Posts Tagged ‘ubom’

Ashley Searle, a lead actor and dancer in Another Day, a new-age love story. Photo: CuePix/Hlumela Mkabile

You’ve touched down in Grahamstown, the Festival has just kicked off, and you have no idea what to see. Not exactly drama, but not quite dance either, this year’s lineup of physical theatre performances would be a good place to start.

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Janet Buckland, the artistic director of Ubom!  (Photo: Cue/Jason Cooper)

Renowned local theatre company Ubom! announced during the 2013 National Arts Festival that it would be shutting its doors due to a lack of funding. Now, a year later, it is still keeping its head above water, but only just.

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It’s all fun and games until somebody’s house gets repossessed,” said comedian Martin Evans. This may be 11 days of entertainment for festival-goers, but for performers, many of whom perform in more than one production, this is how they earn their living.

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Puppetry, one of the oldest forms of theatre, draws on old techniques to produce new, ground-breaking performances. This year’s Festival offers five confirmed productions featuring the use of puppets.

They include Art of Intersection, a street performance which features various cartoon characters, as well as Conrad Koch’s one-man ventriloquist show, Puppet Asylum.

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The Cacadu District of the Eastern Cape is the soil from which no fewer than 42 National Arts Festival 2012 Fringe productions have grown this year. Productions from Grahamstown, Paterson, Port Alfred and Port Elizabeth will represent the Cacadu district’s rich cultural heritage on the Festival stages.

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Wreckage has been a highly anticipated production on the Festival programme. It is the first ever collaboration between the First Physical Theatre Company and UBOM! Eastern Cape Drama Company, with luminaries of the theatre world directing and performing.

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Perpetual hangings get to a man, particularly if you’re on the wrong side of the rope. Malibongwe Yawu has survived five staged hangings in Bongani Linda’s Hang Them High. “I hang on a hook at the back of my costume. It’s 95 percent safe,” he grins. Yawu’s character is wrongly accused of murder and rape and sentenced to death by hanging.

To accurately portray this role, he had to internalise the emotions of someone on death row. “When I hang there I sometimes think: What if this was really me?” says Yawu. Sarah King, a senior soloist with SA Ballet Theatre, relates to such preparation. She is cast alongside Burnise Silvius as Kitri in Don Quixote. For her, the emotional rollercoaster hurts more than bruised toes.

She says ballerinas start en pointe work from the age of 12. “In the beginning it’s really sore.” She says that some dancers use methylated spirits and coarse salt to harden their toes, but that the pain never really goes away. “We’re just used to it.”

Sacrificed job
King says dancers must treat their bodies with respect. “Your body is your instrument,” she says. She loves being in the spotlight on stage when the audience appreciates what she is doing. “To put your heart and soul into it every day is not the easiest job. But it’s a passionate job,” she says.

This passion is shared by members of the Ubom! Eastern Cape Drama Company. They perform in three shows, including Betti & the Yeti and Halo, which run almost every day of the festival. “Inevitably everyone gets sick. We have a very physical and musical style, so it’s really tough on their voices,” says writer and producer Brink Scholtz. She says they then revert to swallowing raw eggs and drinking lots of sherry. “You do whatever you can. The raw egg thing actually works. Maybe it forms a lining on your vocal chords or something.” She once vomited up the egg before a show.

Composition Z – The House of Stone is staged outdoors at the Botanical Gardens Amphitheatre. The two scantily clad actors must conquer winter in Grahamstown, at night. While you, in the audience, can layer on thermo vests and fleece jackets, performer Awelani Moyo wears only tights, a loincloth and body-paint. “The night we opened it was wet and freezing!” she says.

“We rub ourselves with arnica cream before we go on, to get the blood flowing.” Adrenaline helps keep them warm, but the cold seeps in eventually, and they also have to fall into ditches. “I don’t even notice that I get hurt until I wake up in the morning with these scratches on my body,” says Moyo. “Going through the piece is almost like a ritual for us.” She hasn’t fallen for the raw eggs, however. “We stick to hot water, lemon, honey and ginger,” she says.

Passionate about art
Alex Richardson, Gavin Krastin and Zoë Reeve understand the passion of bleeding for art. Put-out backs, dark purple bruises and sprained ankles are all part of a normal evening’s work in the violent HamletMachine. “The butchery scene is the most intense. We get lifted in the air before they dump us on the table,” says Krastin. It’s a cold table. They get dragged off the table onto the hard floor. And get pulled across the sandpaper-rough stage. Three or four times a night, eight nights in a row.

Richardson says that what they are doing on stage is very real; at the same time it is highly theatrical. “We actually cry. It’s actually sore and scary,” says Reeve. “You know that everyone else is also in extreme pain,” says Krastin. “You just have to throw yourself in 100 percent.” The reward for all of this is being part of something phenomenal. “This is what we do. This is what feels right for us,” says Reeve.

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