By Ismai Mahomed
At the end of June 2020, I will be ending my career at the Market Theatre Foundation. Whilst there were so many moments that I can celebrate I want to reflect on the growth that I saw with the Market Theatre Laboratory over the last three years. Popularly known as the Market Lab this training wing of the Market Theatre Foundation was founded by John Kani and the late Barney Simon. Over its thirty year history the Lab has produced several alumni who have firmly taken their places in South Africa’s cultural space.
I joined the Market Theatre Foundation on 1 August 2016. In September that year, I learnt that the Lab was in a funding crisis and it would probably not be able to continue its classes. This meant kicking into action and saving this iconic “school”. With a grant secured from the Embassy of the Netherlands for a collaborative project to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Culture in Another South Africa (CASA) Festival and Conference that took place in Amsterdam we had sufficient funding to see the Lab through to the end of the financial year in March 2017. Whilst that was a quick intervention, Clara Louise Vaughan appoint as the Head of the Lab to take it out of its doldrums.
Clara was asked to draw up a new 5 year artistic plan for the Lab which would be matched up with a new business model with the focus on the word, “Laboratory”. A week later, Clara presented her model and her 5 year plan to alumni, students, staff, potential partners, media and Lab supporters for Clara to present her 5 year plan. The room was bustling with electrifying energy. Over the last three years she has delivered on every one of those promises and more.
Amongst one of Clara’s plans was to see the establishment of a resident repertory theatre company. In its inaugural year, the Kwasha Theatre Company produced its award-winning production, THE LITTLE PRINCE, with funding support from the French Institute of South Africa (IFAS) and the French company, Mazaars, who have offices in South Africa.
Rudy was a young graduate and a member of the Kwasha Theatre Company with talent for potential leadership. His passion for theatre is overwhelming. In the second year of the Kwasha Theatre Company, Clara appointed Rudy as its Company Manager. There couldn’t have been a better choice! Rudy took full control of managing the Company under Clara’s watchful eye.
The Kwasha Theatre Company has grown exponentially. It was due to undertake two international tours this year. A tour to Japan in May was called off due to Covid-19 bans on international travel. Discussions for a trip to the US that was scheduled for later this year is back on the table. When lockdown came down on South Africa the Kwasha Theatre Company did not go into hibernation. They became visible online with the members presenting various projects.
If there are really two people that made me want to wake up each morning and go to work it undoubtedly was Clara and Rudy. They filled my days with inspiration, passion and hope for the future of the arts.
From what could have become the dying swan days of the Lab it is now the prancing peacock of the Market Theatre Foundation. With a completely new business model in place Clara instituted several income generation projects and the threat of closing programmes in the September of 2016 has become a faded memory. During the last three years, the Lab has brokered several new international partnerships. During this lockdown period Clara and Rudy have been at the playgrounds of digital conferences and networking sessions. They’re planning, re-envisioning and finding new ways in which to continue to celebrate the legacy that Barney Simon and John Kani envisaged when they founded the Lab.
Last year, the Lab celebrated its 30th anniversary. It was a month long celebration of performances, exhibitions and dialogues. It was a joy walking into the Market Square every morning and seeing the building bustling with life. Clara and Rudy epitomize what leadership in the arts is all about. They have the power to re-imagine, the courage to take on new challenges, the ability to steer ships through stormy seas and to be carriers of dreams — not only of their own but of the many young people with whom they work. I feel blessed to have been touched by their energy.
I am a firm believer that leadership is not about telling people what to do. It is about asking people to unearth their dreams and to ask them to unfurl their wings. It is about asking them to stand tall so that you can stand on their shoulders to look taller. Thank you, Clara and Rudy, for letting me watch your dreams unfurl and to be able to be your sounding board when you needed it but mostly, thank you for the hope that you inspired. You made my every day worth it.