From The Mouths Of Babes brings SA’s Jewish heritage to the stage

Fresh off the stage at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg, From the mouths of babes showcases three extraordinarily talented women on the Baxter Stage who are able to educate, entertain and inspire audiences with their unique insights into what it means to be Jewish and South African in today’s world.

Sharon Spiegel-Wagner, Sivan Raphaely and Na’ami Gottlieb-Lieberman are all talented actors and singers who workshopped and created this production with director Malcolm Purkey. The reviews have been nothing short of outstanding.

We caught up with Sharon just before she boarded a plane to begin the Cape Town run.

Baxter Blog: How did the idea for this show come about?
Sharon Spiegel-Wagner: Sivan & I were getting tired of trying to fit a fixed concept of an English White South African identity. We felt that even though our roots may not necessarily be South African, we have lived a uniquely South African life & have been raised in this beautiful country in our own ways. Our Ashkenazi backgrounds may not represent a majority of South Africans but as women who were raised in South Africa, we contributed to South African life, society & sense of community.

We wanted to be ourselves- white Jewish English-speaking South African girls.

So we met up one day with Malcolm Purkey & said that we wanted to be authentic & portray this on stage. We wanted to give our lives and our stories a voice. A couple of meetings and workshops later with the addition of our third musketeer (Naami), and here we are!

BB: Is the show strictly for Jewish audiences or is there something in it for everyone?
SW: It’s for everyone! Initially we were afraid it would alienate other cultures since we are talking about our uniquely South African Jewish lives, but no!

Other cultures and groups have not only embraced us so warmly but have also commented on the universality of our cultural quirks.

In fact, we have made the piece inviting and accessible. Most of all, it’s honest and true and has a great sense of humanity-which brings people closer together.

BB: Do you think the Jewish experience in South Africa is under-reported? I imagine a lot of people don’t know this history.
SW: I think many of the smaller subcultures in South Africa are under-reported. I worry that communities stay isolated because of this & isolation breeds loneliness. I think it would be a great move towards living in a holistic society that one hears and takes interest in other cultures and the issues they face. We are so busy with politics that we forget to learn about one another, listen to each other & find out how we got to South Africa & what we bring to this nation.

BB: What kind of reaction to the work have you had?
SW: We have had great responses. For some, it’s not their cup of tea but that’s a matter of taste. You can’t like everything you see but on the whole it’s been mostly positive & embracing.

BB: Is it all traditional music or do you sing some contemporary as well?
SW: We sing traditional songs in different languages-Russian, Yiddish & Hebrew and the songs range from traditional to modern.

BB: What can audiences expect when they come to “From the Mouths of Babes”?
SW: They can expect a fun night out filled with laughter, beautiful music & pathos.

From the mouths of babes opens at the Baxter Theatre Centre on the 5th of December and runs until the 5th of January.

Click here for the Computicket link and price details.

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Brett Bailey on medEia: “A straight drama is seldom enough for me”

Third World Bunfight’s medEia, one of the most astonishing pieces of visual theatre/storytelling to come out of post-apartheid South Africa comes to the Baxter for a short run in mid-September. In 2010, the Mail & Guardian newspaper declared it to be ‘best production of the decade’ and the show has won extensive awards all around the world.

In 2012, the production has been transformed from a site-specific format to the more traditional theatre stage to accomodate an extensive European tour. We caught up with Brett Bailey on the eve of the tour to find out more about the production.

Why are you bringing back medEia at this time, or did it never really go away?
Brett Bailey: I love this work. The text is really lyrical, evocative and poetic. It is studded with the lyrics of 80’s pop songs, and locates this dark classical tragedy firmly in the 21st century. I find it works really well with the themes that I explore: the fractious relationship between Africa and Europe, immigration, and ritual. I have been trying to get this staged in Europe for a couple of years already. I was hoping to restage the rambling site-specific version that I made at Spier in 2005 (elected best production of the decade by the Mail and Guardian), but with the cuts to European cultural budgets, such large-scale productions are too costly. So I have adapted the play for stage, and am loving it.

