World-renowned artists come together for ‘A Unique Gathering: Rolex Mentors & Protégés’

One of the most important cultural events in the history of the Baxter Theatre is scheduled to take place over the first weekend in April, when three of the world’s most influential artists come together under the Rolex banner for “A Unique Gathering: Rolex Mentors and Protégés“.

The three-day event will feature Nobel prize-winning author Wole Soyinka, visual and theatre artist William Kentridge and world-renowned American opera, theatre and festival director Peter Sellars in a series of open workshops with the public where they will discuss their craft.
The Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative is a philanthropic programme which pairs gifted young artists with internationally recognized masters, sponsoring them to spend a year in a one-to-one mentoring relationship.

The gathering begins on the 5th of April with an open workshop with William Kentridge entitled Getting Started who will explore the origin of ideas and impulses and how they become artistic material. All the protégés will take part in this event.

Buy your tickets to Getting Started here.

At 8PM on Friday the 5th, Honduran singer and composer Aurelio Martinez will perform with local musicians, including Neo Muyanga in the Baxter Concert Hall. Martinez is a standard bearer of Garifuna culture, which fuses African and Caribbean-Indian roots and recently spent a year collaborating with Rolex Mentor Youssou N’Dour.

Buy your tickets for the concert here.

On Saturday afternoon, the program shifts to Artists on the Front Line, which unpacks the question of how artists respond to conflict. World-renowned American opera, theatre and festival director Peter Sellars, acclaimed Togolese dancer and choreographer Anani Sanouvi and groundbreaking Lebanese theatre artist Maya Zbib explore how art and culture contribute to a healthy society.

Buy your tickets for Artists on the Front Line here.

The weekend draws to a close on Saturday evening with Turning the world into material. All three mentors, Wole Soyinka, Peter Sellars and William Kentridge, take to the stage to discuss the “impulses behind the idea and the materialization of an impulse: How does the world come into your work?” Each of these iconic artists will respond to this question with reference to their own experiences.

Buy your tickets to Turning the World Into Material here.


Two extraordinary one-handers come to the Baxter in October

One of the hardest, yet most-rewarding forms of theatre to create is undoubtedly the one-person show. It’s intimate, challenging and is often a transformative experience for both performer and audience. The Baxter is thrilled to have not one, but two, great single-handers opening in October, brought to us by prolific writer / director Hennie van Greunen, one of South Africa’s most-acclaimed theatre voices.

Normality, starring Pedro Kruger is the story of one man’s struggle to overcome his physical disability and find a way to be in the world, while The Sewing Machine starring Sandra Prinsloo focuses on the life of an ageing woman who is trying to make peace with the changing nature of the country she lives in. The Baxter Blog caught up with Hennie van Greunen and put a few questions to him about both of these productions.

NORMALITY starring Pedro Kruger. Directed by Shirley Ellis, written by Hennie van Greunen. Golden Arrow Studio: 17, 19, 20, 26, 27,30 & 31st of October. Book at Computicket.

Baxter Blog: What inspired you to create Normality around this particular illness?

HvG: Three things: ONE: I grew up with a sister who was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. TWO: Whoopi Goldberg’s 1984 Broadway solo show sent one-person theatre in a completely new and exciting direction. In the show she does a disabled character and for me, as a 19 year old who grew up with a disabled sibling, that sketch particularly resonated in many places in myself that I had, up to that point not revisited. THREE: Pedro Kruger’s incredible talents as pianist, songwriter, actor and storyteller inspired me to write this one-man musical.

BB: How was it received when it played at the Edinburgh Festival?

HvG: It was received fantastically: we received five 5-star reviews and the first Hidden Gem Award.

BB: What can an audience expect from this production?

HvG: The way in which the character of Alex looks at himself and his world is incredibly un-PC, so the audience can expect to travel from hysterical laughter to profound sadness. Also, the play is about so much more than disability: show me the person who does not have some or the other issue with his/her body and I’ll show you a liar. So Alex is a part of all of us.

THE SEWING MACHINE, starring Sandra Prinsloo. Written by Rachelle Greef and translated by Hennie van Greunen. Golden Arrow Studio: 23, 24 October & 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 9 & 10 November. Book at Computicket.

BB: What made you decide to do a translation of this production?

HvG: I believe in Story like other people believe in Religion. I have a firm belief that the key to understanding and peace lies in our shared humanity which we express best through story. Also South African theatre has so many stories that are diverse, passionate and human – a commodity that many first world countries have lost. I would love to see SA established as a country of origin of world-class theater and we proved this at the 2012 Edinburgh Festival Fringe when the SA season, especially Mies Julie and The Sewing Machine, were the talk of the festival.

BB: What do you imagine life to be like for aging white people grappling with a new reality?
HvG: I think one should be careful not to generalise about old white people, instead let’s look at old people of all races in all parts of the world: the unwillingness/inability to change, to shake prejudices reinforced by a lifetime, the fear of loneliness and the feelings of being left behind in a world where politics, technology and social mores & values change rapidly and continually.

