der Merwe.
Having sat through two nights of 12 plays (even a dance with multi-media included), it doesn’t matter which package you choose. They’re all extremely well crafted and in sometimes scary ways, fun to experience. Following the earlier seasons, I was excited because of the great potential – and they keep delivering.
“We have been inundated by especially writers who find the format exciting and challenging,” says Van der Merwe and they have also expanded their initial idea with a new concept titled DEURnis 20-voor 2.
This time it is two actors with an audience of 20. Described as an unusual site-specific theatre experience, it is aimed at the adventurous theatregoer. “We are exploring the limits of theatre in a creative way,” says Sadler. A ticket gives you access to two pieces, each approximately 45 minutes long.
These will be staged in The Grappa Shed while the one-on-one plays are performed at the Quiver Tree Apartments in Stellenbosch.
From their earliest days, these two theatre aficionados knew what they were doing. They also realised that it wouldn’t be easy and had no romantic visions about making theatre. Theirs is a true passion, almost the only thing that keeps people pushing through the pain.
With DEURnis for example they have found a sponsor but the financial gain for everyone is minimal. Many of the actors though have been spotted and pulled into more lucrative theatre and television work and that is why it probably appeals to a younger performer who can benefit from the experience.
Last year they were rewarded with a kykNET Fiësta and an ATKV-Woordveertjie as well as being nominated for best production at Aardklop. Their other more traditional play, Die reuk van appels with Gideon Lombard was as richly rewarded.
And if I have to pick a favourite from this year’s batch, it would be Ignatius van Heerden and Droom. The dancer/choreographer has done something remarkable with movement and multimedia which easily transports its audience-of-one to another magical world.
That doesn’t detract from many of the others with sassy texts and performances, which will have you intrigued and sometimes intimidated but also excited about the way theatre finds ways to explore new directions which will hopefully appeal to those who don’t go to more traditional theatre – and then show them the way.
* For more information, check http://www.woordfees.co.za