This subject matter seems to never go away, as witnessed by our recent Purgatorio here. What is it about this story that continues to resonate?
Brett Bailey: These ancient stories that survive in our consciousness for millennia have strong universal threads. The story tells of the human yearning for freedom and a better life; of love and betrayal; of jealousy and terrible revenge. We can identify with these emotions, and in Greek tragedy they are portrayed on a vast, archetypal scale.

What can Baxter audiences expect from the new production?
Brett Bailey: A straight drama is seldom enough for me. I always like to knit together several genres and influences. In this production I work with a smoky jazz concert ambiance (brought alive with the sensual drumming of ace drummer Frank Paco), ritual, spoken word artistry, and drama. The fusion gives this dark tragedy a cool, funky feel.

I live this contrast of violence and intensity with beauty and groove.

Tell us a little about your amazing upcoming tours and why you think European audiences are so smitten with this work.
Brett Bailey: medEia will tour Zurich and Basel before we open at the Baxter, and then hit Berlin, Amsterdam, Rotterdam and 5 other Dutch cities. I reckon there is interest in this work because there is a good deal of curiosity in Africa at present, and immigration is a hot topic in Europe as the left and right wing political factions battle to gain ground within a context of collapsed economies, unemployment, a huge influx of asylum seekers and the resulting xenophobia. These are the themes I explore in the work.
Also, my works have been touring extensively in Europe for the past ten years, and have become collectible items for festival directors.

What should someone in the audience do /read to prepare for the production?
Brett Bailey: It would be good to read a summary of the Medea plot – scan it on Wikipedia. The text is pretty fragmented, so an overall grasp on the story would be enriching. Otherwise just come with your imagination and an open mind.

Live drumming with the amazing Frank Paco? Wow…What’s the thinking behind that…
As I mentioned, Oscar van Woensel’s script is spangled with the lyrics of pop songs, and the text has a wonderful musicality. I am first and foremost a visual theatre maker, but I decided to start from the sound of the text this time, and really to make the work a rich audial experience. I wanted a lazy, lounge sound to underpin the entire show, and when I thought of the drummer I’d most like to work with, it was obviously Frank. Never thought he’d oblige, but sometimes you got to go out on a limb: he accepted immediately…
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MedEia runs at the Baxter Theatre Centre for 5 shows only, from the 12th to the 15th of September. Tickets are R120 each and can be booked here. Or call 021 680 3962 to enquire about block bookings.

The Black Ties bring soul to the stage with Vodacom Soul Classics

One of Cape Town’s best-loved musical outfits, The Black Ties, is coming home with ‘Vodacom presents Soul Classics‘ a show that celebrates the glory of soul music. With hits from Marvin Gaye, Lionel Richie and Cee-Lo Green, a full band including a brass section, three backing singers and some of the Cape’s hottest young stars as guests, this promises to be one of the musical highlights of the year.

We caught up with the Ties in-between rehearsals.

Baxter Blog: What have The Black Ties been up to lately?
Keeno Lee: We have been planning and preparing for the Soul Classics show, doing a few gigs here and there and pushing our latest single, “Jump.”

BB: This Baxter show is a big step for you, isn’t it?
Chad Saaiman: It is, to a certain extent. It’s more of a homecoming, as myself and Lloyd did one of our 1st big shows here a decade ago and Keeno’s 1st show was here too before that. So we’re back.

BB: What can people expect?
Lloyd Jansen: They can expect a show filled songs that evoke memories and create moments, whether new or old. Along with the Black Ties trademark humour and soulful, harmonious interpretations.

BB: Why did you decide to go this route?
CS: It’s what we do naturally, so it made sense for us to approach it this way. People feel the authenticity in a performance and a real connection to a song and lyric.

Check out this video of some of their earlier work:

BB: Who else will be joining you onstage for the Vodacom Soul Classics?
ALL: Sasha-Lee, EBI from Good Hope FM and Lucy Tops. As well as a 6-piece band with 3 female backing vocalists. All incredibly talented individuals.

