Text: Siyabonga Sithole
Photograph: Supplied

Excitement coupled with nerves and intensity ahead of the 26th edition of South Africa’s biggest community theatre showcase, Zwakala Festival was perceptible for the cast and crew of the four short-listed stage productions as each team got down and dirty preparing for the big day of the festival.

The opening night set for Friday (November 9) at the Market Theatre will be dedicated to brief presentation of each stage production’s leading scenes, coupled with a Q&A session. The second and third day of the festival (Saturday and Sunday) will be earmarked for the actual staging of the four plays under scrutiny. It would seem the judges of the festival will have their work cut out for them, deciding on the overall winner, but as things stand, all the directors and stage personnel have been doing a good job taking in notes from their mentors.

Culture Review visited the Wits University’s Museum and Centre for Preforming Arts where two of the festival’s stage productions, The Pilgrimage directed by Nash Makobane and What Was is No More, directed by Hlubi Nontlana Radebe were going through their final round of rehearsals, respectively. As expected, both emerging directors were hard at working taking their cast through the paces and fine tuning sense and performances of their cast.

There was a great deal of intensity, grit and symbolism as the cast of The Pilgrimage which is a coming of age story tackling issues of femicide, and gender issues finalised their performances and scenes following weeks of rehearsals and last minute changes to the story line.

In between takes, and to keep their spirits going, the cast would burst into song and dance, while the director and his team agonised on minute details of the performances by timing the scenes to gauge the level of preparedness.

“As you can see we are hard at work and the preparations are slowly getting there. We do not want to focus too much on the competition, because that will take away from our story. Ours is to tell the story and make sure that our core message is communicated through the performances. I think even if we do not win the competition, we should still be able to take our story to the people. That for me is important,” Nash said.

At the Wits Performing Arts Centre, team What Was is No More led by Radebe were also hard at work getting the cast in top shape. The team which rehearsed over seven hours were forced to halt their rehearsal and look for alternative space as they had gone over their allocated rehearsal time. After 30 minutes of hard negotiation, an alternative rehearsal space was found and the show got back on the road with Radebe agonising over important transitional scenes which included nicely fitting in music/song to the intense dialogue and performance on stage.

“We just need to make sure that our performance carries us through and that we maintain consistency between each scene,” Radebe told his actors after a series of takes.

In a bid to make the festival more manageable and attractive, this year, the Market Theatre trimmed festival down to four community-based theatre companies instead of the usual eight productions showcasing new works that have been shortlisted from the Kolapeng Showcases.

“Community theatre festivals are a creative barometer of the social, political and economic tensions in South Africa. The productions reflect and mirror what is happening in the South African communities. It brings to the surface what young people are grappling with in their communities and in their daily lives”, said James Ngcobo, the Market Theatre Artistic Director.