Living legend given his flowers  

The entertainment industry greats paid tribute to one of South Africans great actors, John Kani at his birthday celebration. 

Award winning actor, director, playwright, and Wits honorary doctorate receiver John Kani celebrated his 80th birthday in a packed theatre. The celebration took place in his namesake, the John Kani theatre, in the Market Theatre laboratory on August 30.  

The event was opened with a performance by the South African jazz musician Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse, followed by an address by Atandwa Kani, his son and an actor in his own right. “We all here to celebrate this big man’s birthday on behalf of the family, I just want to say tata, happy birthday Mlotshane,” he said.  

Atandwa Kani performing The Island. Photo: Aphelele Mbokotho

The Van Toeka Af living legends recognition series is an initiative by the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture’s which recognises living legends and the work they have done. Dr Kani’s 60 year career in the dramatic arts played out on stage.  

The celebration included different snippets of theatre work that Kani had worked on and won accolades for, among these performances was the infamous Sizwe Banzi is Dead, performed by Atandwa and Nathienal Ramabulana on the night. The play co-written by Athol Fugard, Winston Ntshona and Kani, explored the themes of identity, self-worth, racism, and suppression.  

This is the play that won the Tony Award for the best play in 1975. It premiered in October of 1972 and ran 52 times in New York, winning the award three years later.  

Kodwa spoke fondly about Kani and the work he has done for art and how he has used art to inspire change through his work during the apartheid and post-apartheid era. “He is the living testament to the power of art, to inspire change, to transcend boundaries and to foster unity,” he said. 

Another outstanding theatre performance of Shakespeare’s Othello was performed by Atandwa, Kate Liquorish and Michael Richard. In 1987, Kani’s role as Othello, in particular the infamous kiss shared with Desdemona (a white woman) in the play, faced backlash. The kiss came just two years after laws prohibiting interracial marriages and sex were repealed by the Apartheid government. But segregation was still so ingrained, that many audience members walked out during performances reported the Chicago Tribune at the time.

Atandwa Kani and Kate Liquorish performing Othello. Photo: Aphelele Mbokotho

Kani wrapped up the evening with a performance of a play he wrote called “Nothing but the Truth” which looked at the relationship complexities between the black people that stayed in South Africa and the ones that went into exile.  

After his performance he made a speech on the importance of sustainability in the arts. “We have to industrialise the arts, it cannot be a side job because we don’t want to do a BSc [Bachelor of Sciences], it has to be a business, an industry that I can tell my children yes because you’re going to survive, make money and be rich.”  

FEATURED IMAGE: John Kani sits down to have an interview with Wits Vuvuzela. Photo: Nonhlanhla Mathebula


Tea for Two: A surrealist take on finding one’s identity 

Witsies showcase their play on the highly coveted virtual National Arts Festival’s stage 

Tea for Two is a deeply personal interrogation of the complexities of understanding your identity as a young adult.  

Zion and the Voice embracing one another after they had worked through the mind maze. Photo: Supplied

The surrealist play, which was created by two Wits graduates, Nqobile Natasia and Reatlilwe Maroga was performed at the virtual National Arts Festival at the end of July. 

“As passionate creators, we have poured our hearts and souls into this production,” said Maroga, as she was explaining their feeling of elation on being accepted into the biggest annual celebration of the arts on the African continent.  

Meanwhile, Natasie, who is now feeling a lot more confident in their work said, “It was a tough journey [to get in], but extremely exciting”. 

The 35-minute play follows the protagonist, Zion – played by final year dramatic art student Mmangaliso Ngobese. She is a young professional, who finds comfort in their strict routines and self-imposed rigidity. However, Zion falls asleep one day, only to wake up in a deliberately confusing dream world – their own mind.  

Here, they encounter a character known as The Voice – played by second-year dramatic arts student Sazikazi Bula – who seemingly looks like Zion. Together, they navigate through and make sense of this confusing “messy mind maze,” by confronting Zion’s deepest thoughts, emotions, and identities, said Natasia.  

