New artistic director for new Olive Tree Theatre

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Nondumiso Lwazi Msimanga
Nondumiso Lwazi Msimanga

Fresh growth envisioned for the relaunch of the Olive Tree Theatre in Alexandra as Nondumiso Lwazi Msimanga takes on the role of artistic director.A new road is being carved with the development of the Olive Tree Theatre. The theatre, housed at the Yarona Mall since 2012, is moving to its own space at the heart of Alexandra. As the space grows bigger, former creative director and 2009 Standard Bank Young Artist for Theatre Ntshieng Mokgoro passes the torch to the young artist-activist.

Nondumiso is a performance artist, theatre-maker, writer, and independent academic. She has the knowledge and passion to lead a visionary independent space that thrives from its being an alternative venue. Nondumiso is, herself, an alternative artist who has grounded her work in research that centres black female bodies. She won a Standard Bank Silver Ovation Award at the 2015 National Arts Festival, co-created a national rape awareness campaign SA’s Dirty Laundry in 2016, and lectured on race and gendered performance at Wits University until the end of 2017. She was selected to direct a play at the 6th Annual Womxn’s Theatre Festival; which did not occur due to a funding delay. Nondumiso and Ntshieng want to ensure that festivals such as this receive the backing they deserve for the work they do for womxn in theatre.

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Olive Tree Theatre ProductionsTheir mission is clear: to work (ukusebenza). The vision of the Olive Tree Theatre is one that stems from the symbol of the olive, and it represents abundance, strength, peace, victory, and it is the oil used to make new light. Nondumiso says, ‘We seek to spotlight neglected stories in the country; and to put centrestage the wealth of sheer talent in the township. We also hope to create fresh prosperity in the theatre we love so much.’ They hope not only to showcase future award winners but to bring the victories of award-winning theatre to the people in Alexandra, who relish good storytelling.

The olive tree is a spiritual symbol. Ntshieng first named her company Olive Tree Theatre Productions because she recognized that she had a calling. Her work as a director and writer is deeply spiritual. ‘When people walk into the space they always talk about how it makes them feel calm; like something is touching you. It’s a place where you just feel at home’, Ntshieng says.

‘It takes real work to build up the kind of space that we envision the Olive Tree Theatre growing into. Umsebenzi lona esiwuzele lana. Nomdlalo oqotho futhi.’ Nondumiso plays on the connotations of her Zulu vernacular when she says that it is work that they are here to do, as well as serious and honest and excellent play. She has fallen in love with the playful feeling that she gets when she enters the new space. ‘It has all of the spiritual calm of the other theatre because umsebenzi means that spiritual and continuous work is done to grow who we are. But, this space has the energy of a grandmother’s giggle. I would like people to feel that level of invitation and affect when they visit us here- that there’s something that moves them with the depth of a grandmother’s hug and a grandmother’s giggle. Nondumiso’s grandmother was the storyteller in her family and Nondumiso says she inherited that gift along with the responsibility to share it.

The first conversation that Ntshieng and Nondumiso had was about their mothers and grandmothers. At the end of it, Ntshieng asked her to take over as artistic director and Nondumiso said her ancestors are happy here. They both agree, it was synchronicity.

Ntshieng will now step into the role of management, working on securing more financial partners for the work of the Olive Tree Theatre. Nondumiso says that there are many things to come. She is reconfiguring some of the theatre’s old strategies for more far-reaching and sustainable development plans. As an advocate for human rights, she will be bringing this critical energy to the new theatre. The partners already involved in the fresh approach are human rights activists who are also award-winning artists. She says these are the distinctions that Ntshieng embodies and Nondumiso wants to honour.

Nondumiso has secured partnerships with established theatres such as the Maitisong theatre in Botswana, to create a stronger pan-Africanist and inclusive vision. Award-winning filmmakers and musicians have already added their names to the list of people ready to do the necessary work with the team. Nondumiso, along with 2017 Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner for theatre Monageng ‘Vice’ Motshabi, will present plays in collaboration with the Market Lab and POPArt theatre. She smiles and says, ‘Other ventures and highlights will be unveiled during the launch.’

The new Olive Tree Theatre will officially launch on Human Rights Day, 21 March 2018. They are ready to welcome all to the new home.

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