Sitting in the dark, observing actors working with material, is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Whether on stage or on screen, you sit in the audience and commit to the journey with them and you become an integral part of the chemistry that exists in the room. Sometimes it’s awful, often it’s mediocre and sometimes, rarely, it’s transcendent.
The opening night of the Zabalaza festival was one of the most special, beautiful and inspiring nights that I’ve witnessed in the theatre.
The team putting together the Zabalaza Theatre Festival had spent the last few months scouring the Western Cape for the best and brightest community theatre talent out there. For the opening night performance, they took the controversial step of not showcasing only one of the productions, but instead devising a ‘collage’ of all the productions involved. Stories from all 12 of the productions were woven seamlessy from one to the next, threaded together by a narrator into an hour-long piece of theatre which exploded off the stage and into the hearts of everyone who was there.
It was a gamble that paid off spectacularly. The audience were on the edge of their seats, hanging on every word as the shows flowed from one to the next, showcasing the best segments of each of the productions while hinting at the hidden depths that each of the shows would deliver over the coming weeks.
Reflecting on the evening as a whole, it would be unfair of me to pick out any particular highlights. Certainly there were some actors who put in star-making performances who you will hear about them in the coming weeks, but it was the incredible standard of acting and singing from almost everyone involved which made such a lasting impression.
As the collage was coming to an end, the audience was, literally, bursting to give a standing ovation to the theatre companies. The last lines of the show were repeatedly drowned out as people spontaneously erupted with love and respect for the performers.
These young artists have worked tirelessly, rehearsing wherever and whenever they could (some even in public toilets) for the chance to bring their works of art to the stage for the public to enjoy.
The momentum now shift to us in the audience. We need to make the time to come see these productions, to bear witness to what these groups have achieved and to enjoy some of the most passionate, life-affirming and soulful theatre that you are ever likely to come across.