THE MAITISONG NEWSLETTER
Dates and times of shows
Previews and reviews of shows in Maitisong
Farewell to Ros Beukes and Welcome to Gao Lemmenyane
DATES AND TIMES:
7.30 pm: INSTITUTIONAL DRAMA COMPETITION
Drama groups from around the country compete.
7.00 pm: AFROLIZE ME
Designers’ show featuring designs and clothing from Botswana
Producers: Pride Expo
All day: EXHIBITION OF SERVICES AND PRODUCTS
Entrepreneurs show their wares.
Producers: Pride Expo
1 Sep (Sat)
7.30 pm: NIGHT OF WORSHIP
Gospel Concert by Shumie Odirile
BLUE, BLACK AND WHITE
Mophato Dance Theatre
29th July 2012
We have all been hearing about Donald Molosi’s one-man show on Sir Seretse Khama; how it played on Broadway; how it won an award; and we wondered whether it would ever be seen in Gaborone. And we wondered, too, how Batswana would take to a dramatisation of the life of the beloved first president.
Thanks to Sixpence Management and Donald himself BLUE, BLACK AND WHITE has now been seen in Gaborone and Batswana seem very pleased with it. A six-show run of the play opened at Maitisong on Sunday 29th July to a full house that included former President Masire and members of the Khama family.
Donald had tailored the show especially for its Botswana appearance. It had been doubled in length, incorporated the Mophato Dance Theatre into the show and included a lot of Setswana. The material used was all historical: letters between Seretse and Tshekedi Khama, speeches and the memories of people like former President Masire. That might sound a bit dull and confining, but, deftly chosen and cut and dramatically presented it had a ring of authenticity and directness.
The inclusion of the Mophato Dance Theatre added a dimension that the audiences in the USA would not have had. He used the dancers in crowd scenes, kgotla scenes and also as props: a podium and microphone; an aeroplane; the national coat of arms. But, as well as these, Mophato did two dances; one was a love duet depicting the young lovers, Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams, and the other was a celebratory scene with vibrant, up-beat dances. The celebratory dance was lively and cleverly choreographed with different groupings and fluid group dynamics. There were frequent references to traditional dance steps which got a great response from the audiences. The love duet was less successful, I felt, as the style was too modern and the intimacy too unsubtle to suit the more conservative style of a Botswana Royal.
The speeches and addresses Donald had chosen spoke of Seretse’s marriage to Ruth Williams, his relation to Tshekedi Khama, the preparations for independence, the launch of the BDP and the formation of the first government. The colours of the national flag – the blue, black and white - acted as a thread through all this. You could say that the show was too adoring of an admired first president.
That is true, but it also had that element of the praise poem about it in which the virtues of the person are recounted and the faults and foibles overlooked till a later time. Donald had not tried to analyse the character of Seretse Khama: rather he had tried to dramatise a momentous time in Botswana’s history as symbolised by the life of the First President. Perhaps, the next step is to try to make sense of the complexities in Seretse’s life.
Astonishingly, the show ran for 6 performances and drew good crowds to all of them. The closing show was quite a triumphant moment for Donald and his backers. President Ian Khama and his brothers were there. The large audience that night was particularly responsive and enthusiastic. President Khama met Donald and the cast after the show and posed for many pictures with the cast members.
THE MERCHANT OF VENICE
4th & 5th August 2012
Alastair Hagger, director
Steve Jobson, art director
One forgets that once Shakespeare was topical.
He spoke the language of his times; he sang their songs; he danced their dances; he shared their jokes; he enjoyed their scandals; he wept at their troubles. He was an entertainer and he knew how to play to his audience.
He was not treated as a ‘master’. People didn’t talk of him with massive respect. You either preferred his plays to those of the many other people producing plays or you didn’t. No pressure.
Now Shakespeare comes weighed down with awe, respect - even worship. What was once trendy and modern is now dusty and respectable in the eyes of the majority of people today.
Pity, because his plays really are marvellous and hugely rewarding to both player and listener.
So its not surprising that lots of people have had a go at updating Shakespeare’s plays to bring them into the era of short attention spans and special effects. Add to that list Alastair Hagger and Steve Jobson. Both are teachers at Maru a Pula and they pooled their skills at language and art to present to us a most striking Merchant of Venice. It had cellphone conversations, TV news-casters, Setswana, puppets from life size to Punch and Judy size. It had shadow puppets and video projection. There was also modern music and dancing.
You might wonder whether there was any space left for Shakespeare’s words.