BB: Do you think soul music is still relevant today and still has an audience?
Keeno Lee: Yes. Soul music is music from the heart, and it appeals to most audiences, everybody has had a relationship and has experienced either heartache or happiness in that regard.

Chad Saaiman: Soul music is often about hope, and it’s real. It’s as it makes us believe, if we have forgotten. It’s what my mom and dad listened to. It’s musical storytelling at it’s best.

Lloyd Jansen: Definitely. It’s evident by the way soulful house music has been received, as many of the biggest hits in the country right now have an element of soul in either the chords, progressions or vocal delivery.

Vodacom Soul Classics runs from the 16th to the 21st of July. You can book tickets for next week’s performance right here.

Mies Julie: ‘exploring the national within the realm of the personal’

Award-winning South African director Yael Farber is currently in rehearsal at the Baxter Theatre Centre, creating her first new South African work since the international touring hit Molora, an adaptation of the Oresteia Trilogy.

Farber’s works have toured extensively over the last ten years, earning her a reputation for hard-hitting, controversial works of the highest artistic standard.

In 2012, she has chosen to adapt the August Strindberg classic Miss Julie to a South African setting. She took a break during rehearsals to speak to us about the work.

Baxter Blog (BB): Why did you select Miss Julie as a piece to rework in a South African context?
Yael Farber (YF): Strindberg’s original Miss Julie was a piece that created great controversy in its time. It remains a compelling examination of the power dynamics between classes and genders. It struck me as a good palette upon which to look at some of the emerging issues that exist between South Africans. The shifts as well as the stagnations of who holds the power. Power comes in many forms. In the economic sense, this is intrinsically tied up with who owns the land and how this has failed to be addressed in the emerging new vision for the country. I wanted to create a work that captures this and the other subtle forms of complicated colonizing that occurred as a result of apartheid. Miss Julie allows me explore what Greek Tragedy offers: The palette to explore the national within the realm of the personal and domestic.

BB: You’ve adapted a number of works during your career, including Shakespeare and Greek tragedies. What’s the hardest thing about adapting an existing piece of work?
YF: What to mess with and what to retain as the spine of the audience’s experience. Moving along the track of the original plot and characters’ arcs, offers a powerful series of common reference points upon which you let the audience move with you. But turning these expectations on their heads is also crucial to an adaptation – otherwise it becomes too pat. Subverting expectations based on the original should not be done just for effect – or it can be terribly contrived. These choices have to come from a place of integrity, aligned with what you are trying to say with the work. Making these choices can be the most challenging part of an adaptation.

BB: Miss Julie has a special place in the Baxter’s history, mainly due to the barriers it challenged in the 80’s. What can SA audiences expect this time around?
YF: Sexual relations across the colour line – while still interesting and/or shocking for some – is hardly the shocker (not to mention law breaker! – in South Africa that it once was. I don’t believe that this is the compelling point of a MISS JULIE in contemporary South Africa. Land issues, ownership, power, sexuality, mothers, memories. These are what remain as shrapnel from our history. The battle of these primal issues in a kitchen over a single night between a farm labourer and his Baas’s daughter – is what MIES JULIE has its hand in. Kitchens are places of steam and heat and making and devouring and talking. We aim for this MIES JULIE to bring the heat to the fore in all senses.

BB: How has living in Canada changed or grown your vision and the way you direct? (if at all)
YF: There is always the growth one incurs by being displaced. Its the hardest but most powerfully challenging experience to place yourself outside your context. I have gained great perspectives from this experience. I have enjoyed a certain dignity that theatre is afforded in North America. But what I am most affected by is how unique South Africa is. Being away and creating in other places only serves to high light why I love and appreciate where i come from and the artists that this country has wrought. There is an intimacy and powerful connection that ties us together here. This is a post-traumatic society. Yes. Its even a present-traumatic society. It makes theatre – GOOD theatre – a necessity. Like in Ancient Greece. Not to attend theatre in ancient Greece was illegal because it made you a better citizen to face yourself in those arenas. South Africa needs theatre – powerful, brave theatre – in the same way those soldiers returning from war to Athens needed it. As artists in South Africa – we need to rise to the challenge of creating such theatre. Because its needed here. Its by being away that one’s vision for this grows and the hunger to continue to answer this call remains.

