CityLife Arts

Watch out for Iconic play The Saints as it hits unique pop up venues around Gauteng

In this new experimental model of theatre experience during times of Covid-19, you watch the show and get a meal at the same time. It premiers at The Box Shop in Vilakazi Street, Soweto, this Saturday, September 4, 2021.

By Edward Tsumele, CITYLIFE/ARTS Editor

I know it does not have to be this way under normal circumstances. But these are not normal times and therefore innovative measures are desperately needed. It started off a few weeks ago with actor Luyanda Vonqo, casually, but excitedly telling me about this new show that he is involved with, which would soon tour Gauteng venues for performances.

We were at a quirky place in Newtown, Johannesburg, a place that is a hound of artists, mainly because of its non pretentious character and attitude. Rather specifically the people who go there leave their other egotistic self at the door of this popular place of drinking, industry talk and just being oneself, a place for the purpose of this story, shall remain nameless. Yes, that one that  is tucked in anondescript building everyone knows about, but will not speak about to just anyone else unless and until you have passed its informal test of admission, whose main criteria among others, is that demonstrate your capacity to be your true self and then you are in with its nice crowd there.

Yes again, the one where a well known  visual artist once confined in me that If his wife knew that that is where he hangs around, she would have a heart attack, and not because the place is bad or the people who go there are up to something of no good. It is just that this place in Newtown, let me say, is not a place where you can take your first date to without risking not having her command for the second time. . But this place that will remain nameles is extremely popular with artists as it gives them a sense of safety, camaraderie and community as everyone knows everyone, and the drinks are extremely affordable, especially for such good company.

,Anyway, to cut a long story short, I immediately got interested in finding out more about this  touring show during these uncertain and difficult times of Covid-19 and its restrictions.

 It turns out that the imaginative producers of The Saints, amidst these difficulties affecting particularly organising live shows, have found a new innovative way of putting up shows that make commercial sense and are safe at the same time. The producers of the play The Saints are innovatively taking it into non convention venues, such as a restaurant set up where a ticket price also includes a meal for example.

This clearly must rate as one of the ways that perhaps point to new ways of putting up shows irrespective and despite the difficult and restrictive situation of the pandemic, and still be able to make a profit.

On Saturday, September 4, theatre lovers will be able to travel to famous Vilakazi Street in Soweto to go watch The Saints, and at the same time, enjoy a meal with friends and family. This unique theatre experience will be at The Box Shop, Vilakazi Street, Soweto at 3pm.

The Saints collective are therefore inviting all drama and performance enthusiasts to the premiere of The Saints , which in fact, is coming back to stages after 21 years of being written and staged.

The Saints, set in a prison, is happening under different circumstances this time around, and not where it is originally set, which is the beginning of South Africa’s journey from an oppressive society into a full democracy. The country, if you like, at that time was coming out of the prison of apartheid oppression into a free country.

But now ironically, the play is taking place in the context of another prison that society finds itself in, and that prison is the one created by the Covid-19 global pandemic, where our lives are defined by the behavior and moods of a tiny but dangerous virus, whose strike can be fatal.

Essentially The Saints is a quintessential play written by Maswabi Legwale, set in a Maximum Security Prison at the beginning stages of a newly democratic South Africa. Chief Warden Mzolo  has created an isolated cell block; Gore Level, for a collective of nine distinguishable prisoners, each a career criminal who has gained infamy within the prison for their crimes and intelligence, of course gone wrong..

The dynamics and mind set of the inmates’ change when a political prisoner Kaofela, is introduced into the collective. The collective becomes more conscious of the South African struggle, and the general human struggle against oppression and self-oppression, through Kaofela.  The power dynamics at Gore Level begin to shift and create fertile ground for a tragic and unexpected twist involving murder and betrayal

Director Hlengiwe Lushaba Madlala says: “what a beautiful irony that this play The Saints should find us 21 years after its first staging, at a time when humanity is consciously pleading with its saints for life. We gather again in Soweto at the birthplace of The Saints while South Africa is under lockdown and could be likened to Gore Level, the prison where the play is set.

“Just like Kaofela (a character in the play) offers redemption and hope to his fellow cellmates, I have found this process to be just that. Imagining a gathering of more than 20 artists eager to see a play or any kind of work being staged, is next to impossible and here we are doing it  – Thanks to Grace and Ntate Maswabi our saint who dreamt it possible more than 21years ago”

“For me, The Saints speaks to spirits/umoya our lifeline, a space that cannot be seen but felt, a space of faith that fortifies our bodies and breathes through new and better possibilities. A space that wakes us up to ourselves and a space much needed at a time when breathing is a miracle.

