Teksmark Delivers Powerful Storytelling

yanaPictures: NARDUS ENGELBRECHT

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The narrator in Fresh Meat by Zac Fleishman

 

In four years Teksmark, a concept thought up by Hugo Theart (artistic director: Kunste Onbeperk) and supported  by Cornelia Faasen (CEO of the Nasionale Afrikaanse Teater-inisiatief NATi) as well as Lara Foot (CEO and artistic director  of the Baxter Theatre Centre), has gone from strength to strength. Nothing emphasised this more strongly than the last session at this year’s event a few weeks ago. DIANE DE BEER reports:

On the programme four diverse productions, four stories and four genres, all offering challenges to the actors and the audience.

If the idea is to promote theatre (which must be top of the heap), develop South African stage plays and create a platform for writers to showcase their ideas and scripts for possible further development by interested parties, including independent funders, festivals and theatres, it’s a runaway success. Every year the input expands and the products excel.

The idea at the start was to grow Afrikaans playwriting and to create new plays for especially festival stages – with work that would eventually travel to more traditional stages. But with the Baxter’s support, last year Foot encouraged the further expansion of allowing different languages to participate. This includes all the official languages.

This arguably has had unexpected value, not only in the broadening of storytelling possibilities but also in discussions between what in this country is still problematic – different groupings. It is especially exciting because in general those participating are young. This allows them from an early age to participate in complex conversations and hopefully in the future, collaborate, as some stories become South African in a more inclusive way.

Telling our own stories  in our own language, as the Afrikaans festivals are well aware of, is critical but can sometimes be isolating. This particular stage by flinging open its doors has expanded the storytelling notion into something quite exuberant as the different voices engage, start     conversations and listen to the stories of others – some with many similarities, others not so much. All of this is, apart from anything else, also an exercise in getting to know one another.

Theatre can do that best – and it is the right time. Embracing one another is much more enriching than the other way round. We have tried that with disastrous results – for everyone.

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Gretchen Ramsden (front) and René Cloete in Herschelle Benjamin’s Agulhasvlakte.

First on the agenda that final morning was budding young playwright Herschelle Benjamin’s Agulhasvlakte, set in a bio-diversity hotspot where many endangered flowers are at risk of becoming extinct. It’s the story of two sisters, each extinct in the eyes of the other, who are trying to reach out.

He deals in issues of climate change, land reform as well as sibling rivalry and relationships. It is beautiful work by a young cast, René Cloete and Gretchen Ramsden, who should be kept when the play is developed. But the foundation was the exquisite text.

Benjamin, who studied drama at the University of Stellenbosch and has been firmly entrenched in the arts on many different levels. He has been writing plays constantly these past few years and this one in particular, has stepped up a level. It’s about the story and the language, a young man who feels confident enough to take on two female characters, and a play that should travel, is hugely accessible and tells a story so unique yet universal.

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A scene from Fresh Meat by Zac Fleishman.

One almost felt sorry for the plays to follow but fortunately, each one brought its own magic. Zac Fleishman, a young man standing firmly on his own two feet but with a surname bristling with theatre history, played with the macabre with a futuristic feel and a story that stretches the mind, always an exciting prospect in a theatrical sense. Who doesn’t want to walk out of a theatre changed?

The text plays with themes of desire, taboo, order and dirt. The writing started with a desire to make historical research and concepts more visible and digestible outside of academic journals and official institutions. With his background, he knew this would be theatre and storytelling. He is currently busy with his Honours in history and playwriting, which means more good things in the future. And to see this particular one play out is an intriguing prospect.

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Wian Taljaard and Nicole Holm in Roosmaryn by Ben de Vos.

From one thrill to the next, Beyers de Vos’s Roosmaryn is exactly that. His debut novel reached the Sunday Times fiction long list this year and similar achievements seem possible with his playwriting debut. While he is sticking to crime themes, that’s the only similarity. Writing dialogue was novel for him, but with a lively imagination and a creative writing Masters to his name, this was a blast.

He described it as “a bloody tragedy about ghosts, trauma, guilt, a racist penis and the consequences of violence”. He also had the bonus of Nicole Holm as the protagonist, someone who knows how to grab a stage majestically.

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A scene from Karatara by Wilken Calitz (musician and writer) and Shaun Oelf (choreographer and dancer) with Shaun Oelf (sitting), Grant van Ster (looming) and Dean Balie as narrator.

Karatara was the perfect conlcusion of three days of explosive debut dramas by emerging and established playwrights. Dealing with the catastrophic Knysna fires where nine people from the Farleigh community lose their lives close to the Karatara River, this was described as a community’s loss through a combined narrative of dance and drama.

On first reading the text, it held huge promise but was also one of those scripts that could go horribly wrong. But it didn’t. Wilken Calitz (musician and writer) and Shaun Oelf (choreographer and dancer), who comes from that area, combined magnificently and magically. And for the future, they have hit a rich vein.

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Gideon Lombard and Emma Kotze in Maansonde by Philip Rademeyer.

Directed by Gideon Lombard, who had earlier given a bravura performance in Philip Rademeyer’s MaanSonde, it was the perfect mix of emotions and movement, narrative and intuition.

It’s a slam dunk of what theatre can accomplish when creativity is allowed to blossom, when theatre makers care and are encouraged, when the platform is an exciting but safe one, and set up for young theatre makers to experiment and learn.

Those of us watching were reminded of the power of live theatre, of telling our stories, of reaching out and coming together.

That’s why theatre will always flourish. As old as the mountains, telling stories keeps renewing itself while communicating in a way that’s as familiar as it is novel, as comforting as it’s challenging, as revolutionary as it drowns you in riches.

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The Boy from the Mountain with playwright Thukelo Maka and Kwindla Pearl Antony.

And these weren’t the only young voices to resonate. It was just that the four pieces in their differences had such impact played together in one session. Others during the run included Caitlin Wiggill with her glorious stream-of-consciousness A Prayer Group Called Water Wings; Lwanda Sindaphisa’s I Will Teach You How To Share The Milk zooming in on domestic workers and their two sets of “children”; gay marriages and their all too recognisable problems in Rafiek Mammon’s hilarious Marry-Go-Round; Philip Rademeyer’s disturbing Maansonde; Veronique Jephtas’ brilliantly scathing and personal take on the hair issue in My Kroon se krank; Thukelo Maka’s ritualistic exploration of death in different culutral groups in The Boy of the mountain; and in conclusion Wessel Pretorius’s Valskermstories based on Pascual Wakefield’s personal narrative on dealing with a diagnosis of testicular cancer at the age of 20. He also stars in the production.

Bring it on in 2020!

 

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