BB: Tell us a little about the performers who will be appearing in this production?
YF: The three actors who play the leads (there are no extras) are powerful in their own rights. Thoko Ntshinga is a veteran performer. Originally part of the Market Theatre and Barney Simon’s searing productions of the 70s and 80s, Thoko has lived and performed through the crucial trajectory in SA. She is a powerhouse performer who brings her capacity to the role of Christine. John is played by Bongile Mantsai, and Miss Julie by Hilda Cronje. These two potent performers bring the passion, emotion and sensuality that this piece demands.
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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.

Enjoy a Cape Malay cooking experience and the Desperate First Ladies

How would you like to learn the fine art of Cape Malay cooking before you take in a performance of Desperate First Ladies?

Then this is your chance….

Martha Williams, Head Chef of The Cape Malay Experience at The Cellars-Hohenort will be sharing her knowledge of this uniquely South African cuisine, the art of blending spices and sharing some of her cooking tips.

Join her for an interactive cooking demo and a typical 2 course Cape Malay meal at Act Restaurant at the Baxter Theatre:

Wednesday, 28 September.

R300 per person for cooking demo, dinner and show tickets.

Sit down no later than 18h00 for demonstration before dinner

Booking is essential.

Main Course

Tomato Bredie, Butter Chicken Curry, Lentil Dhal with Steamed Rice

Dessert

Malva Pudding with Amarula Custard and Vanilla Ice Cream

For bookings on the cooking demo, dinner and tickets to Desperate First Ladies, contact Sharon Ward on sharon.ward@uct.ac.za or phone
(021)680 3962.

For bookings on the cooking demo and dinner only at R180 per person, contact Act Restaurant on (021) 685 3888 or baxterbookings@theforum.co.za.

James Cairns on ‘Dirt’ and the art of the one-man show

From the 15th to the 24th of August, the weird and wonderful mind of James Cairns will inhabit the Golden Arrow Studio at the Baxter Theatre. Cairns is performing his one-man show ‘Dirt’ where he inhabits the soul of three friends and one dog. We caught up with him to pick his brain about what he’s bringing to Cape Town audiences.

Baxter Blog: Where did the inspiration for Dirt come from?
James Cairns: Nick Warren is the writer and the characters and situations are loosely based on a poker school that he was a member of.

BB: What’s the secret to being able to switch effortlessly between characters?
JC: Ninja powers of concentration.

BB: What are the pros of a one man show?
JC: If I fluff my lines, no-one knows except me.

BB: And the cons?
JC: No matter how big the standing ovation, you still have to go back to the dressing room on your own and hi-five yourself. No-one to share the experience with.

BB: What great work did you see at the Grahamstown Festival, if any?
JC: I saw The Feather Collector, which despite uber-crap venue, rose to the occasion admirably. Great stuff, directed by Mongi Nthombeni and starring a cast of young performers who surprised me every step of the way. It was the only thing I stood up for during the whole festival.

BB: What can audience members expect when they come see Dirt?
JC: A robust, hilarious, story about three old friends on their way to
bury a fourth. Great writing, slick performance and a story that talks
to all of us.

BB: When did you last perform in Cape Town?
JC: Last year, September at Kalk Bay, with Dirt, in fact.

BB: Did you once win “Who wants to be a millionaire?”?
JC: I did indeed. Not the million, but nonetheless, a princely sum at that time in my life.

BB: Are you a millionaire?
JC: I am not. It’s all lies…

Dirt is running in the Golden Arrow Studio from the 15th to the 27th of August.

Ouroboros: Could the early buzz signal a hit?

