Venue: Wits Theatre foyer. Coffee.
Gita Pather is a mover and shaker at the Wits University Theatre. Well, she’s the director of the Wits Theatre. Apart from the academic programme and administering a space which is regularly used for rental productions, Gita has made her mark at the Wits Theatre by establishing a “So Solo” Festival.
Now in its third year, this festival is unique because the artists are actually paid a fee for their production and the box office is shared. This is a remarkable thing in South Africa where the risk usually falls entirely on the artist.
Eleven plays, eleven performers. No – only ten plays. One production has pulled out for unavoidable reasons. But lots of performers. One work, Without Others, is three short dance pieces by three solo dancers from MIDM. Soliloquy features five physical theatre performers – obviously each alone for their soliloquy – directed by Bailey Snyman.
I ask Gita what drives her selection of plays. She explains that she has no big curatorial dream in mind when she selects the work. She looks for relevance to the current situation. We are in politically and economically turbulent times with the world pendulum swinging towards the conservative. The works reflect that. They also reflect increasingly extraordinary personal stories of “ordinary” people.
One of the artists in the past, Craig Morris, is now presenting his work at The Market Theatre – Johnny Boskak is Feeling Funny. Sometimes the productions at So Solo will have legs, other times not.
The main production on the programme for 2016 is a commissioned work. Gqisha! The Chant That Calls. Gqisha! means War Chant. It is a Zulu word. Written by Khaylihle Gumede and Raezeen Wentworth with Nhlanhla Mahlangu, it is the story of the latter. The two former direct and the latter performs his own story. He does it well. I will review it as a separate article. It deserves its own space.
The festival is already running and continues until 4 December 2016. Wits now programmes these festivals only for weekends. Week night attendance is too poor. The good thing is that the festival starts mid afternoon and runs through. One can make one trip and see more than one production – a bonus for those who hate the travelling. The bad news is that the theatre doesn’t have many facilities in terms of hospitality. Bring your own food. There is coffee, hot chocolate, a bar and crisps.
Gita Pather is the chairperson of the Gauteng Branch of PANSA. She hosts a special performance of Gqisha! The Chant That Calls for them. It is critical that all performers, across all disciplines, are represented in Gauteng. The Downstairs Theatre is respectably full, but the arts needs many more musicians, dancers and actors to get involved. It is the primary way of getting heard for most performing artists.
The other nine works being performed are Flower/ur (Oupa Sibeko), Return of the Panty Slitter (Rajesh Gopie), Out of Bounds (Rajesh Gopie), The Torture (Kenneth Mlambo), Be a Better Dog (Seiphemo Motswiri),The First Date (Zsa Zsa), In Her Shoes (Sindiwe Mntonintshi), Without Others (three dance works), and finally, Soliloquy (five performers).
The tickets are a very reasonable R75.00 if booked online and R80 if purchased at the theatre. The risk at the theatre is that they might be sold out. Some of the works are tremendously popular.