TWO African Theatre companies, Tefo Paya from Bostwana, and Magnet Theatre from South Africa featured in this year’s edition of the Bright View Festival in Stuttgart, Germany. While Tefo Paya was performing at the festival for the first time, Magnet Theatre was there back in 2014.
The week-long biennial Festival which held between May 8 and 15 with the support of the City of Stuttgart and other stakeholders, featured among numerous others, eleven (11) International guest performances selected from across the world, particularly, Europe and Africa, including these two companies from the southern part of the African continent, and they shine at the festival like the morning star.
Overcoming the disappointment of losing their luggage, which, of course, contains some of the costumes and props meant for the show; Tefo Paya‘s three shows at the festival sold out and in the end, it was all elation for the troupe from Bostwana.
Their entry, ‘Morwa – The Rising Son’ is a story of coming of age and self-discovery. It tells the story of a young man growing up in Bostwana, and asking all the questions there are to ask — questions expected to aid him in his journey to becoming a man. Concerning the conversation posturing of most African countries, Tefo was bold enough to have, in a creative combination of storytelling, movement and rich African music, confront such issues as imposed ideals, gender, sexuality, family expectations, set education and, the African and global perception of the relationship between individual and society.
To many of the largely European audience, the ritual elements and of course beautiful African music are elements that aided their appreciation of the show. One of the New Generation participants from Spain, Carmen Salmeron summed up her experience thus: “I think that these shows establish the differences in culture, and of course, the richness of the African culture as displayed through the various elements – dance, music costume and of course the intricately woven storyline. It was beautiful and from the feedback from my fellow New Generation participants and other audiences, the reception for the show has been marvelous.”
While Morwa – The Rising Son is targeted at a young audience of 16+ in line with Magnet Theatre’s 35 years of experience, ‘Stonesplay’ was designed for much younger children from three years up. However, the four shows were packed full with both young and adults. No one was left behind. And the reception was huge. The audience members were cracked up by the funny interactive play with different sizes, shapes and colours of stones. The audience also got involved at a point, with each person passed two pieces of stone with which s/he made some organised noise, to excitement of all, especially the children.
Again, culture played a major role. The actors were dressed in simple ‘English wears’, a trouser underneath a t-shirt, obviously meant for the ease of the many beautiful movements. The 4-man cast switches from song to song; some members of the audience had to hum along with them even without knowing the lyrics. The popular South African song and dance that went viral in the middle of 2020, ‘Jerusalema’ (by Master KG, featuring Nomcebo Zikode) must have informed such excitement. A member of the audience mentioned at the end of the show he was waiting to hear the song.
Scenes from Morwa. Photos by: Sammab Maraisi
The ‘stoneplay’ took the audience back to the very beginning. It introduces the audience, especially the younger ones to four animal characters which they played out on stage with simple but beautiful costumes. Springbok, Meerkat, Ostrich and Tortoise, not only discover the sound, rhythm and weights of stones, but also the importance of unity which was dramatised in the interplay between the stones, to emphasise the importance of unity.
Daphna Horowitz, a German theatre educator and a member of the festival management team, said: “I did know there will be very little text. What I did not know is that there would be so much music, and; this for me is cool. The music, the dance, the sound of the language… beautiful. The summary of it all for me is the fact that the children, who are probably coming to theatre for the first time, and for whom the production was made, loved it.
It was not all about music and body movement, Magnet Theatre members also showed their expertise by incorporating an element of clownishness — shadow puppetry to be precise and; the young audience loved it. While there are very little texts, the actors learnt and had to render part of the dialogue in German, to aid understanding of the play.
For Felicia Cucuta, a Romanian playwright and a major participant in the New Generations programme, the intimacy and inter-activeness of the show, between the actors and the audience, is what she loved the most. She said: “With such bod created, it does not matter what mother tongue the play is performed with, the audience was able to relate and connect.”
One thing is certain, the selection team of the festival sure has an eye for the best. Aside these two in review, all of the invited guest performances at the festival are of high quality. This is not taking away the fact that one or two other persons might have a different opinion. It is all about perspective. Most importantly, the African shows received positive feedback.