We drove through the gates of a super-packed Somkhele Mine in Mtubatuba, Richards Bay, in the early hours of Tuesday 19 February. It was not the ordinary kind of day, when one would hear drilling underground, and see trucks coming in and out of the yard carrying loads of anthracite, and buses queuing to collect workers ending their night shift.
In and around a 1,000-seater tent in an open field outside the mine offices, workers and managers gathered in numbers to witness the unfolding of a mystery play they had been invited to watch. Most people were sitting quietly, waiting in anticipation to find out what was so special about this day, but quite a number of them loitered outside the tent, wondering what would happen next.
As we walked around the back of the tent, a certain lady in the audience noticed some familiar faces in the cast, and screamed: "Ama celebrity, hawemah kuzoba mnandi-ke la", meaning: "I see celebrities; we're going to have a good time here." Her announcement caused the audience to suddenly start giggling and pulling out their camera phones. Now, the mood was really set and the audience was expectant.
Mr Johan Gloy, Chief Executive Officer of Somkhele, addressed the audience before the show. Within a few minutes, he was done. Then, to much laughter and applause, Hamilton Dlamini (the lead actor in the story) walked from the back towards the centre stage, greeting members of the audience on his way. The show had begun...
Developing the play
Somkhele Mine had a particular message to deliver to a specific group of people, and the theatre piece was specially created to address this need in an informative, engaging way. In consultation with our client, the creative team at Blue Moon came up with the play's concept and wrote the script to inspire the audience to work together to uplift their community and the mine. Using a healthy dose of humour, the 30-minute play was performed for over 800 employees as well as the public, in eight performances over eight days.
Originally written in English, the script was translated into Zulu. In the process, in order to resonate with the Zulu audience and embrace their point of view, an essential shift took place in terms of the way things were reflected and expressed.
Far more than a mere platform for management messages, industrial theatre needs to be carefully researched to take specific cultures into account; way of living, the smaller things that people do and say in different settings, and tone of voice are the most crucial elements to solidify.
Blue Moon made a sound decision to engage a Zulu-speaking writer, who grew up in KwaZulu-Natal, to head up the creative writing process from translation to stage, because no-one else can better understand an audience than someone who is part of that group of people.