According to Forum Theatre, surrealism is a style of performance “characterised by its use of unexpected, often illogical, scenarios or images to create a dream-like atmosphere on stage.” 

Natasia said that they chose to use surrealism because it allowed them to visually put the audience in the protagonist’s head space; with much of the open-endedness left on the viewers to make their own conclusions. The most positive feedback I got from people is they resonate with the play, explained Natasia. 

The themes of the play are self-introspection and identity, focusing on the complex and often confusing journey of self-discovery in your own chaotic minds. 

Natasia said that everything on stage was “modelled after my brain – with all the chaos and absurdity.” 

The set, which represented Zion’s mind showed this chaos. There was a yellow bench in the front of the set, signs reading “Messy Mind Maze” and “Teens” with tin cans scattered on the floor. Most notably were the red threads intertwined, which Maroga said they were symbolising the brain; and like the mind, “everything is connected”.  

“This play tells us that we are not alone…as messy as (our) minds can be, we can work through it” continued Maroga. 

The lead actor, Ngobese said: “You realise that (like most of us) [Zion] is someone who suffocates themself in their mind all the time… as humans we bottle things up for ourselves and we are unaware of the damage we do to ourselves”.  

Overall, it is a powerful play which leaves the audience wondering how they have dealt and will deal with their own struggles with identity as they resonate with the piece.  

FEATURED IMAGE: The poster of Tea for Two advertising their appearance on the virtual National Arts Festival. Image: Supplied


REVIEW: Keeping play and art alive in the city

The exceptional childlike fusion of art forms enabled the audience to have encounters with our material conditions through art.   

Created by the renowned Jade Bowers (director), Lebo Mashile, Tina Redman (performers) and Yogen Sullaphen (musician), the site-staged work took to Nugget Street outside the Windybrow Arts Centre in Hillbrow from April 20 till April 22, 2023. The theatre work was produced by the University of Johannesburg Arts and Culture division and the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study (JIAS), and aimed at young audiences although with a broader appeal to people of all ages.  

Bowers, Mashile, Redman and UJ Arts and Culture students created childhood experiences of living in Johannesburg with all their innocence, naivety and boundless play. 

In a press release, UJ Arts and Culture said that Breaths of Joburg was part of a “larger research project that considered creative writing and site-specific theatre as tools for engaging urban publics in dialogue about every day, ground-up, place-making in city spaces”.

Lead researcher Alex Halligey told Wits Vuvuzela that a “smaller model of the research project asks the questions of how we use creative arts, how you can see something in the city and write a poem about it”.  

The Windybrow Arts Centre mostly draws in young people coming from school who use the centre as a place of play and diversion from the stresses of living in the city. Promoting access to art for everyone, Breaths of Joburg enabled the audience to have encounters with our material conditions through art.  

The performances, which were outside the arts centre, attracted children coming from school, students and adults, who lined the wall fence, settled on the pavement and on the theatre’s steps that lead to the street to resemble a theatre in the round.  

Using short and immersive acts, the actors took the audience to a Johannesburg familiar to me – from late night encounters to the vibrant economy of the city run by street vendors, hairdressers and taxi drivers who can take you almost anywhere in the city. 

This Johannesburg is Sindi’s and Babes’ world, two little girls played by Mashile and Redman respectively. The production used plastic beer crates as props and the performers’ creativity to create this world and the characters’ transition from childhood to adulthood. 

Babes (Tina Redman) and Sindi (Lebo Mashile) perform for an audience of schoolchildren at Windybrow Arts Centre. Photo: Mbalenhle Dlamini

“The show is about them (Sindi and Babes) travelling through the city. They want to learn how to make money, and we are those adults,” Redman told Wits Vuvuzela.

The actors had tough conversations with the audience as they explored themes that could be deemed complicated for young children to digest such as crime, death and sex work. However, Redman and Mashile and the student actors gained the young children’s attention with animated singing, dancing and hand-clapping games. 

