Market Theatre opens space for participation by new voices from outside the theatre corridors

One anticipated highlight of new plays include The Market having secured Damon Galgut’s Booker Prize-winning novel, The Promise, on stage, directed by Sylvaine Strike with stage adaptation by Damon Galgut and Sylvaine Strike.

By Edward Tsumele, CITYLIFE/ASRTS Editor

This must rate as one of the most anticipated theatre programme unveiling. And there aver several reasons for that. Firstly there is no doubt that what happens on the stages of the Market Theatre always attracts curiosity, due to the theatre’s historical role in putting up shows that in many ways dealt with issues society grappled with, especially its role during apartheid. The theatre has the admirable history of putting shows that gave the Apartheid fathers a headache. For example many who wanted to follow political developments in the country during apartheid went to the Market Theatre and they were not disappointed.

But quite significantly the theatre to a big extent continued to put up productions that remained socially relevant and engaging the minds of audiences, the so called new South African plays.  This happened at a time when with freedom attained in South Africa, and democracy dawning, a debate raged about what role institutions such as the Market Theatre, were going to play in the new South Africa. For example spaces such as the Market Theatre and others who had played an adversary role to the previous undemocratic government, were they still going to play a role of a watchdog over the new democratic government. Or were they going to be silent when new injustices happened under the leadership of their former allies during apartheid?

But there is another reason why this programme launch was also much anticipated. It is because there is a new artistic director who started in January 2023, and this was a much sought after position in theatre circles with big names having applied for this position that was vacated by theatre director and actor James Ngcobo last year in favour of a similar position at Joburg City Theatres. When applications for this position opened, a number of well-known names in theatre applied, but the position eventually went to Greg Homann. And therefore last week Friday, March 30, 2023’s announcement was very much anticipated as theatre lovers and observers were looking forward to see what the new Sheriff in town has in store for them with regards to his artistic vision for the institution, and in that regard, how a theatre director programmes the theatre becomes crucial. The theatre programme is the heart and soul of a theatre institution. It is the one element that can make or break a theatre.

No wonder why the top management of the institution attended the event, including the Chairman of Market Theatre Foundation Phil Molefe and Chief Executive Officer Tshiamo.

And significantly the new artistic director has opened the space at the Market Theatre for more participation by the industry professionals outside the theatre itself, as well as creating an opportunity for new voices to test their material at the Market Theatre.  Also the Kippies venue, which for the longest of time has remained under-utilised, will now be open to new experimental work by producers and artists from outside the theatre itself, who can apply to stage shows there, essentially making the venue a place for new experimentation by artists and creators.

“The Market Theatre is pleased to announce the first artistic programme under the leadership of its new Artistic Director, Greg Homann. The programme features a set of exciting initiatives for artists, including a 4-pronged Play Development Programme for writers at every stage of their career, the establishment of Kippies as a dedicated fringe venue, and a range of productions that showcase the best of homegrown South African dance, music, comedy, and new plays.

The Play Development Programme is a major focus of the announcement, aimed at developing and harnessing the talent of the next wave of South African playwrights. The call- out for applications are for Workshop Collectives, Scripts, Associate Playwrights, and Writers. This includes the offer of mentorship and masterclasses from some of South Africa;s most established and celebrated playwrights, including the likes of Fatima Dike, Craig Higginson, Phyllis Klotz, Smal Ndaba, and Paul Slabolepszy. Homann said, “We will be selecting 12 Associate Playwrights and 8 writers for this first cycle, with a focus on supporting women writers and writers who have experience in mediums other than theatre. We are also inviting workshop collectives to make use of The Market’s space and resources leading to showcases of their new work.”

The Artistic Director is inviting writers who already have unproduced full-length plays to submit them for consideration and feedback. Homann added, “As part of this call-out, we are looking for fresh and compelling scripts that showcase a unique South African voice.”

Up to 60 plays will be selected to receive a Reader’s Report.

Speaking specifically about the Play Development Programme, Homann – who is less than 100 days into the job – said: “I recognise that plays are not only made by writers sitting alone in a room. Great plays take time to be fully formed. I am therefore committed to giving artists who want to make new work the space and creative support they need to realise work that thrills and engages audiences. I want to build on The Market Theatre’s legacy of delivering the very best of South African theatre to the world.”

A fifth call-out is for the establishment of Kippies as a 60-seater fringe space which is set to be a vibrant addition to the Johannesburg live performance scene. It will provide a stage for artists across genres and experimental theatre projects to test their work, as well as be a platform for regular small-scale music, poetry, stand-up comedy, and spoken-word performances.

The launch included a first phase announcement of a production programme which features a range of scheduled works that showcase the diversity and creativity of South African theatre. It encompasses new South African plays, comedy, dance, and music, alongside atleast three festivals.

Later this year, The Market Theatre will present a smaller and carefully curated “JOMBA! @

THE MARKET”. This will be a week-long celebration of some of the world’s most profound and provoking dance makers and dance companies, made possible through a partnership with The Centre for Creative Art’s JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Festival post the Durban-based festival’s 25th anniversary year.

In partnership with ASSITEJ SA – the international association of theatre for children and young people – The Market Theatre will be the hub of the Cradle of Creativity. This

International Dance and Performing Arts for Young Audiences festival will showcase around 15-20 different productions, celebrating opportunities for intercultural exchange.

A third festival offering is this year’s WOMAD at The Market. Founded by Peter Gabriel, the WOMAD (“World of Music, Arts and Dance”) experience has been successfully hosted in over

30 countries and to an audience of millions. It is one of the longest and most respected cultural festivals in the world.

One anticipated highlight of new plays include The Market having secured Damon Galgut’s Booker Prize-winning novel, The Promise, on stage, directed by Sylvaine Strike with stage adaptation by Damon Galgut and Sylvaine Strike. It will be staged in October on the John Kani stage, after its world premiere in Cape Town in September.

Homann said, “I look forward to welcoming audiences to The Market Theatre to enjoy these, and many more, inspiring, dynamic, and exciting productions.  He concluded, “I am deeply committed to supporting the development of new work for the South African stage and thrilled to be launching this varied programme. I look forward to working with a range of writers, artists, and theatre-makers to create innovative and compelling theatre for audiences across the country, and beyond.”

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