Love, Crime and Johannesburg PR Officer and ART STATE Editor Ace Moloi reflects on the production’s behind-the-scenes.
Confessions of a drama queen
Nowhere has my interest in theatre been stirred up like during my tenure as the public relations officer for Love, Crime and Johannesburg: a choreographic, musical and dramatic production under the Performing Arts Centre of the Free State (PACOFS).
On your marks
It’s the first day of rehearsals and almost everyone is here. The missing actors are captured by other productions as part of the incubator programme. I survey their faces for a feel of their feelings, but much is held within.
Siza Mdi, the head of choreography, marshals the forces in the line of fitness through various exercises. Theatre is a sport. Only the physically strong can keep up with its demands. What does Thabo Mbeki say about athletes who stay the course? They are the ones who don’t convince themselves that the incline is too steep and that the crown is of doubtful value. Right?
It’s the first day and already the booty is shaking and the belly fat is making frying sounds. A PA system sits at the far right corner of the hall. Blaring from it is charging music. Paced to ignite energy. Bodies roll on the floor. Hips do lie that it hurts. Mouths mumble excuses.
But Siza has been around and everywhere. Her sterling work has taken her to Rwanda, Egypt, France, Germany and Austria. An award-winning choreographer herself, she has worked with other crowned dance practitioners in the country, such as Gregory Maqoma, Portia Mashigo and Fana Tshabalala to drop a few names. Her own productions have played on stages such as the Market Theatre and Grahamstown Arts Festival.
She knows that to build a good team, you must place an equal yoke upon their shoulders, so that one needs the other. After all, it’s going to be a long journey of months together, and in her hands lies the responsibility to induct the troops.
The physical orientation, which is in the form of choreography, spans weeks, before the squad is compartmentalised into the categories of drama, dance and music. It’s now separate venues per class. I wish I could teleport. But I leave dance rehearsals with an idea of what’s cooking, and off to music I go.
The school principal
Andile Qongqo has a countenance that can silence mosquitoes in the far-flung trenches of Zambia. Here in the room a fly can be heard buzzing around when he speaks. Facing him with submissive eyes is the Colourful Souls band. His specs, unlike mine, don’t allow him to peer above them to add impetus to the seriousness of his point.
They are tinted fairly, allowing the blackness of his beret to shine. He is measured in his speech. His tone reluctant. His words authoritative. He is not smiling. This is war. Drums must be beaten. Keys must open the doors to the listener’s heart. The bassist is the base of the sound. The lead guitarist must read his map and know it by heart, lest everyone gets lost.
The vocalists will soon join in, but first, prepare ye the way. Note by note. Arrangement after rearrangement. If you stir consistently the soup will thicken. He stares at them as if to pluck thistles of doubt in their hand to cultivate faith. It works. We’re moving, chief.
Vocalists aren’t new to the compositions. In the immediate past I visited them in their corner, sitting in a circle like Basotho men around a fire, singing songs of the revolution. But now it’s time to make music, and who better to lead the process if not Andile. A qualified and practicing music lecturer, Andile holds various certificates in music from institutions such as UNISA and Trinity College. He is a former music lecturer at Damelin and current music instructor at Musicon. He has musically directed every production that takes itself seriously, and has performed at events such as the 2012 ANC Mangaung Conference.
Microphones make a semi-circle shape, and artists stand accordingly. Everyone is eager and nervous, even if they conceal it, the eyes reveal it. The band is rather excited. Bands are always full of kidding joy; never afraid of missing a tune because to them the beauty is in the struggle. Colourful souls for a reason.
Andile the school principal has long laid the foundation. Mist hovers in space as pores exhale body heat. Andile raises his hand time and again to correct misunderstandings like a traffic cop in a busy road. Woah! Yheyi! Hayi! He listens with his head bowed. When he shakes it, the pots are happening beautifully for him. When he lifts it or holds it still, someone is on a tangent.
The song list for the play is appealing. As we go on and on, week in and week out, the music begins to taste like a seven-coloured Sunday post-church dish. John Paka is settling alright into his Song of the Constitution lyrics. Tumi Tlhabanelo charges with the necessary revolutionary mojo as he sings, “Own the banks! Own the banks!”
His namesake Tumi Mohutsioa owns her assigned songs with spirit and vigour. The band blends and makes each other’s shoes shine. Shoe-shine and piano is Andile’s style, I speculate to myself.
Masedi: lighting the way
There’s so much drama that goes into drama. Myself I can’t. I’m used to the perfection of a performance. The precision of lines. The appropriate non-verbal cues. An organised act.
But today is my initiation into chaos. I’m dipped into the waters of confusion: frozen body language, rusty dialogue, scratched heads, frustrated looks.
In the belly of this beast is a young theatre practitioner and lecturer from the Vaal, Masedi Manenye. It’s only his experience and credibility that can make lemonade from this lemon, and whip the actors into formation. It won’t be nice. There’s going to be gasps and bursts. Beyoncè done sung it—“Pretty Hurts.”
The drama rehearsals are broken into a sequence of scenes, so that this week we do the first scene, followed by the next ones as weeks fall over each other. There’s this hurdle though. All the actors are also singers, and all rehearsals run concurrently. But there’s synergy in the air, and a working plan is in place to make the situation work advantageously.
The three shall become one
Andile and the band have come downstairs to practice with the drama team. Siza’s dancers have descended from the upper floor too. On a lighter note, this means it’s no more up and down for the cast. But profoundly, it’s the beginning of a new headache for Masedi Manenye, the play’s director. It’s time now to make everything fit, and his colleagues stand by him as they share comments.
This is the life of Masedi; he has to comb this hair straight up and make it look presentable to the world. Of course this is shallow waters to him, but it’s shallow precisely because he is deep. He’s a former lecturer at the University of the Free State, the same institution from which he completed his M.A in Drama.
Though his height is stifled, his actors, with the likes of John Paka way taller than him, still look up to him. No wonder the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal (UKZN) fiercely head-hunted him, cutting short his role in the play.
Love, Crime and Johannesburg
It’s a star-studded cast. Its lead character, Tseko “TK Da Poet” Thukane, is among the popularly “known knowns” in the Mangaung theatre fraternity, and most of the other performers boast national exposure. The cast’s “big match” experience promises an HD viewing experience for Mangaung theatre fans on 20 March 2018.
Ace Moloi is the Editor of ART STATE.