Mashile captured the audience with her spirited spoken-word performance while the rest of the cast huddled quietly around her, moving in ways that symbolised air and a flowing river. She spoke about how Johannesburg was land that had rivers and fed its people before “they” (colonialists) “discovered” gold. It was an effortless transition of the child into the world of adults that they were trying to convey. 

After the three-day run at the Windybrow Arts Centre, Halligey said, “We are looking for funding to do Breaths of Joburg again and opportunities to do projects that are similar to what we did with Breaths of Joburg.”

Vuvu rating: 9/10

FEATURED IMAGE: Babes plays a monster chasing Sindi around the streets of Joburg. Photo: Mbalenhle Dlamini


REVIEW: The Old and Beautiful return to the stage 

A fantastic performance riddled with anecdotal but relatable scenes, tied together with beautiful music, making it a must watch for theatre lovers. 

Wits University School of Arts lecturer, Fiona Ramsay and pianist Tony Bentel perform at the Iyabuya iPOPArt festival to showcase their talents and successful careers with over 35 years in the South African entertainment industry. 

The talents of Ramsay and Bentel’s Old and the Beautiful, helped wrap up the festival as the final act on March 30 and 31, 2023, at the Red Roof Theatre in Milpark. The festival had a three month run from January 2023, with performances from a range of artists at various venues.  

Wits School of Arts lecturer, Fiona Ramsay and pianist Tony Bentel smiling and posing for the camera on stage with a spotlight lighting up their faces before their Old and Beautiful performance at the AFDA Red Roof Theatre in Milpark during the Iyabuya Festival on March 31, 2023.
Photo: Georgia Cartwright

The show opened with a spotlight centered on Ramsay surrounded by props of head statues bejeweled with fancy gems indicating wealth, with Bentel playing an upbeat tune. The pair then moved quickly into the next scene with jokes about how covid-19 gave people the ability to hide their identities because of the thousands of masks that were purchased, a joke received with loud, unmasked guffaws.  

Ramsay and Bentel put on a show filled with humorous anecdotes related to the covid-19 pandemic, unemployment, loadshedding, gender inequality, and the unavoidable fact of getting old. The dynamic duo made reference to the well-known works of Marianne Faithfull and singing “Maybe this time” in their reenactment of the Broadway show Cabaret

Each scene in the performance draws upon different issues people face in South Africa while adding a witty twist to create the ultimate form of escapism. The show begins with, “Who doesn’t want to be rich,” a song about struggles artists face when looking for work and the reality of unemployment in the arts industry. The stage props help set each scene with props of clown noses worn by Ramsay and Bentel to indicate that the real jokes are themselves for believing they could have successful careers in the arts but that their optimism, along with a little dope, helps them cope. 

While the show deals with dull, often depressing topics, it also manages to make light of these issues through a satirical lens. When asked for their thoughts by Wits Vuvuzela, one audience member called it, “depressingly humorous”. Ramsay brings unique characters to life, such as Denise from an old age home in Welkom, who is staring “death” in the face while reliving her memories. The soundtrack to this is a mix of dramatic and calm classical music played by Bentel, which perfectly scores the emotional scenes as they unfold.  

The stage is set with props and rugs from Bentel’s lounge, the stage of the pair’s first performance together eight years ago.  Ramsay describes their act as a “satirical look on the madness of life,” and says that “if you don’t laugh, you get too stiff and serious but if you laugh, you are able to escape a little and move forward.” 

The lighting changes for each scene and seems to reflect the emotions felt in every act – blue for the sadness and loneliness felt when getting old and red for the frustration brought on by loadshedding and potholes. Each scene tells a story of its own while adding the razzle dazzle qualities associated with theatre, a truly spectacular experience.  

When asking the event organiser, Hayleigh Evans said the show exceeded her expectations, and going forward she hopes, “[Having] a live and consistent, permanent program where performers can thrive”, will bring people together.  

Ramsay and Bentel are currently both working on projects of their own but plan on having many more magical performances together in the future. 

