@Fest A Festival in search of a new theme

A Festival in search of a new theme

Theatre productions are often reflections of deeper societal issues. Rites of passage, gender issues and history have taken centre stage at this year’s Festival. Productions dealing with HIV/Aids, one of South Africa’s biggest social issues, have, however, taken a back seat.

Festival director, Ismail Mahomed explained some of the reasons behind this decline. “Several arts projects have exploited the easy access that they got to funding by creating a play that dealt with Aids. Funding agencies and even the Aids lobby have become a lot more sophisticated about how they disburse funds,” he says.

In addition to this, he mentions that audiences are getting tired of the topic, as productions tend to lose originality and struggle to get their message across. Jullian Seleke Mokoto, writer and director of Money Maker which is about the lives of prostitutes in Johannesburg, says that plays about HIV are becoming boring because the subject has become repetitive.

“There is too much on HIV/Aids: productions on TV, pamphlets, on radio and in newspapers. It’s like you telling me about the same bread that I buy every day at the supermarket.” Bongani Linda, writer and director of Umhlanga –The Reed Dance, which deals with virginity testing in Kwa-Zulu Natal, believes there are ways of tackling the topic of HIV without spelling it out for audiences.

One of his main concerns is HIV prevention. “Productions shouldn’t only be about HIV, but should also teach people about abstinence,” he says. He feels that it’s also important to present the topic of HIV in a context that audiences can relate to.

His play, for example, is set in a setting that most Zulu people would be able to understand as virginity testing is entrenched in Zulu culture. Mahomed says that although audiences are looking for plays that inspire, challenge, provoke and entertain, they are still looking for excellence. “Poorly created plays will not attract audiences regardless of how relevant the themes are,” he says.

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