By Edward Tsumele
Lighting designer-turned playwright Bogosi Kenneth Bolokwe in another country in different circumstances, would be celebrated and embraced by government funding agencies for his artistic prowess and aesthetic merit.
Trained as a lighting designer at Sun City, working alongside industry stalwarts such as Billy Domingo who was behind some of the most successful extravaganzas held at the Sun City Super Bowl during the place’s peak as the country’s leading entertainment venue, Bolokwe gained skills as a trainee lighting designer.
But today, he stands out as not only one of the top lighting designers in the country, but also as a formidable playwrights who taught himself to write scripts and direct shows that have graced some of the country’s prestigious stages, such as The State Theatre in Pretoria, and Soweto Theatre to name but just a few.
Among other theatre and arts luminaries in the country, Bolokwe has worked with the likes of Mbogeni Ngema, and decorated poet, author and ANC stalwart Mongane Wally Serote, to name but just a few. His theatre lighting credits include touring the world with the internationally acclaimed South African musical Umoja, and is currently a member of the influential US based theatre organisation, Theatre Makers Studio, the umbrella body of Broadway, which is led by Tony Award winning Producer Ken Davenport.
But it is as a script writer and director that Bolokwe has in recent years distinguished himself as a formidable playwright whose own shows have graced international stages and continues to get invited to many such stages globally.
For example, Umshadoo: The Marriage of Heritage that has in recent years graced the stages of the State Theatre and Soweto Theatre, to critical acclaim, and has toured the UK in 2015. It is a production that has employed 42 people from musical directors, to instrumentalists, dancers and actors each time that it has a season.
The musical was invited to Rave Festival on Broadway in 2019 and 2020 (the 2020 invitation was canceled due to Covid-19 travel ban) and to the Brighton Digital Arts Festival in 2020, an online event that had given an opportunity to the production to live stream on their platform due to Covid-19.
“I have letters of opportunity given by world class arts platforms Brighton Arts Festival who first saw my show in May 2015 when we toured the UK.
We gave outstanding performances of the show The Way We Heal written by Professor Mongane Wally Serote in London for two weeks and Brighton Arts Festival, also for two weeks,” the playwright proudly proclaims as he showed CITYLIFE/ARTS the letters of invitation for his show to perform on various global digital platforms by way of live streaming. These companies include Broadway Digital Platform including Goldstar Streaming Platform and other Pay wall streaming companies with great opportunity to stream worldwide on pay wall, offering the artist and the actors an opportunity to earn in Dollars the much needed money during Covid-19.
His brand new play, Lament: Songs of Imbokotho, which is a play against Gender Based Violence, he wrote it during lockdown.
“This play was inspired by President Cyril Ramaphosa who during lockdown, made a speech describing the scourge of Gender Based Violence as the Second Pandemic in South Africa. This production is the one that was invited to Festival, for which I applied for funding from the PESP, and have heard nothing from NAC so far,” he said expressing his frustration for not getting communications from the agency with regards to his application.
However these positive vibes, particularly interest from major international arts platforms must ordinarily make the playwright happy. But he is not. Instead, Bolokwe like several other artists who have applied for funding to the National Arts Council for the Presidential Economic Stimulus Package, is fuming as he does not know the status of his application.
Bolokwe may or may not be one of the 790 artists whose applications are said to be under review, as the NAC is said to be scrapping around for more funds as the Presidential funding kit for Stream 2 are said to be empty to fund these 790 qualifying applicants, that have been left out of those that have been announced to have been granted funding.
In the meantime, the saga of the Presidential Economic Stimulus Package funds for artists remains unclear when there is less than six weeks left before the successful artists implement their projects and deliver reports to the National Arts Council and the National as required by policy. Even the artists that have been granted the funding, by Friday, a number of those that spoke to CITYLIFE/ARTS anonymously for fear of reprisals, confirmed that they had not yet received the money from NAC.
The NAC has also not communicated to the affected artists whose applications are part of the 790 that are said to be under review, adding more anxiety, confusion and anger among the affected artists.
“These are the projects that were denied “ grants. Even the previous open call before PESP , the previous board declined them as well, including Umshado that employed 42 creatives for the presentation at Rave Festival on Broadway (2019)..They even refused to grant us funding after being invited by Brighton Digital Arts Festival to present Umshado on their digital platform in the year 2020 as they wanted content to stream on my behalf using their facilities of pay wall. The NAC still declined after submitting my proposal and a letter from Brighton Arts Festival, the second biggest festival in the world in the UK,” Bolokwe complained.
CITYLIFE/ARTS on Friday sent written questions to NAC communications and marketing manager Thola Phetla. We wanted her to confirm that artists whose applications have been approved are currently either being given contracts or being paid what has been granted to them.
We also wanted her to confirm that the artists that have applied and qualify in terms of the criteria, numbering around 790, whether their application are still being considered pending possible sourcing of extra funds from Treasury to cater for them.
By yesterday, Sunday, February 21, 2021, she had not come back to us.
However on their website, the NAC indicated that they should by now be either paying the artists that have signed their contracts or giving contracts to those that have been approved. This is because the NAC management had been given the go ahead to do so by the newly appointed NAC Council, which took over from the previous Board in January, finding itself plunged into dealing with some of the work that was adjudicated upon by their predecessors, including the PESP process.
“Council has advised Management to proceed with the payment of grants ONLY to beneficiaries that have signed contracts and fulfilled all contractual conditions precedent, based on principles of fairness and equity that will be explained to each compliant applicant. Furthermore,successful applicants who have failed to meet the necessary compliance by a scheduled date, as communicated to them by the NAC, will be disqualified.
Together with Management, Council is now in the process of trying to seek a solution on how to resolve the matter of applications that were approved but have not received Grant Notification Letters, after the NAC exceeded the PESP budget, due to the oversubscription of applications. To this effect, Council will issue further communication on how it will speedily resolve this matter,” part of the statement released by NAC, posted on its website reads.
And so the wait and the agony of this portion of the PESPapplicants continue..