FEATURED IMAGE: Wits School of Arts lecturer Fiona Ramsay singing during her performance of the Old and Beautiful at AFDA’s Red Roof Theatre in Milpark during the Iyabuya Festival on March 31. Photo: Georgia Cartwright


Wits graduate joins Nordic journal’s editorial committee

Wits school of arts graduate has been appointed as a new member of the editorial committee for the Nordic Journal for Artistic Research.  

Wits dramatic arts graduate Eliot Moleba was appointed as the newest member of the editorial committee for the Nordic Journal for Artistic Research (VISin Oslo, Norway, on April 22, 2021. 

Moleba completed an honours degree in dramatic arts in 2011 and has a master’s in critical diversity studies that he completed in 2016, both at Wits. He is currently working on a doctorate in theatre directing, which he began in 2019, at the Oslo National Academy of Arts. 

VIS, the Nordic research journal is biannual digital journal published as a collaborative initiative of the Stockholm University of Arts and the Norwegian Artistic Research Programme. They had an open call, from February 23 to March 10, for two new members to join their editorial committee of seven.  

Johan Palme, editorial project manager of VIS, spoke to Wits Vuvuzela about the selection process. “We were extremely happy to receive 54 applications from every inhabited continent, including renowned professors from significant educational institutions,” he says. The steering committee at VIS then sorted the applications into a short list for the first meeting, and decided to offer the position to Moleba. 

Palme says the new members are required to select themes for topics in the journal. They collectively select and provide editorial feedback on expositions published in the journal. The position as member of the editorial committee usually lasts for two years. “The members are expected to put in about 80 hours a year, where reading and reflecting on the submitted expositions form the vast majority of the work. 

Moleba is currently developing a new play called Dreamcatcher. Photo: Provided

Moleba (33) told Wits Vuvuzela that to qualify for the position, it is a prerequisite to have strong art practice and be well acquainted with artistic research, preferably across several disciplines. He has worked as a scriptwriter and head writer for several children’s television shows and has directed and written theatre plays, some of which received residency in Germany, France and Wales. He has also facilitated creative workshops around the world, which he says influenced how he thinks and makes art. 

He is one of the founding members of Play Riot. He was writer and director for theatre productions Sophiatown (2019), Pondoland (2014) and Sizwe Banzi is Alive (2011), to name a fewHis television experience includes scriptwriting for Siyakholwa and Rivoningo, both children’s TV shows.   

Moleba grew up in Mokopane, Limpopo where his passion for storytelling started at a young age“Back in those days we did not have TVs, so I would often sit with my grandmother listening to news and stories on the radio. Because he did not have the best memory for remembering all the details of a story when chatting with friends, he would fill in the gaps by making up his own story. “Very often people would love my version of the stories because they were slightly different,” he says.  

“My academic and creative interests are located at the intersection between old and new South Africa, and how it shapes or affects young people.  

Moleba does not discount that his residency in Norway may have influenced VIS’s decision, saying it is expected that new members are somehow affiliated to and familiar with artistic research within the Nordic context. “It probably helped that I am not only based but also working within the context,” he says, and adds that he hopes to bring a unique perspective to the table and to broaden the scope of questions and concerns being addressed. 

Palme says VIS is thrilled to have Moleba on board: “He is not only an excellent representative of the vibrant arts and academic world of South Africa but also a sui generis(unique) incredibly valuable writer, artist and thinker.”    

FEATURED IMAGE: Eliot Moleba is a former resident dramaturge at the State Theatre. Photo: Provided



Transforming lives through theatre is no child’s play

The National Children’s Theatre is an old establishment shaping the futures of young artists.

LITTLE FEET stomp on the wooden floor above me at the National Children’s Theatre’s (NCT) during Saturday morning workshops. The old wooden ceiling below them squeaks, simulating their excited voices while revealing it has stood the test of time. It’s intriguing how an old building, a Johannesburg heritage site, has become home to the nurturing and development of youth’s theatrical talent.

