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July 13, 2021

Young performers develop new work exploring language and identity in schools

by Faye Kabali-Kagwa

Thetha/ Talk/ Praat is a movement piece that explores the difficulties of expressing identity in formal education when children are not taught in their home language. The piece focuses particularly on the impact this has on their sense of belonging. The concept for Thetha/ Talk/ Praat was initially pitched by Nasfa Ncanywa to Lolwethu Sdumo, Margo Kotze, and me at the Toyota US Woordfees’ Artist’s Week in April. Over the course of a few days the team of four developed the piece into a short 7-minute exploration. I thought that this would be a great project for ASSITEJ South Africa to support through development. Other artists told us that the piece resonated strongly with them, and I thought it had the potential to resonate strongly with South African school children. With funding support from the African Culture Fund ASSITEJ South Africa was able to employ six women theatre professionals to flesh the piece out into a 30-minute production that was shared with a small youth audience for feedback and engagement. We held three showings at the Masambe Theatre between 25 and 26 June 2021.

Jaqueline Dommisse joined the team for this iteration as the director and dramaturg. Jaqueline is a director, puppeteer, and educator. In 2017 and 2019 Jaqueline was appointed Festival Director for Cradle of Creativity, ASSITEJ South Africa’s international festival of theatre for young audiences. When asked about her involvement with the current iteration she told me that she found the work compelling and “felt there was potential to take the original performance proposals further.” Together with Lolwethu and Nasfa the went “backwards, analysing each beat” and she encouraged the performers to further develop the original impulses. Jaqueline noted that “the two performers have different strengths and we worked on further developing their individual performances to emphasise Nasfa’s acting background and Lolwethu’s dance expertise as well as to refine the sections where they move together with more clarity in the choreography.” 

When I speak to Nasfa she tells me that the time working on this piece supported her in the development of her voice as an individual artist and to claim space in the process of creation. Nasfa is a recent UCT graduate and currently works as an intern at the Masambe Theatre. In 2020 she directed Faniswa Yisa in Monologues from the Future for the Malibongwe Women in Theatre Festival, and in 2019 she directed Lomzimba Uyavhidla at Theatre Arts, a well-regarded independent theatre in Cape Town. When I speak to Nasfa she says that “For the longest time, especially at drama school, I have always been the one who does not ask questions or does not add when seeing something missing but just work at home”. She goes onto explain that would come back to her peers with proposals but felt she was limiting her creative expression due to her insecurities which often stemmed from language. In this creative process Nasfa was able to incorporate both her theatre and music backgrounds making room for her speaking and singing voice. 

Finding the language for this piece according to Lolwethu “was more exploratory than planning. The language came from the feelings.” Lolwethu, a fourth year Indoni Dance Company trainee, remembers that the four of us had shared different and yet similar experiences in our school journeys. It was in showing how these feelings felt in her body that Lolwethu began finding the physical language. When Vuyolwethu Nompetsheni was brought in she wanted to respect what had already been created by Lolwethu and Nasfa. She saw her role as “enhancing, questioning, filling in spaces that felt empty, by stretching, blocking but also leaving room for the artists to breathe in the work”. Vuyolwethu is a 2018 JazzArt Theatre Dance graduate and now works as an independent dancer, choreographer, and teacher. 

However, Vuyolwethu’s contributions were more than just dance based. She did make one other important contribution, the inclusion of the song ‘Ixhegolekula’ by Ma Madosini to the score. “When one hears her music, they are immediately taken and transported to a space of wanting to know their roots”, Vuyolwethu tells me. She felt that the piece needed a powerful sound to compliment the movements. She found this song particularly apt because it is from the album Power to Women “which on its own is a statement, and “the work is performed by two beautiful women, who are questioning language and Identity.” The rest of the piece is scored through a soundscape created by Margo Kotze who was named one of the NATi Jong Sterre for 2021. Sound editing is not something she was trained in but was rather something that she picked up during lockdown. “I would go into my closet and record children’s books and then edit animal sounds like a monkey or a sheep or magical sounds in the background or whatever just to practice how to record in a home studio, which was a closet at that time” she confesses to me. This production was the first time she had ever used her sound skills in a professional production. “It was quite exciting making something for a specific goal in mind where previously I would just make things for fun” Margo said of the entire experience. 

CREDITS

Concept: Nasfa Ncanywa, Lolwethu Sdumo, Margo Kotze, and Faye Kabali-Kagwa based on an original idea by Nasfa Ncanywa
Content & Performance: Nasfa Ncanywa and Lolwethu Sdumo
Choreography: Vuyolwethu Nompetsheni & cast
Director and Dramaturg: Jaqueline Dommisse
Sound Design: Margo Kotze
Photography: Chris de Beer-Procter
Videography: Reven Moodley 

With thanks to 

Theatre Arts
Masambe Theatre

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