Not much! Words lost out rather. What with the Short Attention Span Syndrome (SASS) and the many bits of business, the words had to be cut a lot. I doubt if there were 50% of Shakespeare’s lines here. The most important bits - those on which the story turned - were kept. But this did mean that the story became rather linear losing the twists and turns of the subplots and the richness that they add.
Alastair Hagger’s concept was most forceful and Steve Jobson’s designs quite
brilliant. There was the BTV-type news-casting from the Rialto in Venice with
its by-line in Setswana; there was the parade of men who had come to try their
luck at marrying Portia as string puppets; there was the video clip of the
second suitor played as a woman trying her luck in a bathroom! There was the
merchant, Antonio, carrying a large and vicious looking puppet-dog; there were
the beautiful wire masks that many of the characters wore; there were the
shadow-puppets of contenders in the trial scene: not to forget the joker
Launcelot Gobo tearing up and dowen the supermarket aisles doing errands for
Yes, there was much to look at and marvel at and to help keep our attention from lapsing.
But, of course, the fact is that, once all this business was done, there were Shakespeare’s words that told the story. Did all this innovation and startling imagery help the story and make it palatable to today’s youth? Probably, to some extent, yes!
It was a most bold piece of theatre and a highly individualistic re-interpretation of an old play for today’s IT-savvy youth.
JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT
24th June - 14th July 2012
Being the Director of Maitisong means that you get congratulated for whatever goes on there - whether or not you had anything to do with the show. I took over from Ros Beukes as Director of Maitisong halfway through the run of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I came in for much congratulations; people shaking their heads and saying, “That was truly amazing”. I would say “Thank you very much, but you really ought to be saying that to Stuart White and his crew.” They knew that, of course, but wanted to say something to someone there and then and I was usually closer by than Stuart.
Joseph ran for an astonishing 19 shows, not counting Press Previews and the like. Many were sold out. The public loved it and, as is the case in Gabs, the word soon spread and the queues at the ticket office lengthened and people tried to persuade me to use my influence to get them in! No one actually offered a bribe, unfortunately.
The show’s catchy Lloyd Webber tunes, the dazzling set, the brilliant costumes, the cool choreography, the sentimental story, and, above all, the exuberance of the young cast all made an intoxicating mix that wowed the audiences over and over.
Ah, and more to add to that mix: discipline, hard work, commitment and long hours: these all showed in the precision of the acting and stage work. It’s what makes the difference.
Although the show had quite a lot of characters, including Joseph’s brothers and small parts like Potiphar, his sexy wife, the butler and baker and Pharaoh, they were just incidental without any believable characters. The only two who were written as real people were Joseph and the Narrator. Of the two the most believable was the Narrator. She anchored the whole action in much the same way that an efficient, sympathetic school headmistress anchors the lives of the children at the school.
Kopano Almon brought wonderful down-to-earth authority to this role as she strode across the action as if she were personally directing a cast of her young students. By contrast, Joseph, played by Lebo Motubudi, was the dreamy, arty sort who could never have run Egypt’s affairs without her guidance.
One voice which needs mention was that of Thabiso Beleme who, as Dan, one of the brothers, sang “One More Angel in Heaven”: a big voice, with a warm rich tone. We need to hear more of him!
Having a live band of musicians playing for the singers is a big plus. Celine Matthee and her band of music students provided that sense of interplay between singers and backing that adds another dimension to the performance.
A children’s choir seated in front of the stage and occasionally flooding onto the stage represented the school children that the school-marm Narrator was telling the fairy tale to which added to the childlike blurring of the lines between the tale and reality.
The lights and lighting plot were very professional; the stage and its management were excellent; the sound and the amplification were not as good. No doubt the problems involved in amplifying the 20 on-stage actors, the 40-odd children, the 10 adult choir singers and the 12 members of the band were huge.
It was the quintessential feel-good, comic-book characters, slick mega production that has a huge mass-appeal and it was received with wild enthusiasm by capacity houses.
22nd July 2012
Gudrun Weeks(violin), Volker Keding (cello), Laone Thekiso (pano)
At the other end of the scale from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat with its glitz, glamour and slick tunes is Bach; the great Johann Sebastian; JSB, the man who made it all possible, the 300-year old tree whose branches reach out to Joseph and all in-between. In his day as well-known as Lloyd Webber but now regarded with suspicion as way-out old-fashioned, even by serious musicians. His output was staggering, dwarfing that of almost all other composers before or since. From the great quasi-theatrical St Matthew Passion to the tiny Minuet for his daughter, Anna Magdelena, as she struggled to learn the harpsichord, the great JSB produced music as if it were just another way of talking. In the process he established the rules of writing music that are still used; whether you like Andrew Lloyd Webber, Stravinsky or kwaito.
