PICTURES: Nardus Engelbrecht

Alby Michaels and Henriëtta Gryffenberg’s 1 starring Cindy Swanepoel and Zak Hendrikz.

Teksmark 2022 was presented at the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town from 24 to 26 August and could be attended by interested parties free of charge. A total of 22 playwrights presented their script ideas and 90 actors and directors participated to present excerpts from the scripts as play readings. DIANE DE BEER spotlights her personal highlights and announces the texts that gained recognition and further development:

It is the storytelling, the distinct voices, the diverse styles and the enthusiasm that turn the tide each year as I watch the artists present their work, perform extracts and show all of us what is on their minds.

While the world seems to be falling apart all around us – locally and internationally – artists do exactly what Nina Simone said all those years ago: An artist’s duty is to reflect the times.

And that’s also what the Teksmark does year after year as the artists come up with work that’s invigorating, pushes boundaries and allows us to makes sense of the world – or at least reflect on it.

It’s been a marvellous innovation on the artistic landscape and especially for theatre (one of the many struggling artforms), it’s a huge boost and an encouraging injection.

It’s fascinating to read 80 plus texts – some just examples of what’s to come and others fully written – to wonder how some of them could work on stage and then to see how the artists  find solutions to present their work in the best possible light.

Actor/writer Jane Mpholo in Fragmented.

It was especially some of the tougher texts that surprised me. Take, for example, Jane Mpholo’s Fragmented. When reading the text, I found it too rambling and sometimes overstating or too determinedly explaining something and yet, dealing with something as urgent as gender violence, probably the most horrific scourge in our society.

She’s a smart theatre maker/writer/performer and she pulled in director Heloïne Armstrong, who a night before the performance, cut, dragged and rearranged the text to sharpen the power of the words and message Mpholo wanted to put across – and all this was the result of Teksmark and the opportunity it offers young artists to try out their work in front of their peers and other interested parties.

Another text, smartly written and in a genre that doesn’t usually have much appeal for me, is Gita Fourie’s Afval, which was also staged at October’s Woordfees.

She has already hinted at things to come with  a text  Mamma, ek wil ‘n man hê!, winning the University of Stellenbosch’s Toneelkompetisie, while Afval already this year won the US Première Teaterfees.

When reading the text, I knew it had the potential necessary to be performed, unaware that it had already received many accolades and a potential run at one of our largest festivals, which was achieved to great acclaim.

Watch out for this dark farcical tale about Johan the serial killer, whose wife is desperate to keep his killer instincts from his daughter, who innocently brings many possible victims home for her parents’ approval.

Two established theatre makers/writers Henriëtta Gryffenberg and Albie Michaels teamed up for a workshopped text written by Michaels under the guidance of Gryffenberg as he combined two fascinations, Greek mythology and the phenomenon of Siamese twins, to explore the concept of marriage in the madness of the contemporary world.

Their’s was the perfect example of a text cleverly realised on stage. Titled 1, the couple Hiss and Hirr, Siamese twins, have grown so accustomed to a life lived in the closest proximity with both needs constantly juggled or compromised, they hardly dare investigate other options – to try living separately for example. It’s smart and the scope of putting this on stage is intriguing. And the wisdom of having someone to bounce off and shape ideas, is a winning recipe.

Another writer who has already proved her ability is Dianne Albertze, who wrote a poem combined with dance, not an easy concept to pull off. But again, she dabbles in mythology in a region of the country that lends itself to this kind of imaginative storytelling.

It’s not an easy text, but she has proved her stage craft before and if she puts in the work, she could pull it off. She has lost her heart to Namakwaland and with the help of the legendary choreographer Alfred Hinkel, her text, which plays with the mythology of the region will be incorporated in a piece that presents the spoken word, dance and multimedia.

She has set aside more than a year and if all her dreams and desires come to fruition, this could be something quite extraordinary, capturing the landscape and the people, all of them off the beaten track and not really part of the theatrical landscape – but one that grabs the imagination and again underlines the potential of Teksmark and everything it achieves.

One of the texts I knew from the start I would love to see on stage is Andi Colombo’s Dying in the Now. It deals with grief in a most unusual and human fashion. How many of us just want to run away when things get tough. It’s not that one thinks that will make the problem disappear but perhaps you can just forget about it – even for a while.

It’s about the gentleness, generosity and probing of the text and the issues it deals with especially coming from such a young yet wise perspective that  makes it exciting.

Ten scripts have been selected for further development following this seventh Teksmark.

An extract from the extraordinary Karatara.

Fahiem Stellenboom, Marketing Manager of the Baxter Theatre, mentioned during the event that Karatara by Wilken Calitz and Shaun Oelf, presented on the Teksmark stage three years ago, is a wonderful example of the success of this project. “Following Karatara’s run at the KKNK, where it received the Kanna for Best Debut, it recently returned to the Baxter Theatre, for a short season. We are very proud to be associated with this production and project.”

Hugo Theart, Artistic Director of the KKNK, confirmed that bursaries for playwrights valued at R150 000 – funded by the Nasionale Afrikaanse Teaterinisiatief (NATi) and the KKNK – were awarded to eight scripts. “Furthermore, we are proud to present a run at the KKNK and Suidoosterfees to one script and to record another script as a full-length playreading.”

Six scripts presented at the 2022 Teksmark were selected for further development. Mikayla Joy Brown’s Jantjies and the Pearls, (which has a new take on forced removals again from a young yet informed place) receives a run at the KKNK and the Suidoosterfees in 2023 and bursaries to complete their scripts were awarded to five scripts: Philip Theron for Babilon, Babilon (and this is his second text in so many years that has been picked), Henriëtta Gryffenberg and Alby Michaels for 1, Wessel Pretorius for Kamermusiek, (which with some thoughtful editing could be a brilliant text), Anele Kose for the heart-wrenching Mhla ndiqala idibana naye and Louw Venter for Albatros, a text that deals with the relationship – or lack thereof – between a father and son, not often seen on stage.

Writer and performer Anele Kose of the extraordinary Mhla ndiqala udibana naye.

Four scripts from Teksmark 2021 have also been selected for further development. Marí Borstlap receives a bursary to complete her script Koning van die Diereriem. Nisa Smit receives a bursary to translate her script Nipped in the butt into Afrikaans, as well as Michaela Weir for her script What happens in Russia … Another Philip Theron text, Die kontemporêre kuns komplot is recorded as full-length play reading by The Playwright’s Laboratory (TPL). TPL is a new initiative that offers an online platform for playwrights to share their work with an international audience.

Teksmark began as a small project and has started to feel like a festival that built its own audiences over the past seven years. We are truly grateful for their support and cooperation of partners like NATi and the Baxter Theatre, as well as other development partners including festivals, theatres, The Playwright’s Laboratory, Suidoosterfees, the Jakes Gerwel Foundation and the Het Jan Marais Nasionale Fonds,” concluded Theart.