All roads lead to theatre discussions

By Rafiek Mammon

We’re in Durban at the moment – at the National Aquatics Championships. That would include diving, swimming and synchronized swimming. These are the competitors who are looking for spots in the Olympic teams – they need to clock up specific times, and really show their worth at this championship in order to book a seat on the flight to London. And the whole affair is very serious. There is an announcer who really takes her job ultra seriously – not getting a syllable wrong, and really wielding her power. I wish there was a way to share this woman’s dedication with you in more graphic terms but alas, you are going to have to take my word for it…

Then, while at the championships we met a very interesting paramedic who spent most of his free time with us. He should actually be a comedian. He is a white boy from Pietermaritzburg who speaks Zulu fluently, and he is really funny with a genuine interest in theatre, especially comedy.

And, as is the case with many people who take a serious interest in theatre and where it’s heading in this country (and in our city), he often asks me what I consider to be topical for our theatres at the moment. What should playwrights write about now that we have a near-melting pot of cultures? Now that we have achieved the freedom nearly everyone so gallantly fought for? What are the significant stories that should be depicted on our stages? And, more importantly, do we have enough playwrights who are telling these stories? These were some of the questions he asked me.

Truth is, we do. But first, allow me a slight parenthesis.

Just recently a friend and I spoke about Cape Town’s growth and sustainability of theatre. Who still runs the main and the fringe venues? Who’s employing and/or exploiting whom and at what ridiculous rates etc. etc?

It dawned upon us that the lure of fame and the fortune, rather than the heart and the soul of theatre, too often sway young talented individuals away from it. The ones who continue to create theatre are the ones who desperately love the theatre as if it were an appendage that they will not have disunited from their beings. And we do have a few such youngsters in the city – gifted and sanctified with the ability to write and to tell pertinent stories. The ability to create is one of the most precious chattels a human being can hope for. That, and the ability to love. Theatre people often combine these qualities. That is when theatre becomes magic.

Three-two-one, and I’m back at the poolside.

So, what stories should our playwrights be writing about? If we had a dedicated set of playwrights whose job it was to only write plays, then we might have been allowed to dictate to them what they should be writing about. As it is, our playwrights have regular jobs and write plays as moonlighters. And it’s because they love doing so, and because they believe they have something to say. And we should thank them for it. Perhaps all we need are more such people.

We should be running more indigenous writing competitions and workshops and more theatre festivals to encourage and nurture a new breed of young thespian. I know, we need currency and we need what is tantamount to a renaissance. History is not yet satiated with enough examples of revivals. We can take our place among the best in the world if we wanted to. We don’t always have to feel like we’re playing for the ‘B-Side’. And, if sport can do it, then so can the arts. They are constantly looking for new talents for the provincial and national teams. Should the arts not be doing the same? And should these young talents not be developed into our national heroes? This way, we can have the fame and fortune seekers playing along equally with the ones who are passionate about it. The result will find the best of the best competing and the thriving of theatre. Anyone interested in an investment opportunity?

I am encouraged when young brains permeate a city and a country’s creative heartbeats. And, even more sanguine when the skilled older folk take them under their wings and guide them. Perhaps with the all-important roots and unconditional wings they will find a collective identity that will define the artistic future of this country.