Much of his music was written for public performance, but a lot was written for the sheer pleasure of playing it whether or not there was an audience. Think of a time when there was no electricity, no radio, no CDs, no iPods: if you wanted to hear music, well, you made it yourself. Listening to Gudrun Weeks on the violin, Volker Keding on the cello with Laone Thekiso on the piano playing string music by JSB, you just knew that this music was written with the performers in mind: if there were listeners as well, that’s all well and good.
Gudrun Weeks had put together an all-Bach programme for performance in the intimacy of the Maitisong Music Room. It had pieces for unaccompanied violin, violin and cello and violin and piano. This is not going to ‘rock the socks’ (as the programme said) of your average music listener. In some ways listening to the performance was a bit like watching someone doing an intricate jigsaw puzzle, happily piecing it together until a beautiful picture emerged. No brief and catchy tunes; no foot tapping rhythms, just JSB’s amazing ability to string out a seemingly endless melody or to put together two apparently independent melodies that spiral around each other like a double helix.
Listening to JSB is to tap into the roots of music and to rediscover that music really comes from within and not from without.
TUTTI & SOLI
25th July 2012
Maru a Pula Music Department
A joyously sad occasion when the Maru a Pula Music Department presented an evening of music by its students. Sad because Alport Mhlanga, the marimba teacher in the Department had died only a few weeks before. Joyous because the music and the skills he left behind bring so much joy to those he taught and those who listen to it.
The evening was sandwiched between the school orchestra at the beginning and the MaP Marimba Band at the end. The orchestra opened with a swishy Strauss Waltz medley followed by a bouncy Bach Bouree. All in tune, the orchestra’s performance was impressive and showed that orchestral playing is improving year by year. One day there’ll be a Gaborone Orchestra able to play symphonies and concertos!
The Marimba Band closed the evening with a brilliant display of virtuoso marimba playing. They played Alport Mhlanga’s compositions reaffirming his extraordinarily wide range of moods and styles.
In between, there were trumpet, guitar and piano solos, string ensemble playing, a choir and a most entertaining drumming group called the Zip Zap Drumming.
Maitisong was full and the audience was very appreciative of what was presented.
ROS BEUKES LEAVES MAITISONG TO GAO LEMMENYANE
Ros Beukes has left the Maitisong Director’s Office. She has left the coffee shop which she much preferred to the office for meetings. She has left all those bright young people that clustered around her - being ‘mentored’ (her favourite word) by her in the ways of theatrical productions. She has gone back to Bloemfontein to rejoin her husband, Johan. He had been transferred back there a while before but it took quite a while for Ros to be able to disengage herself from Maitisong. She had, after all, been here for nearly 6 years: it was her turf.
She left Maitisong with many visible signs of her stewardship: spectacular new lights, the coffee shop are two obvious ones. She left Maitisong buzzing with activity and made it the place for the young to be. She left Maitisong a young place. At 25 years old Maitisong got a new lease on life. Her great passion, of course, was - is - the My African Dream talent show and if she did not quite get Maitisong and MAD to marry, they certainly co-habited. She made The President’s Concert into a big concert and managed to get President Khama to take a personal interest in it.
All these grand events are fine but Ros’s passion for the young artists was what really defined her for so many people. If a young dancer or rapper had a problem, Ros made it ‘no problem’ and they would be dancing or rapping on the Maitisong stage in no time. She liked problems, I think, because problems have solutions and she’d find them.
Ros’s last two activities were the run of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and the semi-finals of MAD. They made a fitting finale to her time at Maitisong. Joseph had thousands of people streaming in to enjoy its 20-odd shows and the MAD competition was just the one to bow out on.
Of course, she has not left MAD: oh no! Ros will be back to oversee its growth being still on the board.
So at the end of June she had officially gone. Gao Lemmenyane, the incoming Director of Maitisong is due here at the beginning of September. In between I’m back here in a slightly unfamiliar Maitisong trying to hold the fort until he gets here.
Gao was here before: he came at the beginning of 2007 as Director, but left to pursue his studies at Wits. He now has his advanced degrees and has been teaching drama at Wits as well. He now feels ready to return and steer the rather large ship into the waters of the future. He is young; he is enthusiastic; he is passionate about drama and the theatre.
Sounds a pretty good combination to me!
Good luck Gao!