It is 9 o’clock on a warm and cloudy Saturday morning at the NCT in one of Johannesburg’s wealthier suburbs, Parktown. The theatre consists of two houses separated by a parking lot for staff and visitors. Children aged 3-17 are being dropped off at the theatre by their parents. Some parents wait with their children until the workshops start. Others wait in the parking lot with their car doors open and seats laid back. The oldest children go to the main theatre. There are 12 of them, six boys six girls. All classes rotate around different skills: physical theatre, music and dance classes, all lasting 40 minutes each.

I arrive at the building housing the main theatre. The house is overcrowded with props overflowing from their storage rooms into the downstairs passages. The stuffy smell from the props, along with the creaking floors and staircase, remind one of the age of the building, as youthful and joyful screams can be heard from the main theatre, which is roughly the size of a classroom. Half the theatre is taken up by a stage with stained white tiles and dull green curtains.

OLD WORLD CHARM: The room where the audience congregates before shows.

The dusty and creaking stairs lead me to the theatre. The children are playing their own version of musical chairs where the music – South African hip-hop – doesn’t stop. Each person rushes hastily to fill a seat. There’s a rather shy-looking, tall, young man with a black puffer jacket on, this hot morning. While the rest run and scream at each other to fill vacant seats, he merely jogs in between to eventually fill a seat.

The young man’s name is Clayde Peterson. His father and grandmother are in one of the cars in the parking lot waiting for the workshops to end. At the end of the music class, the last 40-minute class for the day, the children from all classes make their way out to the waiting parents. It is raining. It begins to thunder as Clayde and I make our way to his father and grandmother. A little girl of about four years old cries hysterically at the clap of thunder, desperately searching for an adult to run to.

WATCHFUL EYE: The NCF’s emblem displayed in the waiting room.

As we sit on a dusty, stained couch in the veranda of the second house, Clayde’s father, Clayton Peterson, reflects on the personality of his son. The large, yet gentleman, says Clayde, has been coming to the theatre workshops for four years.  

OPEN DOOR POLICY: This heritage building houses the main theatre which holds an audience of about 100.

“At [age] nine he told me he wants to act. I went on the Jozi Kids [website], saw an ad and booked him for a holiday camp [with the NCT],” Peterson says. “He loves acting. He’s more involved by being here. His social skills have improved. He was very reserved to interact but now it’s much easier for him,” the 46-year-old says.

Clayde adds, “I’ve been more open and wanting to talk to people and learning different accents…I’ve been trying to get better at what I do here.” Neither as quiet nor shy as he had seemed at first, Clayde is rather outspoken, to my surprise. “The most significant thing I’ve learnt is to project my voice so that everyone can hear you. When I practice, my grandmother always tells me that she wouldn’t be able to hear me if she was sitting at the back,” the young Peterson continues.

HONOURS: A wall displaying the awards that NCT founder, Joyce Levinsohn, has amassed throughout her time at the theatre.

“He likes to watch different YouTube videos, practise acts and different accents,” Clayton says, and, chuckling, adds, “Sometimes he gets it right, sometimes he doesn’t.”

Clayton says that he likes to bring his son to the theatre. “The focus here is on the individual as opposed to school. At school there’s no time to focus on the individual. Since coming here, he’s been much more outgoing and willing to try new things.”

 Although Clayde is learning to act at a theatre, he hopes to pursue an onscreen career. “I would love to pursue a film career. For me it’s interesting. There’s lots of takes. With theatre you cannot make mistakes,” the young actor-in-training says.

Chief Executive Officer of the NCT Moira Katz, refers to the theatre as an educational children’s theatre. “Our motto is transforming lives through educational theatre,” she says.

The Petersons’ experience of the workshops reflects the objectives of the theatre as expressed by Katz. “We strive to transform children’s lives through theatre,” she says. “Our children’s lives have been changed and they’ve found a home. This especially for sports-orientated schools with artistic children. They have found a place in the theatre.”

