Wednesday, 11 November 2009
Tuesday, 10 November 2009
Many students from St. Mary’s University College at the reading in March who are too young to remember the Apartheid government in South Africa commented that, for the first time, they could understand & relate to Shakespeare and have now a better understanding of the Apartheid regime. These students, many of whom do not fully engage with the theatre, said that they could now understand the power that theatre can bring to social change. Judging from the increased level of engagement by both the student and non-student audiences (as exampled in the Q & A following the reading, the conversations that I have had face to face and on the phone with students and non-students about the project), the reading of The Robben Island Bible has promoted new ideas, helped people to see and use theatre in new contexts, formats & places. There will be an educational component to the project which will dovetail with the National Curriculum Citizenship Education through the publication of education resource packs. Within the education resource pack, we will highlight the Black South African leaders who serve as examples of role models and leaders. These packs will be in support with the policies and aims of the educational authority and other public organisations that target educational opportunities. During the interviews conducted last year, employees of the Robben Island Museum supported the project in a variety of ways. Currently, I am in negotiations with this public organisation to see how best The Robben Island Bible can further their mission to educate & engage not only South Africans, but also the thousands of people from the US, UK, Europe and the rest of the world who visit the prison
All of these partnerships will greatly extend the reach of the project and are involved at an appropriate level.
Steph O’Driscoll, an award winning young theatre director and recent graduate from St. Mary’s said, ‘I thought it was a great concept, thought provoking, and powerful. It was the first thing I have seen for a while that I haven’t fallen asleep in and it has made me excited again about theatre. John’s views on Shakespeare (not caring for the literacy figure that England has created) should feed into the play which parallels telling the story of these men’s lives through Shakespeare. It was genius the way they corrected you and you do not come across as ignorant for not knowing the correct pronunciations. It roots the idea that this is these particular men’s stories and their history, no one else could possibly understand fully or get it completely correct.’
Contributors: John Kani -Theatre credits includes Driving Miss Daisy, Othello, The Blood Knot, The Island, Waiting for Godot, Playland, Duet for One, Sizwe Banzi Is Dead, and My Children! My Africa! Several of these productions and many others have been performed to audiences across the world. The Island, which won the Toronto Theatre Award 2001 for Best Production, was co-written by Kani, Athol Fugard, and Winston Ntshona – the same team also wrote Sizwe Banzi Is Dead. Kani won the Best Actor Tony Award on Broadway for his performances in these plays. In 2004 he performed in the Greek classic Antigone at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown and then at Baxter Theatre Centre. His films include The Wild Geese, The Grass Is Singing, Marigolds in August, Victims of Apartheid, An American Dream, A Dry White Season, Sarafina, and Saturday Night at the Palace, for which he won a Taormina Golden Award at the Milan International Film Festival. In 1993 he received a special Obie Award in New York for his extraordinary contribution to theatre. Kani’s accolades for his contribution to South Africa and culture include The Avanti Hall of Fame Award; a National African Federation Chamber of Commerce Merit Award; the Rotary Club’s Paul Harris Fellowship Award; an Honorary Doctorate of Philosophy from the University of Durban, Westville; an Honorary Doctorate of Literature from Rhodes University and the 2000 Hiroshima Renaissance Merit Award for Peace in Stockholm. Kani is a trustee of The Market Theatre Foundation and Chairman of the Apartheid Museum. In 2005 he was awarded the Order of Ikhamanga OIS by President Thabo Mbeki for his contribution through the arts to the liberation of South Africa.
Scilla Elworthy Ph.D - Scilla is founder of Peace Direct, and founder and Chair of Oxford Research Group, established in 1982 to develop effective methods whereby people can bring about positive change on issues of global and local security by non-violent means. Previously she was a consultant at UNESCO on women’s issues, a director of Minority Rights Group in France and has worked for ten years in southern Africa. In May 2003 she was awarded the Niwano Peace Prize and has three times been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1976 she helped organise the building and launch of the Market Theatre, South Africa’s first multiracial theatre and parent theatre of the Market Theatre Laboratory, partner with The Robben Island Bible project. In 2002 she launched a production at the Royal Opera House theatre in London entitled Transforming September 11th; in 2004 she provided the basic material for Max Stafford Clark’s acclaimed production of “Talking to Terrorists” at the Royal Court Theatre in London; and in 2007 her case study on the siege of Fallujah in Iraq was used as the basis for Jonathan Holmes production of “Fallujah” at the Truman Brewery in Brick Lane. Currently, she is advising Richard Branson, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Kofi Annan, President Jimmy Carter and Peter Gabriel on the creation of ‘The Elders’ an organisation created to address the current lack of independent moral global leaders.
