WALKING THROUGH THE 2019/20 NTN THEATRE SEASON
The National Theatre of Namibia (NTN) is nearing its closure of the 2019/20 theatre season, with the upcoming production BOET & SUS; a multidisciplinary theatre work with direction by renowned Namibian storyteller and musician Lize Ehlers.
The NTN has programmed a refreshing season which included an upsurge of works by Namibian women theatre-makers and young artists offering critical stories for various audiences. With only one production remaining, here are some highlights from 2019/20 theatre season’s offerings thus far.
The season opened with OWELA FESTIVAL, a brainchild of the Kaleni Kollectiv (comprising Namibian and German artists) who envisioned to create an artistic research lab and space for the production of new, innovative and transgressive art.
The artists further sought to create work which defies current hegemonic structures and gazes in the spaces that we occupy. Launched in Recklinghausen, Germany in May 2019, the trans-national festival included the showcasing of artistic and theoretical positions about the ‘future of work’ through performances, installations, happenings, theatre and talking formats. Extended to Windhoek and Omitara in Namibia, the week-long festival offered an alternative approach for thematic and artistic encounters between the German and Namibian public discourses from the continent.
Funded by the TURN Fund and supported by Ruhrfestspiele Recklinghausen, Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and the NTN, Kaleni Kollectiv curated an invigorating wave of artistic works and critical perspectives for audiences in and around the city.
The first staged play of the season was ANNA & CHRISTELLE; a two-hander play written by Ndali Mupopiwa and Mel Mwevi. The play follows the lives of two women entering into a complex relationship in the face of today’s social intricacies. ANNA & CHRISTELLE brought about a critical emergence to the 30-year-old NTN which was yet to stage a lesbian love narrative of this magnitude.
Programmed for international Pride month, the play directed by Ashwyn Mbweri was developed further for the NTN stage as it was previously presented at the Franco-Namibian Cultural Centre (FNCC) in July 2018. Audiences were challenged with an alternative social reading in this new Namibian literary work, offering perspectives on the politics of race, gender, sexuality and class in contemporary Namibia.
The season moved onto TSELANE & THE GIANT, a children’s’ theatre work adapted from a Setswana folklore. Traditional stories of this nature were often created for children to conceptualise the world they live in. Directed by Veronique Mensah in collaboration with the cast, the production offered familiar aesthetics, languages and symbols which allowed young audiences to closely connect with. The staging of TSELANE & THE GIANT was particularly significant during the threatened safety of Namibian children in 2019.
Reported cases of violence and child trafficking were growing at an alarming rate leaving children and parents in a vulnerable state. The production coupled with musical direction by Nyasha Joshua Kuchekana-Chirau, produced an interactive space for young audiences to address their social realities through theatre. From an applied perspective, the production also offered an important theatre-making process in enriching young performers to become active agents for social change.
A month of theatre for young audiences was followed by a month of celebrating all that is women with Senga Brockerhoff’s EVERY WOMAN, an all-female musical which went on to receive the 2019 Namibian Theatre & Film Awards (NTFA) for Best Staged Theatre Production. The production presented in collaboration with Pegasus Entertainment Productions offered a light and witty season scenery exploring various experiences of women; motherhood, work, love, sexuality, friendship and sisterhood.
With musical direction by Lize Ehlers, EVERY WOMAN was the only ‘musical theatre’ work to feature in the season. The general appetite for musical theatre in Namibia was highlighted during the run of the production leaving the general public calling for a restaging and sequel of the production.
Critical theatre-making was reflected on during the encounter between Namibian and German theatre-makers, Sepiso Mwange and Mathias Becker. The two performers and co-devisors sought to unpack learned traditions of performance in REHEARSING MWANGE/BECKER; a premiere production that served an interactive route into storytelling.
