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.

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.