Like everyone else art festivals are trapped in a kind of no-man’s land. It’s a time to think on your feet and make use of all the skills lying dormant. DIANE DE BEER reports on the Klein Karoo Art Festival’s most recent brainwave – a director’s course with the brilliant Marthinus Basson at the helm:

The superb Koningin Lear starring the magnificent Antoinette Kellerman in the title role.

In this time of Covid it is up to artists and related organisations to be creative because no one else is going to do that for them.

And it is interesting to see in these dire circumstances how the innovations keep flowing. If anyone knows how to turn nothing into something, it is the artistic community.

A director’s course for aspirant as well as experienced directors is the latest project from the KKNK (Klein Karoo National Arts Festival).

Marthinus Basson in rehearsals of Koningin Lear

The first (of hopefully many) KKNK/NATi Studio project is a directing course to be presented by acclaimed veteran director Marthinus Basson (Tom Lanoye’s Koningin Lear, Mama Medea and Bloed en Rose and premieres of most of Reza de Wet’s work amongst others), someone who should excite both potential and established directors.

Two things come to mind immediately. Basson, who is passionate about teaching and one of the best in the business, has a wealth of knowledge to impart and what better time, when many of our stages are still closed for viable performances, to hone your skills, whether novice or practitioner.

Their aim (in conjunction with NATi ­ – the Nasionale Afrikaanse Teater-inisiatief) is to add value to the arts as they unlock the potential of promising directors. “The main purpose is to create work for artists,” says Basson.

I was upset a few years back when the University of Stellenbosch’s drama department seemed to show a lack of insight when not doing everything in their power to hold on to this particular lecturer, but this is simply the best news. I can think of many who would benefit and add to their riches with this director’s insight and abundant creativity. It starts with his choice of text, the way he thinks about every production and his knowledge which has no equal.

Tinarie van Wyk Loots in Asem directed by Marthinus Basson.

The 9-month long course will guide participants through a number of texts from different genres and time periods. Basson will zoom in on interpretation, directing and design, concept development, performance challenges for actors and how directors can manage these.

“This director’s course is a wonderful opportunity for theatre makers to hone core skills and critical thought,” says Hugo Theart, artistic director of the KKNK. “And what a privilege to learn from one of this country’s most experienced directors. Not only is he one of our best directors, he is also regarded as one of the best mentors and teachers. It is a rare opportunity and an honour for the KKNK in combination with NATi to facilitate this season.”

Basson himself is nervously excited about the project. “It gives hope in a tough time for the performing arts and offers a welcome opportunity for theatre makers to gather regularly, inspire one another, study a few exceptional texts in depth, dream and think about them while also questioning – and hopefully add passion and fire to the neglected theatre community.”

Tinarie van Wyk Loots in Basson’s Koningkryk van die Diere

Something he is anticipating is gaining the insight of 12 new artists and to get to know 12 fellow artists during the lengthy course. “The first session will probably be taken up by a kind of meet-and-greet,” he says and then they will get stuck into reading the first text. “Everyone has to participate actively. Ideally a directing course should be a live event,” he says and he is determined that it will not be about him giving lectures. “Once everyone has read the text, ideas should determine what follows. People never feel the same about things,” and I suspect, that’s what gets this director going.

Cornelia Faasen, CEO of NATi, says Covid-19 has given them the time to reflect about the fault lines in some productions. “We have had the grace of time to see how to approach these challenges. It is good that the KKNK is tackling projects rather than productions because these are often too expensive to fail.”

She adds that she’s excited about the future of KKNK/NATi Studio projects – as she should be.

At the recent theatre/dance-driven Take-a-STAND dialogues, the desire and need for mentorship was a high priority for young and established artists. And we have a wealth of artists who can contribute with Basson leading the pack.

The course consists of two formal group sessions of between three and four hours twice a month and will be presented online on Sunday afternoons. Live sessions will only start if the impact of Covid-19 allows it

Basson’s children’s production Huppelkind
Picture: Retha Ferguson

The chosen texts will be read and discussed with Basson handing out tasks in preparation for the following session. Already he speaks enthusiastically about some of the selected works. He is, for example, looking at Bartho Smit’s Moeder Hanna in contrast to Friedrich Durrenmatt’s Die Besoek van die ou Dame. And starting out with an Afrikaans translation of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream followed by Die Park by Botho Strauss which plays like the converse. Even explaining his choices already points to the value this course will have for any prospective participant.

With thorough feedback, they will sharpen their critical thinking and heighten their creative impulses. Basson will also be assisted by experienced set designers, writers, directors and actors. He has worked with the best which makes his selection an easy one.

The sessions will start at the end of the month on March 28 and those participating must attend every session.

Financial assistance is available and all candidates must be older than 18 and understand Afrikaans.

Two groups are participating. Twelve candidates will be selected as the core group and they should be involved in the theatre industry in some way. But to stretch the reach of the project, further candidates will be invited to listen in as observers. This is aimed at especially young

talent not necessarily involved in the industry professionally yet and could include drama students.

For more information and to apply for the season, go to kknk.co.za/kknk-nati-studio, or phone the KKNK-offices on 044 203 8600.

Get jumping, the closing date is this Friday (March 19) at noon.