It was time for the annual Teksmark presented by the Klein Karoo Arts Festival (KKNK) with the support of the Nasionale Afrikaanse Teater Inisiatief (NATI) and The Baxter, almost as 2021 was bowing out. DIANE DE BEER reviews:

PICTURES: Nardus Engelbrecht

A scene from Jane Mpholo’s The Dawn.

It’s one of my favourite events because of the voices that emerge and the insights gained about what some theatre makers (established and emerging) are thinking at this time.

And at this time has more meaning than in any time because of the state of the world – on many different levels. We’re now fully emerged in a pandemic that doesn’t want to leave and the way this has impacted those who want to tell stories or find writing therapeutic (or whatever drives particular playwrights) is fascinating.

It is also the diversity of the participants, not only in age and gender but also in race or cultural group – all of which have an impact on the stories they tell.

Teksmark is an initiative started by the artistic director of the KKNK, Hugo Theart, because he wanted to encourage new writers to feed the festivals of the future. But as the event became more and more established, everyone agreed that they had to expand with the the inclusion of  all the official languages. This has made a huge difference which throws up many different issues, with language, claiming stories and diversity all part of the mix.

As I wrote last year, a clutch of debut plays are selected for possible further development and short extracts are featured by selected directors and casts.

For me the impact was felt in a quiet confidence that emerged strongly this year. It was as if young voices (especially of black and brown writers) have claimed their stories. As one of the participants remarked before presenting her play, in the past, it was as if they were explaining themselves to white people.

This time she wanted to write on blackness. That’s a huge shift in a country with our past, and everyone benefits. The more people show their truth, the more understanding and empathy is fostered, one of the strengths of theatre and storytelling.

Staahn Uit die Water Uit by mercy Kannemeyer (left) and Semels by Miandra Hayward.

A good example of this was two plays on domestic workers. The one came from a white perspective (Semels) which has been the more traditional route in the past and the other (Staan Uit die Water Uit) tells a story of a domestic worker who dies in a car accident together with her white employer, which results in the return of the coloured daughter who wants to collect all her mother’s belongings.

All these voices have legitimacy, but it is time to hear the authenticity of the voices of the previously disadvantaged as they share their point of view about their lives – not as seen through the eyes and lives of others. And that’s the difference.

The other growth element that has become part of the annual Teksmark is that many different playwriting endeavours are included, enriching the overall experience and encouraging the different disciplines to reach out to one another – to learn and grow.

Part of this is a series of plays from the Suidoosterfees Nati Rising Star Project. These are young playwrights who attended a writing school in the Eastern Cape led by Abduragman Adams through the Jakes Gerwel Foundation.

 The Stellenbosch University Drama Department Première Atelier is another participant with the Woordfees initiative Theatre Writing Laboratory which offered writers an income with the aim of providing better-quality new performance-ready texts adding further depth, with two of their texts in the final selection.

The project has also been expanded with Teksmark Oudtshoorn, specifically focussed on delivering stories from the region and providing a platform for storytellers and writers from the town. An international sister project called Tekstmarkt also came to life bringing writers from South Africa and the Netherlands together to develop stories for international audiences.

Sleeping with the Enemy by Lwanda Sindhaphi.

Navigating this world that is still taking shape as the shackles of apartheid are loosened but not yet cast away, one of the returning playwrights, Lwanda Sindhaphi, presented us with dilemmas that are specific to those who were forced to live in specified spaces in the past. Perhaps the title, Sleeping with the Enemy, gives a hint of things to come but many different issues are at play.

From the obvious sleeping with the enemy when moving out of the township to the different stances towards this apartheid-designated living space, it’s always fascinating to walk in the other’s shoes  ̶  especially when lives are both physically and mentally so far removed, as is often the case here.

Sindhaphi writes about himself and his people as he highlights stories that many of us would never have thought of or experienced. Theatre is such an amazing space to navigate these kinds of stories – for those who share them as well as for those who discover new ways of looking at life and our fellow countrymen.

Stephren Saayman’s Dankie, Maar Nee Dankie.

In similar vein, Stephren Saayman’s Dankie, Maar Nee Dankie approaches coloured stereotypes from an hysterical vantage point as he has three middle-class families entering a competition to select three perfect coloured representative families for the perfect rainbow nation. This should already have you giggling and gasping as he subtly shows up the audacity of those telling the stories of others and in the process turning to stereotypes.

Nipped in the Butt by Nisa Smit (left) and What Happens in Russia… by Michaela Weir (right)

Two young playwrights, Michaela Weir (What Happens in Russia) and Nisa Smit (Nipped in the Butt), had as much fun with their smart words on stage as when discussing their work. They both underlined the strength of spirited plays with a youthfulness that is wise, witty and wonderful.

Wessel Pretorius (left) and Wilhelm van der Walt (right) in Philip Theron’s Die Kontemporêre Kunskomplot.

A personal favourite was the brilliant and insightful work by Philip Theron, who previously worked in film rather than on stage. His text, Die Kontemporêre Kunskomplot was as inspired as his casting and direction with the state of play between Wessel Pretorius and Wilhelm van der Walt pure joy to watch. It was comic timing to cherish and something that should be recreated for the future.

Other pieces ranged from an unusual portrait of Beyers Naudé (Oom Bey, My Pa by Henque Heymans) in conversation with the former activist’s daughter, to a searing interplay (in Blood Bonds by Vuyokazi Ngemntu) between Steven Biko and the 12 year old African American Timor Rice who was shot by a policeman because he was carrying a toy gun, to two community driven pieces, Jane Mpholo’s The Dawn, which explores gender-based violence, arguably the biggest scourge in our country, in innovative and powerful fashion and Heloine Armstrong’s Maanskyn en Dorings, which investigates the impact of mental health problems and how it affects individuals.

That’s just some of  the diversity and delights of the annual Teksmark, which grows and expands each year and excites everyone who participates and attends. It’s an artistic injection in a time when everyone is scrambling to keep the industry alive and even if many think this is impossible, it’s the only way to keep moving – one step at a time.

And for the arts and storytelling that has always been enough. Or as the Non Executive Chair of the KKNK, Crispin Sonn, said in his opening remarks: What we need is resilience and tenacity.

It was seen here in abundance.