Matjamela Motloung (Head of Market Theatre Laboratory) - Theatre administrator who has had extensive training in both performing and management. Has successfully working on Arts Alive for Soweto with MBS community theatre group as well as a part of Southern African Arts Administrators who set up the initial Southern African Theatre Initiative. Matjamela has also hosted and facilitated a number of workshops and co-ordinated a number of festivals and conferences in and around Southern Africa. Matjamela has trained with the acclaimed Royal National Studio (UK) and the Stockholm Stads Teater (Sweden), and the Peter Brook Company (France) as an actor and director. Matjamela directed four fingers by Makhosi Dlamini for the Lab Community Festival and is currently co-director of the Minuature Theatre Company for Kids in Pietermaritzburg Kwa Zulu Natal.Matjamela is one of the leading voices in the push for a transformed theatre industry in South Africa.
Tod Higginson (videographer) - Studied Drama and Theatre Arts at Goldsmiths College, where he was awarded a 1st Class BA Hons degree in 2003. During his time at Goldsmiths, he specialised in technical work, including audio, video, and lighting, as well as directing for live and recorded performance. Tod has worked extensively with DV and High Definition video formats since 2000, and has been employed at a leading DVD Authoring company, dealing with major releases for film and TV companies, since 2003.
Masie Mojela (researcher) – Has a Bsc Degree (Physics and Chemistry) from the University of Johannesburg and has worked in community development in Soweto.
Throughout the years that I have been developing this work, I have spoken to High Commissioners, rehearsed with a Tony Award winning actor and listened in awe to political leaders who spent much of their lives in prisons. I have met with charities, theatre companies and Universities who are interested in partnering with this play. Throughout this process, I have learned that you must be absolutely passionate, determined and tenacious to break through to them and get your voice heard. I have never worked so hard on a piece of art in my life. Through this play, I have had life changing experiences and have grown because of it. From a professional & personal point of view, this project will help develop the quality of my work in the future through the honing of my work ethic, contacts that I have established, respect that I have gained for pursuing this project and emotions this play has touched. The international aspect of this play will have a positive effect on my future work and provide opportunities for people in England to engage with my work both now and in the future through the establishment of contacts in South Africa and Southern Africa, a working relationship with the Market Theatre, new ideas for work surrounding Robben Island and positive relationships between artists in South Africa and in the United Kingdom.
In 2oo6, the ‘Bible’ left South Africa for the first time to be a part of the ‘Complete Works’ Festival in Stratford-upon-Avon. I viewed the ‘Bible’ for the first time there and from then on, I knew that I needed to do this project.
Since 199o, South Africa has intrigued me. I see in it huge potential as a young & struggling democracy. After visiting South Africa and, in particular, Robben Island for the first time in 2oo3, I fell in love with the people, the landscape and the culture. I hold the country in high regard because of the difficulties it has faced and are currently attempting to overcome.
My South African friend and fellow researcher, who grew up in Soweto, said that he was so proud to be working on the interview project with me because of what it meant to him as a South African man. When we interviewed his leaders, he could not help to hide his absolute glee and respect that he had for these men. The pride welled up in his chest when he spoke with them. That pride & respect is of huge import to me as a human being. Through the Phase 1 research, I found Shakespeare’s work to be an expression of the character of these former political prisoners and something that holds great resonance within them. I was told by one former political prisoner that, in order to be taken seriously, a South African leader must quote Shakespeare in each speech he gives. This impact of Shakespeare’s words when read by men under the oppression of Apartheid reflects its resonance beyond the English culture.
My method of working has close resonance with the method that John Kani and Winston Ntshona developed with Athol Fugard in their plays, The Island & Sizwe Banzi is Dead. At the recent reading of The Robben Island Bible, John Kani said, ‘When we created, in 1972, Sizwe Banzi Is Dead, we didn't have a script, it was being improvised based on personal experience of what was happening around us and the news that we heard.’
This play needs to be developed in South Africa in order to give audiences in the United States as close to the theatrical ‘truth’ of these stories as possible. We want this play to achieve a ‘truth’ that the artists, the former political prisoners who were interviewed and the audiences will find resonance in. We are very aware of past colonialization by whites in South Africa both in the political and theatrical worlds and want to do everything to avoid even the appearance of another one. This second phase of script development represents the further progression of 8 years of work on this project.
The project is divided into three phases:
Phase 1 – Interview Stage (October & November 2oo8) – This phase consisted of interviewing former Robben Island political prisoners. These interviews, along with selected texts from ‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare,’ will form part of the foundation for the play. This phase culminated in a staged reading at the Richmond Theatre in March 2oo9 featuring John Kani and other members of the cast from the RSC’s The Tempest.
