After accepting an award for Best New Theatre at the recent Fleur de Cap, Lara Foot delivered this immortal statement: "I appreciate this acknowledgment. But when I accepted an award in 1991, the crowd was as white as it is tonight." And the usually confident veteran director, started to shake.
I could attempt a joke now: "Like seriously dude, I am trying to show you okes something special". But no quirky, or grand, sentence can remove a stigma or change apathy. Fortunately, for Lara, you okes and everyone else, the Zabalaza Theatre Festival might just be able to - while kicking your teeth in with joy.
"We're playing games, but we're serious" said PR and finance man Bongile Mantsai. Since its initial launch in 2011, artistic director Thami Mbongo, festival co-ordinator Zoleka Helesi, and Bongile have been hard at work to ensure that they deliver a festival that exceeds expectations.
Zabalaza features 14 original productions making their mainstream debut at The Baxter. The experience can best be described as punk; as in D-I-Y, not academic and unpredictable - in all the good ways imaginable.
No experience and no training
Bongile Mantsai, Zoleka Helesi, Thami Mbongo
"Most of the performers have no previous experience, and no training - other than a few pointers here and there," added Mbongo. "And the stories were written by them, not professional scriptwriters. They are all a result of improvisations in workshops the performers participated in."
The efforts are rewarding, each story is unique. In Growing Spaghetti, a science-fiction comedy, a struggling woman invents a way to grow spaghetti. The news spreads quickly as strings of pasta grow uncontrollably to devastating proportions.
But the real magic on offer is a rare experience. In most of the plays, the performers make us feel that they've witnessed the script in real life, several times over, and can give us an exact duplication.
An example of this is Temptations, about a young boy who passes the point of no return. His mother screams, "No, God, please, no!" And in a few seconds, the consequence of his father's abusive actions reaches a conclusion with a sharp instrument.
The tragedy transpires into a dark ritual of witchdoctors, cries from mothers and tears from a sweating father, torn apart with disbelief. It ultimately asks the questions about the society we are building and how children follow the paths parents have created.
Ignoring established viewpoints
Thabo Mbeki and other Nightmares
An important point, considering that most Africans are traditional and something new only comes from ignoring established viewpoints. Think rock 'n' roll. However, the stories Zabalaza offers don't negate the golden rules of ubuntu culture, especially the one on respecting elders. Nor does it attack post-apartheid. Rather, it seeks an identity with in those parameters. In doing so, it evokes the extraordinary: young people finding the potential to create the future.
The festival might not have all the answers. If anything, it's the first successful start in our attempt to find ourselves right now, and it's good entertainment. Zabalaza leaves you feeling uncomfortable and exhausted with a distinct emptiness. But it ultimately fills you with hope, that joy and understanding when the sun rises again over Mama Africa. And it offers a gift to the new world: proudly South African originality - unprecedented and impossible to imitate.
Zabalaza Theatre Festival is on daily, from morning to evening, until 30 March at the Baxter Theatre. For more information, go to baxter.co.za
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