Katz took over the NCT in 2012, succeeding Joyce Levinsohn who had run the theatre since she started it in 1989. Levinsohn had been involved in the world of children’s theatre from when she gained qualifications in the field in the 1950s (Encyclopedia of South African Theatre, Film, Media & Performance, 2018). At the time, Levinsohn took a chance, through her housekeeper, to educate black teachers about a technique called, ‘Theatre in Education’. The theatre has kept to this approach to this day.

Theatre in Education has earned the NCT recognition. The work done at the theatre saw it winning the prestigious Naledi Awards five times, the most recent being in 2016 for the musical, Khokho’s Treasure. The play is about the death of an old man who has left behind a suitcase of treasure. The lesson is that not all rewards are monetary. Fitting enough for the NCT, Khokho’sTreasure was heritage that was transported through the music of the likes of Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela and Johnny Clegg.

RECOGNITION: The theatre has won numerous awards.

The incorporation of the fun side through learning is a consistent element in the production and teaching at the theatre. While the children may enjoy the approach to learning, the teaching doesn’t come across as strongly. The trainers are recent graduates from university, mainly the University of the Witwatersrand. To an observer, the workshops seem to lean more towards a Saturday social activity rather than training in theatre.

The NCT carries with it a rich architectural history. The first building, Ridgeholm, is a white single-story house with a thick black strip covering the bottom fifth of the wall. The house marks the first time that Cape Dutch gables were used in Johannesburg. It was designed by architects Leck and Emley and constructed in 1902 for an attorney, Richard Baumann, who served on the committee responsible for the return of the British after the Anglo-Boer war (The Heritage Register, n.d.). Today it houses the administration of the NCT, a small theatre and music room. 

The second, and asymmetrical, double-storeyed building was designed and constructed on the same grounds over a decade later in 1913. The house was designed for a Mr Gregory who was a messenger of the court, who lived in the house with his wife until 1931 (The Heritage Register, n.d.). Both houses boast large bay windows. The municipality purchased the property in the 1970s with the plan to demolish the buildings and build the M6 motorway, but instead leased it out to the NCT for 50 years.

The plays reflect the edutainment approach. Eleven-year old Angelen van Heerden attests to this, saying that she started attending the workshops shortly after seeing a play at the NCT. “I came to see Pipi Longstockings two years ago as my friend was in it. The play taught me that it’s okay to be yourself. Pipi is a strange girl and she’s okay with it. Sometimes if you’re like everyone else, you’re a sheep. That’s what my mom says.I don’t like to be like everyone else. I feel like I’m being a sheep.”

Van Heerden says she feels more at home at the NCT than she did at her previous dance school. She says she was pushed too hard and felt as though she was not ready to be where her instructor needed her to be. “[At the NCT] they’re friendly, they don’t take everything so serious. It’s a nice environment. I like the fact that it’s more chilled.”

HISTORY: The blue plaque marking the National Children’s Theatre as a Johannesburg heritage site.

Media liaison officer Sydwell Koopedi, who has a background in musical theatre, has been with the NCT since 2004. His work is more on the public relations side. Koopedi describes his job as being inclusive of press releases and bookings for upcoming shows, arranging auditions, organising casting briefs, liaising with agencies, confirming bookings with schools, organising tours and sending out advertisements.

He says he faces challenges with the advertising since newspapers such as The Star did away with theatre sections. He adds that a lack of funding has negatively affected the theatre’s advertising.

Koopedi also assists with funding, as the NCT is a non-profit organisation that relies on funding and ticket sales. Tickets cost between R100 and R120 and can make up to R8 000 on a full-house. The National Lottery and Department of Arts and Culture are the major funders of the NCT. Koopedi’s duties include writing up budget reports, collecting invoices and filling out forms. “Its about four to five files,” he says with pride.

As he continues, his colourful character brightens against his black and white outfit. “I do tours. This year we did My Children! My Africa! for grade 12. It’s for setwork. When we’re doing our social programmes, I’m the one who books the schools and ensures that everything is booked: what time they get there, who to contact when they are there. So, it’s quite a lot!” he says as he shares how underprivileged schools are challenging in terms of organising, paying and communicating with the theatre.

