The Artscape Theatre Centre will be taking two of its Fleur du Cap nominated 2016 New Voices Programme productions, ‘in (s)kin’ and ‘Syria?’ to the National Arts Festival (NAF) in Grahamstown this June.
Each of the productions received critical acclaim for writers Mbongeni Mtshali, who created ‘in (s)kin’ and Faith Kinniar, who wrote ‘Syria?’. Both Quanita Adams, who directed ‘Syria?’ and Mtshali, who directed ‘in (s)kin’, were nominated in the Best New Director category at this year’s Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards. Mtshali won the prestigious award.
Both productions will have five performances in the Gymnasium from June 29 to July 3. ‘in (s)kin’ runs at 6pm nightly, followed by ‘Syria?’ at 8pm nightly. Tickets are R80 and available at Computicket, for those planning a theatre holiday at the end of the month.
Peter Tromp caught up with Mtshali on the eve of the great trek to Grahamstown.
Tell us about the Artscape “New Voices Programme”, which you participated in last year and which resulted in you having quite an impact on the theatrical landscape. What’s the internal structure and process like, for instance?
The New Voices Programme is an exciting opportunity for “new” theatre makers to create new work in a professional environment that also permits the kind of creative risk-taking and theatrical experimentation that the everyday economics of the theatre industry often cannot sustain. After a rigorous selection process, participants in the programme are assigned a mentor – a noted professional in the industry – who guides and advises them on the work as it takes shape. I found this level of support very useful, as I had an outside eye I could bounce ideas off of as I worked. It helped that we had a properly sick studio to call home for six weeks as well: a rare treat indeed.
Tell us about ‘in (s)kin’ and its genesis, as well as your message(s) with the play.
Like most of my work, ‘in (s)kin’ began in several different places, and was cobbled together from various bits and pieces that, until I started consciously working on the production, I had not necessarily conceived of as part of anything larger than themselves. The idea evolved out of a queer oral history installation project that I began working on in Chicago under a grant from the Other Foundation. I had been toying with the ideas that this particular iteration of ‘in (s)kin’ focuses on for a research paper I intended to write based on that preliminary work; some of that language and its tenor (or rather, its critical stance) appears in the piece. My father had also recently passed away (I think it will always feel recent in some way) after nearly a decade of decline due to early onset Alzheimer’s, so I was thinking a lot about memory, the passage of time and all of those other things that the loss of a loved one brings into such sharp focus at around the same time. This ended up being the grounding space for the entire thing: remembering after loss, and trying to make sense of who we are and how we become ourselves.
You won the Best New Director Fleur Du Cap for ‘in (s)kin’ earlier this year. What does that recognition mean to you and do you feel any pressure to live up to the honour that was bestowed upon you?
It means the world! Given that the project (whether intentionally or not) became something of a homage to my father, it was particularly gratifying to have this work be the first thing for which I was publicly recognised. My parents gave so much of themselves to get me to where I am, and this recognition feels like a recognition of their monumental labour of love as well.
And yes, of course, there is also the pressure to keep up the momentum, and to not disappoint; to be relevant, and fresh; and to continually strive to reach people and enter into conversation with their lives.