The 2017 Baxter Zabalaza Theatre Festival, from 18 to 25 March, will showcase 56 different productions, performed by nearly 300 artists.
They come from all over the Western Cape and other regions and productions cover various genres, theatrical styles and languages.
Now in its seventh year, with a record number of productions participating, this vital and leading development festival has earned the praise of audiences, theatre-makers, communities and media for the far-reaching and wide-ranging impact that it has made on local artists and the arts industry.
Young and rising talent, along with some stalwarts and previous participants, will fill the Baxter stages over the eight-day event where the focus this year is on fresh and innovative ideas.
The festival kicks off with the Zabalaza Weekend on Saturday, 18 and Sunday, 19 March, when all the venues and spaces in the Baxter theatre complex will pulsate with dynamic and assorted artistic activities featuring nearly 30 productions.
This is followed by the Zabalaza Week from Monday, 20 to Friday, 25 March, with daily performances at 10:00, 10h30, 11h30, 12h30, 13h00, 14h30, 16h00, 16h30, 18h00, 18h30 and 20h00, in various venues and performed in six different languages – English, IsiXhosa, IsiZulu, Sesotho, Setswane and Afrikaans.
Productions from groups all the over the Western Cape, including some further afield such as Knysna, Wellington, Oudtshoorn, Swellendam, Bredasdorp and Paarl, make up the bulk of the programme, while there are two each from the Eastern Cape, Johannesburg and Pretoria and one from Durban.
The productions were primarily selected from the mini-festivals which were held earlier this year in Worcester, Nyanga East, Khayelitsha, Delft, the Eden Drama Festival, the Cape Winelands Festival and the Overberg Drama Festival. The winning productions from the latter three festivals are also included in the line-up.
The festival boasts multiple genres – from drama, musical theatre, movement/dance to physical theatre and comedy. One of the innovations this year is the introduction of reggae in the musical theatre category, thereby extending the festival and artists to a whole new audience.
The support of the Western Cape Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport (which is the primary partner) and the City of Cape Town, as well as the theatre-going public and the passion and creativity of the artists have ensured that this festival continues its success, growing exponentially as it pushes boundaries in the South African theatre-making landscape.
The core team behind the festival comprises artistic director Thami Mbongo, co-ordinator Zoleka Helesi, executive manager Bongile Mantsai, administrator Akhona Shinga and audience development officer, Monde Myataza.
In 2016 Zabalaza won a special Fleur du Cap award for Innovation in Theatre for “their phenomenal contribution to the development of new South African work by providing a platform for artists who want to venture into acting, stage management, writing and directing”. The same year, Thami Mbongo received the Western Cape Department of Cultural Affairs and Sports Ministerial award for the Best Contribution to Drama in the province.
The Baxter Zabalaza Theatre Festival has produced many success stories and it has given rise to great young stars that have graced the world’s stages in a short period, gathering accolades along the way. Many other artists have become recognised and have managed to carve careers for themselves in the arts, both locally and abroad.
Khayalethu Anthony performed the coveted role of Solomon opposite Dame Janet Suzman in Solomon and Marion, for which he received a Naledi award for Best Newcomer. His production of The Champion won the 2014 Best Production of Zabalaza Festival and went on to receive a Fleur du Cap nomination for Best Performance by a Lead Actor in a Play and won the Fleur du Cap for Best Performance in a Revue, Cabaret, or One-Person Show.
Phillip Dikotla’s Skierlik, the 2013 Best of Zabalaza winner, received a Fleur du Cap nomination for Best Script and won the Fleur du Cap for Best Solo Performance, as well as a Naledi award for Best Newcomer. The production was also invited to be part of the international arts festival, Afrovibes, in 2014.
Poseletso Sejosingoe, winner of the Zabalaza Best Actress in 2012, went on to perform in the Baxter’s production of Scrooge and is currently touring internationally with the musical The Lion King.
Zabalaza, in partnership with the Western Cape Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport, have been nominating actors and actresses to audition for 7de Laan and Suidooster. All those who auditioned were awarded cameo roles over the last few years. In 2016 William Michaels, Robyn September and Llewellyn Bond appeared on television in Suidooster. Over the last few years Thabiso Newman, Samantha Pienaar, Olivia Pika, Julian van der Westhuizen, William Michaels and Melloney Marais, all appeared in the popular television soapie 7de Laan .
This year the observers and field workers who worked closely with the team to make the final selection comprised former Best of Zabablaza winners Lauren Hannie, Khayalethu Anthony, Bulelani Mabutyani and Loyiso Damoyi. This forms part of the skills transfer ethic of the programme where these artists were given the opportunity to develop their own artistic and administrative skills.
“We are deeply thankful for the continued support and partnership of the Western Cape Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport,” says Thami Mobongo. “Zabalaza is way more than just an annual festival to showcase the works of talented artists who would never have had access to such opportunities. It is about building a community of theatre-makers, guiding them and caring for their development every step of the way. Every year I am encouraged by, not only the work, but also the support and faith that these artists have in us. This allows us to expand the programme for artists and audiences, so that we are able to build a community and live the spirit of Zabalaza.”
To date, five of the Best of Zabalaza play scripts have been published through a partnership with Junket Publishers. In this way a growing body of plays that are accessible, relevant and artistically skilful are easily available to communities, schools, other educational institutions and theatre groups. This year will see the launch of Lauren Hannies’ TIP-ex (2016 winner). The others are Fruit by Paul Noko (2015), The Champion by Khayalethu Anthony (2014), Skierlik by Phillip Dikotla (2013) and Worst of Both Worlds by Bulelani Mabutyana (2012).
Zabalaza Intsika eBaxter Theatre, loosely translated, means two things: striving towards being a pillar of the Baxter Theatre Centre and striving towards success.