A five-minute walk up the road from the theatre is the Netcare Park Lane Hospital. A security guard there, Sandile Mdluli, says that the area is not safe. “During the week it’s busy and quiet on weekends.”

I found this to be true. The narrow Junction Avenue where the theatre is situated has barely enough room for cars to drive through, because of cars that are usually parked on both sides of the street. On weekends, however, parking is the least of one’s worries. There seem to be more of the patrolling security guards for the corporate buildings between the theatre and Park Lane, and the French-speaking car guards than parked cars.

“This is a high risk area. They steal cars like no-one’s business,” says the 37-year-old Mdluli. “We’re next to Hillbrow and Alexandra. Since the car guards got here two years ago, it’s been better. They used to steal one or two cars in a week. Now it’s maybe a car per month,” the Servest guard says.

Mdluli says that to tackle the crime problem, the security guards from Park Lane, Wits Junction (Wits University student residence), Life Brenthurst Clinic, Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital and security company ADT communicate regarding security related issues. He says that it is mandatory for them to help each other out to curb crime.

Although there are safety concerns about the area where the theatre is situated, it has become a home away from home to some children, a treasure for children’s arts. However, the heritage houses do not portray that image. Old, dusty and cluttered, the houses need to reflect the work being done inside, otherwise they just blend in with the surrounding rundown area.

While the weekend workshops set the theatre apart from other youth centres and theatres, the lack of focus on the skill in some of the workshops needs addressing. The NCT may struggle with funding, but to its credit, the theatre has been consistent in ensuring that such issues do not affect the children, reflecting the safe place and home that the theatre has become to many children.

FEATURED IMAGE:  The room where the audience congregates before shows. Photo: Onke Ngcuka.


969 Film Festival


FESTIVAL: “Hamlet” one of the productions from the 969 festival was chosen among the top 20 shows selected from the Grahamstown National Arts Festival. Photo: Zelmarie Goosen

Joburgers looking for a taste of the Grahamstown National Arts Festival have until Sunday to plunge into 969 festival at the Wits Theatre.

The festival showcases 20 of the top performances from art festivals main stages as well as the fringe.

Wits Theatre director Gita Pather called 969 festival a success with sold out performances all week. She said organising the festival is a lot of hard work but her job is made easier because she selects productions only from the Grahamstown festival to bring to Wits.

“This university is about collaboration, about pushing the boundaries of the work we do in whatever we do … and the Wits Theatre is about providing an incubator for new talent,” Pather said.

One of the key changes made this year was moving 969 festival closer to the national event in Grahamstown.

Pather said this year’s festival gained a unique aspect because it has been filled with immensely talented people and different plays which had a mix of dance, drama, physical theatre and stand-up comedy. “I think all theatres and all festivals reflect their artistic directors and their particular bent towards the arts,” said Pather.

One of the productions for the 969 festival, Hamlet directed by Jenine Collocott, had its first performance on Wednesday night with a good turnout. Collocott describes the play as a comedia delighte of the Shakespearean Hamlet.

Hamlet is a 35-minute performance which consists of comedy, physical theatre, and improvisation which is stylistically inspired by the story of Hamlet. It features actors James Cairns, Jaques De Silva and Taryn Bennett.

A student production, Ira, is a physical theatre performance which explores the strange nature of human emotions and how we express or supress them.

It is directed by Wits drama students Daniel Geddes and Mark Tatham. Geddes said he felt good about performing in this year’s 969 festival as it was his first time.


“It’s exciting and it’s also nice to have that it is also recognised in a bigger platform outside of student work,” he said.

They have also recently performed at film festivals in Grahamstown and Pretoria but Geddes says he is glad to be home at Wits because he enjoys the support of his peers.

“It’s nice coming back to Wits where your peers are kind of keen to see it,” Geddes said.

The 969 Festival was originally funded by the Johannesburg Development Agency and Wits University to give locals the opportunity to experience the national arts festival without traveling the 969 kilometres to Grahamstown.