How do you like your coffee?

It all began with two encounters – a fictional encounter, complicated by a peculiarly South African issue. And an encounter on a real-life level, which brought about a “mingling of different colours”.Two students,  who were no more than acquaintances before, had to work intimately together this month to create a piece of physical theatre about a relationship between two characters. But not just any two people.  56 Mocha Street follows the tensions between an interracial couple.

The Actors

5,6,7,8: Oupa Sibeko and Emma Tollman rehearse their physical theatre piece 56 Mocha Street.

5,6,7,8: Oupa Sibeko and Emma Tollman rehearse their physical theatre piece 56 Mocha Street.

Emma Tollman and Oupa Lesne Sibeko, 3rd year Drama, choreographed the piece based on their own experiences.

The two characters encounter one another in 56 Mocha Street, their home and space. Here they delve into the tensions between how society perceives interracial relationships and how they perceive themselves after being affected by society, said Sibeko.

Apart from the obvious racial tensions – between their characters and, potentially, the two of them –  the actors described what it was like to have to work together for the first time.  “I remember doing a back-to-back improvisation and Oupa’s body felt so foreign to me,” said Tollman.

How the piece was created

In creating the piece, the two took inspiration from their physical theatre class. It was about discovering “who we are in the class, personally and in the relationship”, said Sibeko. The name 56 Mocha Street uses the metaphor of coffee to describe “the mingling of different colours”, with Emma as a white female and Oupa a black male. The piece explores the intricacies of gender fights, and facing one another head-on.The two use the idea of play and using their bodies to take on the spaces in which they find themselves. Through this, they explore the idea of encounters further.

What is the piece about?

[pullquote]“It’s a vicious cycle of disconnection, finding each other and losing each other,”[/pullquote]

The piece depicts an intensely tragic relationship, “Its a vicious cycle of disconnection,finding each other and losing each other” ,said Tollman. She described the journey through Mocha Street as different from that of a more conventional theater. In this piece, “there is a disillusion of time, a flood of happenings. We are always just happening, we can’t control keeping on.”

The piece was created through a process of “play”, during which the two noticed that material “kept happening”. Through this material and their movements, they have found a story.

56 Mocha Street will be on show at the Wits Downstairs theater on August 26 and 29.

Play gives disabled a voice in drama

PHYSICAL MOTIVATION: Choreographer Sthembiso Khalishwayo challenges mainstream physical theatre as it has been taught and applied within the School of Art.          Photo: Emelia Motsai

PHYSICAL MOTIVATION: Choreographer Sthembiso Khalishwayo challenges mainstream physical theatre as it has been taught and applied within the School of Art. Photo: Emelia Motsai

Physical theatre – usually considered the preserve of fit, able-bodied actors – will give disabled actors the chance to show Witsies “how they view themselves and interpret other people’s view of them”, during March.

Mammatli Thakhuli-Nzuza, MA Applied Theatre and Drama, said this was the intention behind Am I Really, which she directed to commemorate Disability and Human Rights week.

Am I Really explores the internal voices of a group of Wits students living with different disabilities through the use of movement. The Physical Theatre piece challenges the concept of being “disabled” while highlighting the silent disabilities that exist in all of us.

Thakhuli-Nzuza explained that most disabled students were only reminded of their disability when other people treated them as disabled.

“People tip-toe around disabled people. That’s what makes them uncomfortable.”

Thakhuli-Nzuza will be working with choreographer Sthembiso Khalishwayo, a former Witsie who studied physical theatre and performance. The play will be performed by Sisipho Ntengo, Sally-Ann Bafshoe, Zinhle Nxumalo and Jermain George, all Wits students living with disability.

“Art is everywhere and anyone can do it; the different modes of self expression extend way beyond the physical boundaries we have created” said Thakhuli-Nzuza.

She wants to introduce the Wits University community to physically disabled dancers. She also wants to encourage theatre makers to go beyond the ‘ordinary’ when creating work. 

Am I Really will be performed at the Wits Amphitheatre on March 15 and 16, 19 and 20 at 7.30pm. Prices are R20 for students and R30 for non-students.

For more information contact Mammatli Thakhuli-Nzuza on

Non-drama students show talent

A WITS theatre piece destined for this year’s National Arts Festival in Grahamstown has no script yet and is to be played by a cast of non-drama students.

TABLEAU: Wits Non-drama students practise still scenes during the In/Sight call-back auditions last weekend.

In/Sight has been commissioned by the Student Development and Leadership Unit (SDLU), and the lack of drama students is deliberate.

“It is to forward people to attain different skills sets outside of what they are studying,” said the play’s co-director Tony Miyambo.

The SDLU commissions a theatre piece every year and Miyambo said it was part of their mandate to cast non-drama students. “It’s also to benefit the greater student population.”

The script still needs to be created, but it will deal with the concept of Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD).

People suffering from BDD are excessively concerned with body image and obsess over perceived physical flaws.

Co-director Raezeen Wentworth said the story would be constructed from whatever the cast brought to it.

Different styles, such as dance, movement, music, shadow, poetry and dialogue would be incorporated into the piece.

“It’s like putting a puzzle together. The students are the puzzle,” said Miyambo.

The final call-back auditions and workshops were held last weekend.

Miyambo said the auditions were an opportunity to see what the students could bring.

“We are really pushing hard to find narratives, images and ideas from them. The story could change and mould right up until the moment when it goes on stage.”