BB: How has it been working with the incredible Sandra Prinsloo?
HvG: Working with an actor of Sandra’s experience and talent is a joy: we also tend to feel the same way about the work that we do together. It is incredible to work with someone who immediately knows which direction we’re heading and who can give me, as the director, exactly the picture that I saw in my head. We worked together again on the 2011 hit ‘Janneman’ and there are a few more projects that we want to do in the future.

James Ngcobo speaks about Boesman and Lena and his love of directing

James Ngcobo is one of the most inspirational people you’re ever likely to meet. When the director of Boesman and Lena begins to talk about the work he is doing and his process, he is transformed into a passionate torrent of thoughts and ideas which he sprinkles liberally over an audience.

Ngcobo is resurrecting Boesman and Lena because ‘there is no sell-by date on great theatre’. He believes passionately in the work of Fugard, and argues that every year, the Russians do Chekhov, the Americans resurrect Tennessee Williams, but only here do we have a problem with revering our great writers.

Ngcobo is a self-taught theater afficionado and a man who has done almost everything there is to do on a South African stage. He learned from some of South Africa’s great directors and he is keen to pass on his philosophy of directing.

“The best work is done in rooms where there is joy”, says Ngcobo in another of his tweet-worthy quotes. For this production, he’s working with a dynamite cast of Elton Landrew, Quanita Adams and Charley Azade and believes firmly in the powers of collaboration. “The director is no longer the god in the room, those days are long gone.”

He also finds it easy to ask for help or a second opinion from people in the theatre community that he respects and his work reflects that inclusive approach.

Boesman and Lena is a story that Ngcobo is passionate about. He explains how South Africa has the highest number of immigrants in the world and how critically important it is to deal with the issue. But instead of creating a political drama, he’s used this show to create something personal. “At its heart, Fugard’s classic is a love story. Lena is a dreamer, she wants a better world while Boesman is a pragmatist. He’s wearing an armour of accepting that things cannot change, while Lena just longs for him to hold her,” he explains.

Ngcobo’s directing strength is in the details. He works on touches, small notes that the audience might not even notice but that all add to the integrity and weight of the piece. For instance, Ngcobo observes that Lena, in this production, is Muslim. That’s the kind of thing that may not be on the page, but is significant for the actress who is playing Lena. For Ngcobo, Lena is not simply a homeless woman. She was a daughter once too, maybe a sister. She is not defined by her surroundings alone.

Fundamentally, he operates with a “love of telling stories about the people who I share a land with”. And he knows intrinsically what is that audiences want to see. They don’t need theory, they don’t want care if it’s Dadaism or realism, they just want to see heart and soul on the stage.

Boesman and Lena runs at the Baxter Theatre Centre from the 5th to the 29th of September. Tickets range from R100 to R150 and are available now at Computicket. You can book right here.

Daniel & Matthew Pencer on creating the soundtrack to Mies Julie

During the winter of 2010, the director of the upcoming Mies Julie, Yael Farber, began frequenting Le Depanneur Cafe in Montreal where two brothers, Daniel and Matthew Pencer, were performing a weekly 2-hour musical improvisation. Their idea was to “accompany the space, giving less of a performance, more of ‘existing in the room’. This musical concept resonated particularly well with Farber and the style of theatre she creates, and when she suggested a collaboration on her forthcoming production ofKadmos, a strong creative partnership was born.

The partnership was so successful that Farber invited the Pencer brothers to Cape Town in order to develop a musical soundscape for the forthcoming production of Mies Julie, now in development at the Baxter.

Matthew Pencer was originally a drummer, until he began doing sound design on computers, for radio and mixing. He explains that “At one point I began incorporating drum machines into my setup, basically a programmable synthesizer. The more I played, the more I got interested in programming and began experimenting with my computer as an instrument. Eventually I became obsessed with the potential of using various technologies for music.”

Younger brother Daniel Pencer has been studying the clarinet and sax for 17 years. He has “a Bachelor’s degree in Jazz performance at the University of Toronto where I studied music ranging from Balinese Gamelan to classical clarinet to West African drumming. After all that, I continued my studies in India, learning North Indian classical music on the Clarionette and Bansuri.”

Creating music for a new theatrical work brings its own challenges. Due to the fact that the work is always changing and morphing, ‘the sonic accompaniment’ needs to keep up. “The music we create is largely improvised at first and our challenge is to recreate what Miss Farber thinks is appropriate for her vision,” says Matthew. “It takes a lot of patience and a keen understanding of how each scene is transitioning into the next. Being aware of the character’s moods and emotional narrative is integral to our process of creating sound accompaniment.”

The musical team is enhanced by the presence of Mama NoFirst, a Xhosa throat-singer from the Eastern Cape who performs as part of the Ngoqoko Cultural Group. The Smithsonian Folkways site explains that “Throat-singing, a guttural style of singing or chanting, is one of the world’s oldest forms of music.In throat-singing, a singer can produce two or more notes simultaneously through specialized vocalization technique taking advantage of the throat’s resonance characteristics.”