Phase 2 –Script Development (February 2o1o) – This phase will consist of working with South African actors, a South African dramaturge, a South African researcher, a videographer & a producer to develop a script based on interviews and chosen texts and an educational outreach campaign. Further interviews of the former political prisoners will also be conducted and recorded on video for a multi-media exhibition of the play – which will be featured in the reception area of the theatre in which the play is performed. This phase will culminate in a staged reading of the play at the Indiana University Union Board. It will also produce a script for Phase Three.
Phase 3 – Rehearsal & performance of the play along with the presentation of the multi-media exhibit in the foyer of the producing theatre and the launch of an education outreach programme.
I want to showcase Shakespeare’s work to a new audience and to expand the range of Shakespeare’s work in a way that has rarely been explored. I also want to expose the rest of the world, many whom may only recognize the name ‘Mandela,’ to the unsung heroes of the Struggle against Apartheid in South Africa. Each of these most gentle of men has so much to show the world about leadership, citizenship, resistance and reconciliation.
The central idea behind this project is to honour the stories of the former political prisoners who have given of themselves in their interviews. It is the driving force behind my insistence on working in South Africa with South African artists to validate the development of this play.
Wednesday, 17 June 2009
Monday, 30 March 2009
The reading included a performance by Tony Award winning actor John Kani who read excerpts from recently conducted interviews and selected Shakespearian texts of political prisoners on Robben Island. John Kani was joined by Atandwa Kani & Omphile Moulusi, two of the young actors from RSC & Baxter Theatre Company’s The Tempest.
The Drama department at St Mary’s University College closed for the afternoon and the stalls at the theatre were filled with students and other special guests from Richmond, the University College and from the anti-apartheid movement.
‘Afterwards John Kani participated in a moving, politicised and exciting question and answer session which can have left no-one in the audience in any doubt of the power that theatre has to communicate, keep ideals alive, provide metaphors for resistance and inspire great acts of courage and humanity.’
John Kani said, ‘The role of theatre, even today, is part of, trying to bond a nation, talk about tolerance, reconciliation, rebuilding our own lives and our own country, and our society. We see a lesson which our people could learn in this great writer called Shakespeare.
‘There is an African tradition of storytelling, which is actually a method of retaining the unwritten history that the white racist minority government did not want to write down. So our grandparents and great-grandparents handed down our history orally, and people were developed into seasoned and well-respected storytellers. And that also, the stories were part of reflecting the society itself. So theatre, coming into our continent, mixed the two genres; the genre of storytelling, and the western concept of what theatre is.’
The Robben Island Bible Project has gained the support of many prominent South Africans and international organisations including the British High Commissioner to South Africa, Paul Boateng; South African High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Ms Lindiwe Mabuza; Tony Award winning actor Dr. John Kani; the British Council in South Africa and St Mary’s University College, Twickenham, amongst others.
Monday, 23 February 2009
Friday, 13 February 2009
St. Mary’s University College in association with the Richmond Theatre & the Royal Shakespeare Company will be hosting a staged reading of excerpts from the new play, The Robben Island Bible on the 24th of March at 3.00pm read by John Kani, Tony Award winning actor.
For more information and to book tickets for this free event, please call Matthew on 0208 240 4059.
This play is based on South African Sonny Venkatratham’s copy of ‘Complete Works of William Shakespeare’. A political prisoner on Robben Island during the 1970s, Venkatratham smuggled his copy of the ‘Complete Works’ into the prison by persuading his warders that it was a religious Hindu text. He then surreptitiously passed the book to a number of his fellow political prisoners in the single cells. Each of them marked his favourite passage in the ‘Complete Works’ and signed it with the date. It contains thirty-two signatures, including those of Walter Sisulu, Neville Alexander, Billy Nair, Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki, Ahmed Kathrada, Andrew Masondo, and Mac Maharaj, all luminaries in the struggle for a democratic South Africa.
These men signed passages within the text which they found particularly moving / meaningful / profound. The selection of texts provides fascinating insight into the minds, thinking and soul of prisoners at that time.
Ahmed Kathrada, Michael Dingake, Saths Cooper, Theo Cholo, Kwede Mkalipi, Sonny Venkatrathnam & Andrew Mlangeni, all former political prisoners on Robben Island & signatories were interviewed as part of the first phase of this research project in October & November 2008.
The second phase of the project will begin in the summer of 2009, when we will be working with actors from the Market Theatre in Johannesburg, South Africa to devise a play based on the interviews & chosen Shakespearian texts.
The project has gained the support of many prominent South Africans and international organisations including the British High Commissioner to South Africa, Paul Boateng, South African High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Ms Lindiwe Mabuza, Tony Award winning actor Dr. John Kani, the British Council in South Africa and St. Mary’s University College in London amongst others.
With experiences of working in the theatre and development fields in the UK, Ethiopia, Malawi, South Africa and United States, we share a great passion for ensuring access to the performing arts through social change.