Wentworth said the benefit of non-drama students was that they had not gone through a training system.

They had no constructed view of what had to be done in the play.

“We have the opportunity to groom them from scratch and they bring completely raw talent.”

Bridget Mtshali, 1st year LLB, took part in the auditions and described herself as “naturally curious”.

This had led her to learn a few dance styles.

She did not see drama as a career, but as her “own world”, or an escape.

“I can vent, brainstorm in this small world of mine. It does not matter what other people and society think of me. It’s one of the spaces where you feel free to let out.”

Sabelo Chuene, formerly an Accounting, but now a B Mus Foundation student, was part of last year’s cast who performed in Grahamstown.

“It was life-changing. A ctually, from that experience, I made the decision to change my studies. Today I’m very shocked that I wanted to be an accountant.”

Wentworth, who studied Directing at the Wits School of Arts, originally produced a 15-minute, two-person play on Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) for a class project.

In/Sight will feature a cast of eight students and will be an hour long.


When professional intimacy is betrayed …

The story of senior Wits drama lecturer Tsepo wa Mamatu allegedly fondling and sexually harassing students, and even raping one of them, has focused many people’s attention on what constitutes as an improper relationship between a lecturer and a student.

On Twitter particularly, former students of the accomplished actor, director and playwright have spoken about how wa Mamatu allegedly used his position as lecturer to pressure students into sexual acts under the guise that it was for the benefit of their education.

Tweets from the account of former Wits student Mary Straub (@merrystrwberry) have been frequent and detail her experiences in the Drama department.

Yesterday a tweet from the account read: “We were told we are brilliant, but our unwillingness ‘to go all the way’ would cost us marks.”

In reply to Straub’s question  as to whether sexual abuse at Wits had become institutionalized among lecturers, a tweet from journalist Katherine Child (@katthechild), read: “Yes, and a history of turning a blind eye. And re-hiring perpetrators students had spoken out about”.

Wits’ Head of Communications, Shirona Patel (@shirona37), defended the university’s efforts to protect students, saying in a tweet: “Wits is doing all it can- it never covers up these issues- need as much evidence as possible”.

In a speech he gave at the Wits Great Hall last year, Nobel Laureate and celebrated author, JM Coetzee urged more male students to become teachers, and said that “it will be good for society in general, particularly at this time in history when men who enjoy working with children are suddenly under so much suspicion.”

What the tweets have not answered, and a question Coetzee implies, is whether an emotional connection between teacher and student is possible in the times we live in, especially between male lecturer and female student?

Wa Mamatu, as a lecturer in a small department, had the opportunity to shape the development of his students on an individual basis, a type of impact rarely found in larger departments.

The close interaction between lecturers and students in smaller settings creates an ideal environment for highly focused monitoring of student development. It’s an environment that has the ability to remove the power imbalances between students and lecturers. It’s what could be called a professional intimacy, one where the teacher can positively influence the student. A beautiful paradox when done right, a shame when done wrong.  But how are students ever to know when it’s wrong?

Like many others who misuse their power against students, wa Mamatu seems to have blurred the boundaries and used that intimacy for personal gain, turning what could have been a fruitful partnership into a show of power and dominance.

However, a stronger inter-student relationship between female students spanning generations, able to warn and protect each other from sex pests, seems to have emerged ‘organically’ on Twitter and is filtering onto campus as a result. Could this be social media’s answer to violent patriarchy?



Czech them out!

IT’S not easy being black in Brno. That’s what 22 Wits drama students discovered when they visited the small town in the Czech Republic recently.

The cast of Relativity – Township Stories was there for the eight-day Setkání/Encounter Festival for international theatre schools.

Being the only black people in Brno was a “shock”, said cast member Nkululeko Maseko. “We walked into a shop and someone would follow us, because they’re not used to us and they’re not very sure what we’re coming to do,” he said, laughing.

This experience, and the fact that some people refused to speak English, helped him understand how foreigners living in South Africa felt. “It was good for us to shift our minds and to see that you can also be a foreigner, you can also be an outsider.”

Zabalaza Mchunu agreed. He said “the glares in the buses, the glares in the street, the glares walking downtown” made him realise “…we probably are guilty of it to people that are foreign to our land as well. It was an interesting experience to feel like ‘the other’ for the first time”.

Actress Bulelwa Ndaba also had some uncomfortable moments. “It’s just the way people look at you and snigger. You know they’re talking about you.”

She described how some cast members were splashed with an unknown substance while waiting for the tram. “A car came by, flying. Windows came down. They started shouting. Then they splashed them and they got soaking wet.”

Despite these challenges, the trip was a success and the Witsies received positive reviews. Tony Miyambo won the best actor award. He described the win as “a surreal experience” and thanked Wits, director Tshepo Mamatu and his fellow cast members for supporting him.

The cast said audiences seemed to understand the play, despite its being in vernacular languages including Xhosa and Zulu. “They forced us to act, instead of vocally telling the story…The idea of acting is action,” said Mchunu.

For many of the actors, the trip to the Czech Republic was their first outside South Africa. “It was my first time in a plane even. It was incredible,” said Ndaba.

While she enjoyed the trip – “…there were Czech people who were really awesome. They wanted to know more about South Africa …” – she was glad to get back to Jo’burg. “I got homesick,” she said.

Published in Wits Vuvuzela, 12th edition, 2nd May 2012.