New voices alive and well in SA theatre

New voices alive and well in SA theatre

As a theatre critic and a person who has, through the years, contributed to the creation of new work (and work opportunities) for young thespians in the city it is interesting to see where our young talents’ minds are at. A few weeks ago I wrote about the very young (schools) drama competition that was already encouraging enough to identify young acting talent.
Two incidents underpin my thoughts for this week. They are linked, and perhaps fortuitously so, so that I may write my few lines about “new voices”. And this time it is more about the all-encompassing theatre maker – from writing to producing and all in between.

The first association is the advisory committee that I serve on for Arstcape, called “The New Voices Programme” – one that affords theatre makers the opportunity to apply to have their work produced at a festival of new writing in October. We had our selection meeting on Friday last, and in preparation for that meeting we had read close to 30 shortlisted scripts, and all of us filled out a standardised report that we compared at the meeting.

The main purpose of the meeting was to whittle them down to the top four that will become the staged work. Needless to say, it is an onerous task as each of us rooted for the ones that we thought had the edge over others. Long story short – it did make us think and debate what constitutes new voices in this day and age of our country’s development and it certainly gave us insights into (especially) young theatre makers’ minds. Questions such as: to what extent do the four chosen ones represent the history of our country?

Do we only go for fictional stories or do we need an oral history that documents our rich past, which, to date, on our stages, largely constituted white people’s histories? And how do we bridge the gap between the languages etc etc. These are important questions, as we want to identify marginalised voices. I may not say anything about the results but I can report that I am happy with the decisions…so look out for these new productions in October, and please support them.

The second part of my concomitance with new voices was at AFDA’s Experimental Festival, showcasing their students’ work in film, television and live performance. I was asked to be a critic of the fourth years’ play that they are taking to the Grahamstown Festival next week. And again, I was gratifyingly reminded that our young, fresh voices are alive and well…they just need the right vehicles through which (and through whom) their voices can be heard and their immense talents can be expressed. I saw ‘Confession Sessions’ directed by Megan Furniss as workshopped by the four students who wrote and acted in it. And what an awesome foursome they are. Stories woven together so slickly, where pathos and parody coalesce with ease, much like hatred and love live side by side in one heart, like the proverbial yin and yang.

Now remember, these are young students – early 20’s. It is billed as an “experimental” piece of theatre and still, the text is as erudite as any professional production and their performances as meritorious as some of our finest out there.

The process was encouraging. Two theatre critics were asked to be the “external eyes” before it goes off to The National Arts Festival and to lead a Q & A following the performance. The four sat at the foot of the stage and adeptly answered questions the audience had regarding their production.

Even more inspiring, was that the Dean of the school was at the performance, also asking her questions as an ordinary audience member.
As I drove home from Observatory on that cold, wet evening, I thought: If this is where we are heading with young people, new voices and theatre, then half the job is not only done but in very competent hands. Perhaps now we need to turn our attention to the people with money to invest in these productions, and to developing appreciative, yet critical audiences that will raise the bar even further.