By Edward Tsumele
The Northern cape is geographically huge and its cultural diversity is also huge as it consists of seTswana speaking people, the Khoi and Sun group, Afrikaans speaking people as well as those whose mother tongue is isiXhosa, and this would probably give a headache to a theatre programmer to harness all these elements unleash an inclusive theatrical tapestry.
But not Moagi Modise, a well known writer, actor and director who has recently been appointed the Northern Cape Theatre’s Artistic Director. Instead of seeing the huge size of the northern Cape province, including its cultural diversity as a challenge, Modise sees these elements as providing a fertile ground for theatre to thrive.
Modise spoke to CITYLIFE/ARTS in an exclusive interview yesterday. Moagi made his name on stage, theatre and film at a national level for years achieving genuine celebrity status for his acting rather than appearances and the number of followers one garners on social media platforms as it is now sadly the case in the country. before withdrawing to his roots in the Northern Cape. His move to a ‘forgotten province’ as far as artistic activity is concerned surprised many in the industry, even his closest friends as at the time his profile as a TV actor was at its prime. Although the respected artist seemed to have somehow struggled for years to find his artistic foot again in the province in the context of toxic provincial politics with its egos often bigger than the quality of services provided to the public, the playwright has eventually found his mojo. He has joined the Northern Cape Theatre as Artistic Director, which is now run by Northern Cape Theatre Practitioners. Moagi is now ready to roll out an exciting theatre programme at the theatre.
“We took over the theatre in April and we are planning to have an artistic programme, once fully operationally, that is inclusive of all the cultural groups found in this province.
“Already last weekend, we launched our artistic programme by hosting an interesting mini festival that was a resounding success. We planned a mini festival called Umsamo Festival as we thought we should start small as we might have lost audiences since 10 years ago when the theatre went silent as underwent some renovations ahead of the 2010 Soccer World Cup. But then we were quite surprised when there was huge interest from communities around Northern Cape, who came in huge numbers. In fact some of them did not want to go home long after the festival had ended.,’” he revealed.
Besides the fact that the organisers did not think that there was an audience ready to fill up the venues where the festival was took place, and therefore, decided to settle for a mini-festival instead, there were also budgetary constraints, Modise explained.
“We engaged the Premier last year as Northern Cape Theatre Practitioners giving him the plans of how we were going to turn this space into a thriving theatre hub and he listened to our wisdom and granted us the right to use the theatre, programming it. We got R4 million then, which was good gesture to start, but clearly is not enough to run successful programmes,” Modise explained.
The Theatre now has a fully fledged team of professionals ready to stimulate artistic activity in the province, that for some reason people at nationalk level generally tend to forget that it exists within South Africa’s borders.
“We now want to get rid of the perception that currently holds that Northern Capeis a forgotten province that is not interesting to visit, especially for tourists. As Northern Cape Theatre Practitioners, we want to make sure that that narrative does not continue to hold as we now have a team of professionals that include myself as Chief Operations Officer, Moagi Modise as Artistic Director and we are supported by a strong team of driven professionals to transform Northern Cape Theatre to stand out and compare well to other well known theatres in the country, such as the Market Theatre, State Theatre, The Play House Theatre in Durban and Arts Cape for, example,” said Mkhululi Mabija.
However there are still struggles to overcome in the Northern Cape before celebrations take place. For instance, just like it is currently for the arts in general in other provinces and nationally, creatives in the provinces are currently facing several hurdles. For example Northern Cape Theatre Practitioners were affected negatively by Covid-19 related grant funding issues, forcing them to occupy the offices of the MEC for Sports, Arts and Culture till recently when they left after being promised funding from the provincial government, and after they were given the go ahead to run Northern Cape Theatre.
However although the creatives have now moved in at Northern Cape Theatre and have so far kick-started the programming by staging Umsamo Festival, a name according to Mabija, they were advised by the late sanuzi Credo Mutwa to name the festival before he died, the money they were promised by the provincial government is yet to be released. That money would enable them to start running a fully fledged programme at the theatre once it is released.
“The date we had agreed with the provincial Department of Sports, Arts and Culture, by which money must have been released to us, expired two days ago, and we are yet to receive that money,” revealed Mabija.
Mabija however said that they were looking forward to some future collaborations, not only with provincial and national government, but also the private sector to make Northern Cape Theatre a vibrant art centre in the province.
“The fund raising activities we intend to embark on, will hopefully raise funds that will be used to fund programming at the theatre, particularly developmental programmes that take into account the diversity of the province representing several cultural and language groups,” Mabija explained.
The northern Cape Theatre practitioners however continue to hope that their current problems will soon be a thing of the past so that they do what they know best, which is putting up exciting programmes that connect with the people in the province, just like Umsamo Festival did. The festival hosted theatrical productions, a music programme that saw the likes of Msaki entertain fans, as well as a spiritual traditional ceremony.
. I think what is also extremely important to mention is that Tshepho Thlalogang is one of the main producers of the Umsamo Festival.,” added Mabija.
Here the list of the rest of the participants at the Umsamo Festival: at Northern Cape Theatre over the past weekend:
The list of some of the participants is as follows: Amandla Danca Teatro Za, Ankh’se’stars, UFS PO CLUB, Mutle Mothibe,,Wokuri Dance Group, Sabata-mpho Mokae, Thabo Perseverance Mongale, Noni, Jua, Sadie Ulalia Barnett, Izanusi, Sisonke Papu, Abongile Tebogo Lerotholi, Xhanti Nokwali, Amandla Akhona, Qhawe, Umtha Namanyange, Andile Dyalvane , Nkosenathi Ernie Koela, Rez Inyanzi, Sam, Fortuin, Cebolenkosi Zuma, Kwasukasukela Art Collective, Jama Ka Sjadu, Royal Priniti, Zano Pama, Yonela, Mpho Cornelius, Nametso Nels, Letlhogonolo L Nche, Letlhogonolo Anthony Sechogela, JTG, ARTISTS, Trinity of KORA, Mogale Sedibe, Gavin Johnson, Dr Lorenzo Pinto, Credo Mutwa Foundation, Mutwa family, Northern Cape Theatre Practitioners Forum, Mkhululi Matyalana Ka Mabija, Moagi Modise, Motshidisi Tshidi Pitso, Kingsley Maroro, Keitumetse Gladys Oliphant, Exotically Delicious team, Sibusile Xaba, Asanda Msaki Mvana, Nkosana Nkomo, Sol Plaatje University, Workshop ko Kasi
Revival Fm, Kurara Fm, Mama Virginia Mutwa, Tsholo Naks,Kanye Sojola, Wonderwerk cave, Mayibuye Dance Academy and Tremaine Seekoei