A wide spectrum of Cape Town’s “twitterati” were on hand at the Baxter Theatre last night to witness the preview show of the Handspring Puppet Company’s latest work, “Ouroboros“.

After a wonderful warm-up with Fairhills Wines and the Joubert Tradauw wine estate, the crowd was ushered into the main theatre to engage with the magic of puppetry. After the show, the response was immediate.

Take a look at a selection of tweets and status updates that describe how the general public felt about the show.

Messages came in via Facebook as well as Twitter:

and leave it to Rob van Vuuren to sum it up in his own special way….

What did you think of the show? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below.

Join us for the Ouroboros ‘Taste, Tweet & Theatre’ evening

The Baxter Theatre Center recognises the emerging power of social media as a platform for promoting the incredible work done on our stages. We also recognise that 21st-century media players come in all shapes and sizes: From varsity-trained journalists working their way up in the local newsrooms to the independent voices armed only with a smartphone an opinion and an army of followers who hang on their every word.

What do all of these people have in common? Probably lots of things, but we’re pretty sure that a love of good, free wine would rank right up there as a common denominator.

That’s the reason why the Baxter has paired up two exciting wine brands, Fairhills and Joubert-Tradauw with the Tony-award winning Handspring Puppet Company for our third ‘Taste, Tweet and Theatre’ evening at the premiere of its new production “Ouroboros“.

Do you need me to explain the sequence of events? Here it is…

1. Arrive at the Baxter Theatre at 6.30PM on the 1st of June.
2. Sip the delicious wines. (*note* Sip, not glug)
3. Tweet about it.
4. Go in and watch Ouroboros at 8PM.
5. Repeat Step 3.
6. Go home.
7. Write spectacular, gushing blog post about evening.
8. Repeat Step 3.

Sound like something you’d be interested in? If so, then please e-mail your full name to jonathan.duguid@uct.ac.za, so we can reserve some seats in the theatre for you.

Looking forward to seeing you there.

5 reasons you should see UCT Opera School’s La Boheme

For three days only this week, from the 26th to the 28th of May, UCT’s Opera School and the Baxter Theatre will be presenting La Boheme, one of the world’s best-loved operas, directed by the legendary Angelo Gobbato and musical direction from Kamal Khan.

Some of you may be wavering about whether or not to make the effort (despite the cold and the rain) to come and see it.

Here are 5 reasons why you absolutely should make the time.

  1. It’s an extraordinary, timeless work.
  2. Since it first premiered in Italy during the late 1880’s, La Boheme has been universally acclaimed as one of Puccini’s masterworks and an all-time opera classic. Written by Giacomo Puccini and originally conducted by Alberto Toscanini, the opera has been performed continuously around the globe for the past 130 years and was recently presented on Broadway by ground-breaking Australian director, Baz Luhrmann and won a Tony award.

  3. The story is as relevant as ever.
  4. La Boheme is set in Paris during the 1830’s, and is based on a series of short stories which portray the lives of the young bohemians who flocked to the Latin Quarter of Paris looking for love and artistic fulfillment. The plot revolves around the romance between poet Rodolfo and the seamstress Mimi. It’s grand, tragic, beautiful and hilarious – all at the same time.

  5. Future opera stars will be on display.
  6. UCT’s Opera School is continuously grooming and developing the brighest young talent in the world of opera and preparing them for a life in the spotlight. This staging will be a wonderful showcase for a new generation of opera stars to make their mark and begin the work of building a reputation as a major new star. This is your chance to see them before they are tainted by fame, jaded by fortune or exhausted by the gruelling schedule of a world-class music star.

  7. This is your life.
  8. Chances are that you’re young, struggling to make ends meet while following your dreams, deciding on a career, while finding and falling out of love. All at the same time. This is exactly what the show is about – and it’s what the performers as well as the audience are going through. At only R35 a ticket, it’s completely worth it.

  9. The music
  10. Of which there is nothing else to say except that it is sublime and unforgettable.

    Click here for more info and to book tickets.