UCT Drama Department’s final year theatre-makers are determined to tour their new work “Figs” to the National Arts Festival despite facing funding woes (that dreaded ‘F’ word). And they are asking for everybody’s help.
The annual creative pilgrimage to the National Arts Festival is fast approaching, where thousands of artists descend upon South Africa’s largest arts festival in the small settler town of Grahamstown. A staple of the festival is the Student Theatre Programme, in which student artists and representatives from theatre schools and learning institutes across the country come together to showcase new work. The student theatre at the festival has gone on to propel many young artists into the professional industry. Last year the production from UCT, “Don’t Shoot the Harbinger”, which was directed by then UCT final year student Kei-Ella Loewe, was awarded with ‘Best Script’ in the National Arts Festival Student Theatre Programme, which was written by then UCT final year students Katya Mendelson, Ameera Conrad, and Thando Mangcu. This year the theatre-making students will be showcasing their new collaborative and devised work “Figs” at the festival, but not without challenge.
Student director Dara Kometz describes “Figs” as a theatrical exploration of womanhood through the interweaving of personal stories by six different woman in a way that invites one to grapple with contemporary notions of being and ‘becoming’ woman in South Africa. The collaborative team of theatre-makers express that this new work establishes a space to engage with sexual health, emotional well-being, personal rights and community through diversity. However, their efforts have been somewhat thwarted due to a lack of consistency in funding. Kometz explains that in the past the South African Post Office have supported the creation and touring of productions for the Student Theatre Programme at the National Arts Festival, but due to challenging economies the South African Post Office is unable to continue their support for this initiative. Compounding this is that as a means to assist in the subsidising of student fees and housing expenses, universities and state tertiary educational facilities are unable to extend their resources for such endeavours and thus UCT is unable to cover costs. The theatre-makers were unaccepting when faced with the news that they may possibly not travel to the festival to showcase their new work as representatives of UCT Drama Department and so they have turned to crowd-funding.
Although the Drama Department is trying to assist the theatre-makers in fundraising as much as possible and by incurring some expense, they are looking to you; their friends, family, colleagues, alumni and fellow theatre enthusiasts. You can see a video about their work “Figs” at https://vimeo.com/166360566 and visit their crowd-funding campaign at https://www.thundafund.com/project/figstheatreproduction/ to simply make a donation towards their production and touring expenses. As we move towards a more connective aesthetic crowd-funding is an increasing trend in South Africa, allowing many artists to successfully raise enough capital to produce new work or tour existing work.
As difficult as such funding challenges are, it is indicative of the current creative economy and the shifting role of the director and theatre-maker in South Africa. Such economic changes require the director to assume the additional roles of fundraiser, producer and campaign manager. This has real implications for the audience as they are now encouraged to enter the creative process as co-producers and co-creators too.
(UCT Drama Department’s 2016 final year theatre-makers are Lesego Chauke, Namisa Mdlalose, Shoko Yoshimura, Emilie Badenhorst, Tana Kyhle-Kahr and Dara Kometz.)