I had the honor of being the guardian for one of the two University of Pretoria productions performing in the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, South Africa. This entailed helping to drive a 10 seat van with a trailer full of luggage on a journey of about 12 hours. Since there was no scenery, the costumes and the props rode in the van with us. There were so many different kinds of theatre going on at the Festival that it was difficult to choose which ones to watch. Eventually I learned to rely on The Cue – the daily newspaper. U.P’s production of As Night Falls was awarded an Ovation Award and featured on the front page of the Cue!
|The long road to Grahamstown, South Africa featured potholes with giraffes's head sticking up out of them. This is a common occurrence, according to South Africans.|
One of my Fulbright goals was to experience all of the different kind of theatre I could from Physical theatre to regular drama, with mime and puppet work in between and a little bit of dance, music and singing thrown in. There were more than 3,000 events to choose from in a period of 10 days. Some of these events were international in scope, like the Sky Like Sky production produced by recent Fulbrighter, Emily Mendelsohn with her actors from Rwanda.
Since everyone had to travel from their home institutions, productions had very limited scenery and so the only events that had anything of great scenery spectacle were the Rhodes theatre productions because they were in their own theatre. Lighting for most of the productions was flat and unimaginative because the venues had basic plighting plots and nearly zero time to add specials. I should say that they often had nearly half of a basic lighting plot. In fact most venues were lucky to have 2 or 3 booms or side lighting pipes with three or four instruments and four front lights and four back lights. Lighting designers did their level best with these limitations, and some made it work and some did not. It really depended upon how bendable the choreographers or directors were, to move their actors into the available light.
In the end, much of the theatre I saw was physical in a way that increased the storytelling aspects of every production. It is subtle, but the University of Pretoria students could quickly point out troupes that had had no physical theatre training. It showed in their incomplete or clumsy movements. Perhaps this is one great reason why they won their award. Below are pictures! As you can see, their lighting designer Bailey Snyman and choregographer Nicky Haskins managed very well including clear use of warm and cool tones for different moments.
|The actors also used LED camping lanterns and silver grey folding chairs.|
|The main focus in the dance was on the woman in white. She represented Helen Martins, South Africa's foremost Outsider Artist.|
A fair explanation of Helen Martins' unusual work and bizarre history can be found at http://africanhistory.about.com/od/biography/p/OwlHouse.htm Nicky Haskins is not the only one to use Helen's unusual life as a source of inspiration. Athol Fugard's Road to Mecca does a wonderful job of capturing the Outsider spirit as well.
|The actor playing Helen is physically very strong, and not only exhibited total trust and relaxation when being lifted and dragged about in a manner to relate the abuse Helen faced, but also managed a few good lifts of others as well.|
|In this scene the actors are taunting Helen.|
|They capture her, and forcer her to wear this cage skirt which to me represented a final attempt at being normal.|
|A social scene - a party - shows Helen cannot manage with other people, and ends in two ugly rapes.|
|In the end, Helen takes her own life. In this scene, her employee/lover find her and is in anguish, dancing a fantastic solo.|
The movement in this piece was really difficult to capture on film. I am adamant about not using flah and really tried to capture the darkness of the piece. I hope that through these photos you can see why As Night Falls received an Ovation Award.