Watch this video as an example:

How do the Pencers feel about working with South African artists? “It’s been a real pleasure meeting such wonderfully warm people! The knowledge that Mama Nofirst has shared with us so far is invaluable and what an incredible musical force! The cast has been welcoming and encouraging. It’s an honour to work with such talented artists in such an intense theatre process. What can you say about Miss Farber? She takes no prisoners and her unrelenting work ethic is an inspiration. Her encouragement and straight up directing style allows us to work efficiently and as a team to propel all of our hard work into the devastating beauty that she is envisioning.”

Finally, they were asked what the soundtrack to Mies Julie would be like….”imagine Morton Feldman meets Yamataka Eye meets Mama Nofirst”, and if that means nothing to you, then you’ll just have to come and see the show!

You can listen a snippet of the Pencer’s previous experimental improvised work here:

Mies Julie runs at the Grahamstown Festival from the 2nd to the 4th of July. (Book online here). It runs at the Baxter from 11 July to 26 July. (Book online here). The run continues at the Edinburgh Festival, followed by the Pretoria State Theatre.

Welcome the Blue Bird Baxter: A brand new weekly market

The Southern Suburbs are about to get a great big shake-up with the launch of the Blue Bird Baxter market in the gardens of the Baxter Theatre from Saturday 5 November.

Market-lovers, UCT staff and students, Baxter patrons and the local and surrounding communities are in for a treat when the market opens for the festive season.

Visitors can enjoy an array of wares, entertainment and tasty delicacies while browsing through the variety of stalls with wonderful hand-made and vintage goods on sale.

The food and goods market will be running every Saturday from 12PM to 6PM.

The market is being organised by Dylan Speer, who set up the very successful Blue Bird Garage market in Muizenberg. Dylan is bringing his vision to the Baxter.

The Baxter garden will be transformed into a bustling rendezvous where exhibitors will display and sell vintage-styled clothing and jewellery designs in a convivial and fun atmosphere. These local designers include The Pendant Warehouse, Akimbo, Aeroplane Jane, Yesterday and Tomorrow, Aphrodite, Natasha Woods, love joy jewellery and Like Clock Work.

The Little Hattery will launch a new range of amazing hats, and Noon-Gun T-shirts will kick-start their latest range of T-shirts.

We would love to see families, students, friends and locals enjoy the space which we believe is great for the area this time of the year.

Come join us in a whole new venture for the Baxter Theatre Centre.

The Baxter launches Dramatix, an all-new loyalty programme

The Baxter Theatre Centre is thrilled to announce that we’ve been working hard on a brand-new loyalty club that we’re calling the Dramatix Club, and we’re finally ready to launch it to you.

Dramatix has been specially designed for those of you who want to get more out of the Baxter theatre experience. What this means is you’ll be the first to know about shows opening at the Baxter, you’ll receive VIP treatment when you’re here and you’ll be invited to performances and events that are not open to the general public.

The cost of annual membership is R570 all-inclusive, and we’re opening the club with a special offer to attend the final dress rehearsal for Solomon & Marion, the new Baxter production written and directed by Lara Foot and starring the world-renowned Dame Janet Suzman. This is your chance to see the creative team making the final tweaks to the show, and a chance to meet & greet this great actress in the private Dramatix lounge after the show.

Here’s a full list of all the benefits you’ll receive:

  • invitations to final dress rehearsals of Baxter productions
  • Q&A sessions with actors, directors and other theatre luminaries
  • free parking
  • exclusive access to the Dramatix Lounge
  • a backstage tour of the Baxter
  • exclusive e-mail newsletter content
  • advance booking opportunities
  • If you would like to join Dramatix, please call Sharon Alexander on 021 680 3962, or e-mail Haidee at for more information.

    We look forward to having you.

    When you need inspiration, get on your feet and find it

    So I was sitting here struggling with ideas on what to write about, fiddling around on the internet. But the beauty of this job and of being at the Baxter is that you are guaranteed to find someone, somewhere in the building doing incredible work and expressing not only what they feel but what you feel as well.

    You just have to get on your feet and find them.

    So first I wandered into the Concert Hall to find a troupe of seven or eight marimba players sitting on the stage, slowly working out and developing complex polyryhthms and tones to beguil and intrigue the listener, and to banish once and for all the thought that this African music and African instruments cannot deliver complex, thought-provoking content. I don’t know the name of the group, but I know that the legendary musician Dizu Plaatjies is showcasing students from the SACM African Music Studio.

    Then I stroll into the rehearsal room to see contemporary dance companyJazzart working on a run of their show. Took me 2 seconds to realise I needed my video camera. And I sat and watched, transfixed and transported by what these men and women are able to convey and do with their bodies. You should have been there, and hopefully you will be when they open. Also next Tuesday.

    The dancers are telling their stories…not only with their bodies, but with their words, their choice of music, the twitch of a muscle that conveys a history of love and hurt, bullying and friendship. There is a reason they are the premier contemporary dance company in South Africa in my book. They are that good.

    And there I was just sitting here, bored. Shame on me. And shame on you if you don’t come, support, feed on this art.

    You will be the loser.