The Saints has become a tool for us to collectively reimagine and recommit ourselves as artists and as creators. It has become a gathering point where we can once again dream. What a privilege it is to dream yet again with other dreamers, especially at this time.  As we speak to time and the consciousness of our nation, we also directly speak to ourselves. This is our church and together with The Saints we hope to be counted amongst those who chose to live, chose to create even when faced with adversity”

The play will be showcased for six months in locations in and around Gauteng with a focus on disadvantaged and previously disadvantaged communities. The showcases will take place in key leisure and tourism venues in Pop Art format, thus taking theatre to the community and developing new audiences.

Featuring some of the greatest talents both on TV and on stage, it will be interesting to see how this innovative, improvising and experimental way of creating and putting up shows turns out in the coming months.

The stakes are obviously high here, and not only for the producers and the cast, but also whether the audiences will find this way of enjoying theatre ideal. And who knows, they may love it at the end of the day, and the producers may break even, even make a profit. And if that happened, they would have pioneered a new, innovative way of not only taking theatre to the people, but also navigating a new way of making theatre during a difficult, stifling time of Covid-19.

Whatever the outcome will be, this clearly is a way of thinking out of the box on the part of the producers of The Saints, who have found a way around the restrictive 50 audience maximum per venue by combining the price of a theatre ticket with a meal, possibly making sure that it becomes a profitable exercise.

Theatre is currently facing an unpractical situation whereby the number of audience members allowed must not exceed 5o people as per current Level 3 lockdown regulations, effectively making staging a production unprofitable. These restrictions gazette by Government are in place to contain  the spread of the Coronavirus infection in South Africa, and therefore prevent certain death.

However ss a result of these current restrictions, artists are up in arms, calling on authorities to find a ‘nuanced’ way of allowing theatres to increase numbers in venues without compromising the safety of attendees and cast.

Currently there is a campaign started by Theatre and Dance Alliance (TADA), calling on government to relax the rules for the theatre sector that has suffered the brunt of Covid-19 lockdowns, resulting in many people in the sector to be unemployed for extended periods of time.

Only this week, Monday, August 30, 2021, a group of artists marched to Luthuli House, the Head Office of the ruling ANC in central Johannesburg, to demand that the government open theatre for more audience members.

A number of independent theatre venues that do not get government subsidy have closed down during the lockdown in the past 18 months, including The Fugard Theatre in Cape Town. . Theatre on the Square at Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton, was saved from closing its doors by going the crowd funding model, and is now planning to reopen its doors through the goodwill of donors.

And therefore, this new obviously exploratory model of taking theatre to unconventional venues, such as restaurants where a ticket for theatre also gets you a meal, must be seen within the context of these current difficulties the industry is facing currently in South Africa.

The cast of The Saints

The play has assembled a strong cast of prominent actors who have made their mark on stage and television over the years.

Phakamani Zikalala plays who plays  Mancani  is a seasoned actor he has  also played roles such as  Chonco on Isibaya and quite a lot of commercials, film and other TV shows.

The founder of Shake off the rust workshops, Monareng plays Lephoi, and is also the Executive Producer of the Saints. He has had roles Generations, Isthembiso, and Society, to name but a few, commercials and films.

Buntu Tembani who  plays Mzolo, has also appeared of a number of  films on Mzanzi Magic.

Thulani Khubheka  who plays Bra Spacer appeared on Generations, Isidingo and a number of other TV shows and films. 

Luyanda Vonqo who plays Kodu, has had a number of notable  roles and appearances on local SABC films and commercials, including South Africa’s very own acclaimed soapie Generations. An alumni of the world renowned Market Theatre Laboratory, he also has commendable stage credit.

Vusi Ndlazi who plays Kaofela  has also acted on Isthembiso, in addition to other roles across TV, film and stage. 

Thabang Dingatha who plays Gorman, is also a seasoned choreographer, stage and TV actor. His recent roles include for Moja Love’s drama called Accused.

Siphelele Mshubi who plays The Cat, has also appeared on SABC shows, in addition to  commercials, TV and  film acting roles.

Lebo Maphela  who plays Mgarandi is also the Producer of The Saints.  The only female member of the cast, she is making her comeback in the arts after taking a break, after having  performed internationally, doing music, dance, mainstream theatre, children’s theatre and a number of development work in the arts. 

Letona Ntombela  who plays Thintha, and is the youngest member of the cast, has film, and other theatre credits behind his name.. 

The producers and cast members are asking you to go and watch them as they go on this new journey during these uncertain Covid-19 times.

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“This is The Saints; a must see play, full of action, music and more! So do come and enjoy. Your support will be greatly appreciated. No Ticket, No Mask, No Entry!,” they say.

Show Details:

Date : Saturday 4th September 2021

Time: 15pm

Venue:  The Box Shop, Vilakazi Street,

Cost  R350 including a meal

Due to Covid regulations, tickets are limited! Access your ticket in time. For more info on payment call or WhatsApp

063 962 6102

068 280 3124

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