A quiet, remarkable creative revolution in theatre is taking shape. This year’s National Arts Festival witnessed the fruits of labour of Africa’s unique global postgraduate academic, research and community engagement department based at the Wits School of Arts, University of the Witwatersrand.
The 2015 National Arts Festival annual Standard Bank Ovation Awards are testimony of the growing success of individual staff, students and recent graduates, as well as productions, commissioned originally by Drama for Life, that have gone further to capture national and international attention.
The Standard Bank Ovation Awards are prestigious awards that recognise: “Artistic innovation, excellence, the exploration of new performance styles and the courage to open new conversations through the arts underpin the motivation for the winners of the Standard Bank Ovation Award.”
The awards provide “a valuable incentive for artists on the Festival’s Fringe programme to strive for excellence, experiment with innovation and to challenge and shift the boundaries of creativity,” says Ismail Mahomed, the Arts Director of the National Arts Festival. “Audiences and visiting producers from other festivals enthusiastically look out for winning productions.”
After reviewing a show, a panel of experts – who remain anonymous until the end of the Festival – “robustly discuss” whether a show is deserving of a Standard Bank Ovation Award. Criteria considered include production values, the quality of performances, writing and direction, the conceptualisation, innovation and originality of a work, and the overall impact of the production.
In addition to these awards, a few of these productions are selected for Gold and Silver Awards for excellence.
Drama for Life staff, student and alumni 2015 Standard Bank Ovation Award winners include:
Khutjo Green, Drama for Life 2015, director of ‘Have you seen Zandile?’
Seiphemo Alex Motswiri, Drama for Life 2015, director of ‘The System’.
Irene Stephanou, Drama for Life 2013, writer and performer in ‘Searching for Somebody.’
Phala O Phala, Drama for Life 2012, director of the adaptation ‘Kafka’s Ape’.
Tefo Paya, Drama for Life 2012, writer and performer for ‘Morwa: The Rising Son.’
Warren Nebe, Drama for Life Director, director of ‘Morwa: The Rising Son.’
Volley Nchabeleng, Drama for Life Playback Theatre Musician, musician and composer for ‘Morwa: The Rising Son.’
Nondumiso Msimanga, Drama for Life 2012, performer and choreographer for ‘Barbed Wire Wallpaper.’
Nondumiso Msimanga, Phala O Phala, Tefo Paya, Warren Nebe, and Volley Nchabeleng went on to win the coveted Standard Bank Silver Ovation Awards.
Other Drama for Life staff and alumni featured in the festival, receiving excellent reviews and media attention. These include:
Bongani Ntshilanga’s original production of ‘UBOMI’. Ter Holmann’s (Drama for Life 2014) performance of ‘To Stand Somewhere’, a play he also wrote. The play was directed by Drama for Life alumnus and staff member, Moses D Rasekele. Naledi Theatre Award winner and Drama for Life 2014 Honours graduate Gcebile Dlamini received excellent press for ‘Nozamo’. Seiphemo Alex Motswiri, an Advanced Diploma Drama for Life 2015 student, also directed ‘A Gift from God’, a play that tackles conflicting spiritual traditions. Kieron Jina (Drama for Life, 2012 and guest director for 2014 and 2015), choreographed the UJ production ‘Toyi, Toyi.’ In addition, Drama for Life staff member and 2012 graduate Cherae Halley returned to the festival with her 2014 Standard Bank Silver Award winner, ‘What the Water Gave Me.’
Phala O Phala’s production of ‘Kafka’s Ape’, featuring Wits performance graduate Tony Miyambo, was also named as one of the productions to feature in the Afrovibes Festival in the Netherlands.
Drama for Life Sex Actually Festival 2014 commissioned work, ‘Father, Father, Father!’ featuring Wits Theatre and Performance staff and former students, went on to perform to rave reviews at the National Arts Festival and was also selected to attend the international theatre festival in the Netherlands and it can be seen at the Wits 969 Festival which starts this week at Wits Theatre.
Irene Stephanou, a graduate of the former School of Dramatic Art in the 1980s and a recent graduate of Drama for Life’s postgraduate programme, was awarded the prestigious Adelaide Tambo Award for Human Rights in Theatre.
‘We are absolutely delighted by the success of our staff, students and alumni,’ said Warren Nebe, Director of Drama for Life. ‘Our commitment to social transformation through drama, theatre and performance has begun to make a significant impact on the national and international stage. We have been committed to forging new, meaningful ways of engaging with complex, important subject matter in Africa. Our methods are opening up spaces for new voices, relevant voices that challenge the status quo, to emerge.’ Nebe went on to say that what was really important was that Drama for Life has focused on creating a supportive artistic community dedicated to progressive change, and that this support was crucial ‘to fostering a confident, new generation of artists.’
Drama for Life is the only department of its kind internationally. It incorporates postgraduate studies in Drama Therapy, Applied Drama and Theatre-Making, Arts Education and Performance Ethnography. The department produces considerable traditional and creative research, and it is the home of some of the region’s most ground-breaking creative projects, including the Sex Actually Festival, the Africa Research Conference, and the Queer Africa Project that involves five new theatre companies in five different SADC countries.