The production was installed with collected video interviews with Namibian theatre-makers reflecting on the history and contemporary practices of storytelling. Mwange and Becker, supported with dramaturgy by Yasmine Salimi, explored the meaning behind their communion against the backdrop of German and Namibian colonial relations. This gathering also included artists from multicultural backgrounds such as sound designer Karl Ehlers (LOFT) and visual designer and videographer Martin Amushendje.
Presented in collaboration with the Goethe-Institut (International Co-Production Fund), REHEARSING MWANGE/BECKER called for audiences to not only sit as passive spectators but engage in interactive ways that explore our everyday commonalities within the theatre space.
Young audiences are central to the theatre’s mission on social development, hence the theatre producing another theatre work for young audiences. GRANDPA’S STORY was presented with the theme of safeguarding nature in the times of increasing global warming concerns. The play written and directed by Wadith van Wyk brought various schools together to raise awareness on environmental friendliness amongst young audiences and to remind them on the necessary, active participation in preserving the earth for future generations to enjoy.
Afrikaans theatre is particularly popular in the history of the NTN and local audiences were delighted to receive DIE STOEP, a play on loss, love and life by Namibian well-known writer Jonathan Sasha. The production featured as part of the Theatre Zone Program and included mentorship by renowned Namibian theatre director Tanya Terblanche. Audiences were invited to sit on die stoep and witness the life of a family experiencing domestic and mental health struggles in present-day Namibia.
The composition and music direction by Vernon Sawyers was complimented with live performances by the Windhoek Choristers and members of Namibian National Symphony Orchestra. Along with EVERY WOMAN, DIE STEOP was a popular production attracting audiences from various towns to the theatre.
After months of dynamic stories, the year closed off with the first staging of Ntozake Shange’s FOR COLORED GIRLS WHO HAVE CONSIDERED SUICIDE/WHEN THE RAINBOW IS ENUF at the NTN. The prominent choreopoem reflects the hardships experienced by women of colour in the face of racism, sexism and violence.
This classic feminist work was directed by award-winning theatre practitioner Jenny Kandenge and featured as part of the 16 Days of Activism against Women and Child Abuse Campaign by the theatre. Audiences were presented with live music directed by Lize Ehlers, who was supported by an all-female Namibian band that enlightened theme of sisterhood. Choreography by Nikhita Winkler offered a sense of necessary ease to the weighty themes covered in the production such as rape, abortion, depression and domestic abuse which are relevant to many Namibian households.
Developing the next generation of theatre-makers in Namibia is essential for the longevity of the theatre. THREE SISTERS opened the year 2020 and featured as part of the Theatre Zone Program; a long term initiative by the NTN which includes producing works of new writers and directors under mentorship. The play written and directed by Bret Kamwi, was mentored by award-winning theatre-maker and performing arts educator Sepiso Mwange.
This production also saw the growth of new stage actors such as such as Vaja Tjipueja and Penny Heelu. Audiences were directed into the world of a fanatic prophet following the secrets and lies in behind his charismatic church. The show sold out on all evenings during its run and highlighted the promising future of young writers and directors in offering relevant and refreshing content to Namibia.
In short, the theatre presented itself with a rejuvenated turn as it featured a composition of strong voices by women and young artists. The season is set to close off with BOET & SUS, which was postponed from April 2020 due to the effects of COVID-19 in Namibia. The pandemic has affected the creative and events industry immensely and has called for producers, cultural institutions and arts administrators to explore alternative ways in offering artistic experiences to audiences.
BOET & SUS, a (mostly) Afrikaans story talks on how ‘Boet & Sus’ feel as kallids (coloureds) in contemporary Namibia. In the part talk show, part drag show, the characters explore the highs and lows of feeling somewhere in the ‘middle’. The production aims to offer an unforgettable experience covering the themes of community, escapism, & expression.
The National Theatre of Namibia is set to announce the new dates of BOET & SUS soon and to further engage in creative and alternative ways in producing, preserving and showcasing artistic experiences for Namibians. In these challenging times, our commitment remains to the Namibian artists and people by incubating a sustainable space, that uses theatre as a constructive bridge between cultures.