For the past 2 ½ weeks, Nohle Ngwenya, Sibusiso Khanyile, and Mbalenhle Mbade (AFDA Johannesburg Honours Live Performance students) have been quietly getting on with the inaugural National Arts Festival (NAF) Stage-Hand and Management Internship in the Red Roof Theatre on JHB campus. Under the stewardship of Rob Murray (Honours LP coordinator), Morné Abrahams (Theatre Manager), Keegan Adams (NAF Venue Manager), and Brains Matlala (NAF Sound Expert), and working under strict COVID protocols and the threat of rioting, the students have been on a steep upward learning curve hosting and teching professional shows for filming and/or livestreaming during the festival. Rounding out the team, and bringing expert skills and support, have been Honours MP students Ryan Toerien, and Connor and Mitchell Weidemann.
“The tour to NAF has long been an annual highlight for our LP students,” says Francois Smit, Head of JHB Postgraduate School. “However, with the onset of the pandemic, we realised we had to dream up a learning experience as close as possible to that, leading to the idea: what if festival came to campus?”
While the original idea was to host a Hybrid festival – with 50% live audience and simultaneous livestream – the country’s shift to adjusted Level 4 and the spike in 3rd wave infections meant that the team had to quickly shift to only providing a filming/livestreaming venue. “As Postgrad and LP school, we’ve been experimenting with and investing in livestreaming and alternative platforms for performance since 2019,” explains Rob Murray, “So the shift was relatively easy to make. As venues shut down for Level 4, the fact that we could keep going under extremely tight protocols, and offer a service to Johannesburg-based artists, proved invaluable, and our schedule actually expanded.”
Cumulatively, the AFDA Red Roof Theatre filmed over 12 productions in the course of just over 2 weeks, with a few livestream shows also. These shows are now available as VOD (video on demand) via the NAF website. “This experience has been life-changing,” says Nohle Ngwenya, one of the interns, “We all experienced 2020 and its impacts, but you know I don’t think we fully grasped the enormity of the situation or the difficulties artists are under. To see and rub shoulders with so many professional creatives who were so excited and grateful to have stage space and the platform to distribute work was humbling. Yho – we learnt a lot and are very appreciative for the experience.”
“I got to operate lights!”, butts in Mbalenhle Mbade. “And I ran sound!”, adds Sibusiso Khanyile. “I can’t wait for starting our Graduation Festival project and apply all we have learnt!”
Shows the interns recommend? Unanimously, the crew agrees on the following:
- COMMISSION CONTINUA: a powerhouse production by the excellent Tony Miyambo and Phalo O Phala – a mild-mannered archivist struggles with the weight and existentialism of documenting various commissions during South Africa’s violent history
- ORATORIO FOR A FORGOTTEN YOUTH: with a libretto by Lesego Rampolokeng and music by 2019 Standard Bank Artist of the Year for Jazz Mandla Mlangeni, as well as beautiful sand art animation, this is a visual and aural treat
- PEELING SHADOWS: a cartoonesque detective story featuring wonderful low-fi animation and physical performance, this is a quirky, stylish delight
- J BOBS: whack, irreverent, but relevant sketch comedy from the 2020 Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year for Theatre, Jefferson Tshabalala
- THE VERY BIG COMEDY SHOW: livestreamed on a freezing Joburg night, the comics, featuring Tumi Morake, Lindy Johnson, Mojak Lehoko, and Schalk Bezuidenhout, had the crew in stitches
For the full online programme of Main and Fringe shows, as well as info to book tickets until 31 July, please go to www.nationalartsfestival.co.za
The internship is seen as the pilot phase of a longer project involving Postgrad and LP School in JHB, with the development of a platform for LP students and alumni to perform. “We are very grateful that NAF chose us,” enthuses David Dennis, Head of AFDA JHB LP School, “And our huge congratulations to the students and Morné Abrahams for making this work so successfully. We look forward to a greater integration of schools in the future – can you just imagine BIT and BCOM being involved in branding, ticketing, marketing, and the creation of our own paywall site? There is also tremendous potential for TV School to get involved. We are very excited that the Red Roof is now squarely on the map!”
Abby Thatcher, Production Manager of NAF, is generous in her praise: “Thank you to you and your team for all your amazing hard work in making this happen – it was awesome having you guys on the team, and I got such super feedback from some very happy artists. Thanks for helping us make a little bit of magic for people in these strange and unsettling times.”
Congratulations to all involved, and a huge vote of thanks and gratitude to Henriette de Villiers, JHB Dean, for so amazingly supporting the idea, as well as Operations, Ground and Cleaning Staff, for ensuring it all went down smoothly.
Onwards and upwards to Graduation Festival!