BOARD OF DIRECTORS
SA’s vibrant cultural patchwork
Speech given by Naledi chairman Dali Tambo at the Naledi Theatre Awards held at the Drama, State Theatre, on Sunday, April 19, 2009
This auditorium is full to the brim with every form of talent - artistic and technical relevant to South African theatre production.
The Naledis have, for the last five years, celebrated and promoted South African theatre and theatre professionals. We do so in an era where the live performing arts are expanding and growing in some parts of the world and shrinking in others.
We do so in a country where, although there is greater cultural diversity and freedom and perhaps even the stirring of a theatrical renaissance – our popular storytelling culture is ruled in the main by the centripetal forces of reality TV, soaps, Hollywood film and other dominant cultural forms.
We do not possess in theatre many of the technological or archival advantages of the recorded arts. Unlike books and film you cannot simply revisit a great play at the local library, DVD store or even the internet – theatre is temporary, it is precious.
We seek as the Naledis to remind society of the preciousness of theatre within our cultural landscape, of the excellence of our writers, actors, directors, producers and technicians.
Theatre is life; it is and has always been the manifestation of our humanity. Regardless of our race, colour or creed, we are all the recipients of a long tradition of theatre stretching back beyond the birth of literature and modern society literally to the birth of mankind here in Africa.
South Africa’s actors and actresses are the inheritors of the age old art of storytelling by means of imitation, dance and music begun by our ancestors with fireside dance plays depicting through mimicry and drama tales of the gods, the seasons and weather, courting and fertility, glorious hunts, animal imitation, the history of the various clans and of individuals within the clan folklore.
Every ritual, every initiation or “rite of passage” overflowed with ceremony, pageantry and theatre. That there was no clear distinction between audience and performers meant that all were with voice or movement participating in the event and it was through the construct of this early theatre that moral and ethical values were instilled in the community. Values of courage, honour – right and wrong.
So theatre for thousands of years has been to populations all over the world the mass medium that television has become over the last seven or eight decades.
The artists who gather here tonight form part of one of the noblest, oldest art forms in human history and among the nations of the world South Africa’s reputation in the realm of theatre is very strong.
Thomas Paine once said “if the pen is mightier than the sword, then the spoken word is mightier still than both the pen and sword combined”.
So it is fitting that there be an awards ceremony that recognises those artists who have brought distinction to their craft and made us proud of them and proud that they are of us – they are South Africans. We welcome all thespians here tonight.
The Naledis exist thanks to the tireless efforts and selfless dedication of two veterans of South African theatre – Des and Dawn Lindberg. I would ask them to please stand and receive our thanks – please kiss them if you encounter them later.
The purpose of the Naledis is to celebrate our theatre and to promote and market theatre as entertainment to the public. But it is the South African playwright who seeds and creatively initiates our theatre productions.
Literature is the cornerstone of narrative theatre and every cultural renaissance or theatrical renaissance in history has begun with an explosion of literary zeal. Seated amongst us are some of South Africa’s top playwrights, we welcome you and applaud you.
I would like to welcome this year’s Naledi judges and to thank them for their efforts.
Our Judges, ladies and gentleman are chosen for their love of theatre – they see over 50 productions in a year, they are asked to be judges of the Naledis because they are people of integrity, respected in their various fields and there is not a racist or sexist among them. Their task is by its nature subjective but they are honourable and I believe I speak for all of us when I say to them welcome, thank you, you have our trust and we will this year, I am sure, be disciplined and respect the dignity of the occasion enough to accept your decisions with grace.
As I said, congratulations to all those nominated by our judges.
The Naledis believe strongly in theatre’s ability to reflect and inflect society. As a theatre awards ceremony we for our part can only reflect the professional theatre industry. It is only after conception, scripting, casting, production and opening that the Naledis enter the frame; however we hope that by shining the spotlight on our national theatrical productions we will increasingly see society inflected with an appreciation of the dramatic arts and theatre going revived as a national pastime.
We hope as the Naledis to continue to celebrate the sustained growth of the South African theatre industry.
For that growth to happen, for there to be more bums on the seats of South African theatres we must ensure that the productions are increasingly relevant to the public.
W. E. du Bois, one of the leaders of the Harlem literary and theatrical renaissance said in 1925 that national theatre to be relevant must rest on 4 pillars:
- Firstly that it be about us
That is, the play must have plots which reveal South African life as it is
- Secondly. By us.
That is, the plays must be written by South African authors who understand from birth and continual association just what it means to be a South African today
- Thirdly. For us
That is, the theatre must cater primarily to South African audiences and be supported and sustained by their entertainment and approval.
- And Fourthly. Near us.
The theatre must be in the neighbourhood, near the mass of ordinary South African people. This is what the Naledis exists to promote, theatre about us, by us, for us and near us.
The theatrical industry does not at present have the financial rewards common to other cultural genres and so awards such as the Naledis are an opportunity for the theatrical family to come together and remind each other of how much we share in common.
- We are one of the most socially progressive communities in our country yesterday and today.
- We are a community that shares the storms of financial instability for the love of craft.
We are a community of artists of different colours, cultures and creeds all of whom have proud theatrical traditions, each and every one of whom have, often as nations within the nation, contributed to what today we call South African Theatre.
Our national theatre like many in multicultural societies is a beautiful patchwork quilt of culture and storytelling; it is a tapestry that tells the story of who we are and how we came to be. Each square, regardless of how dazzling its colour, of how technically brilliant its pattern, regardless of the class and quality of the cloth in comparison to other patches, each and every square, whilst it carries its own unique integrity and story – is best viewed not in isolation, but as a part of the whole tapestry. A single patch can never electrify the viewer, for long it is how the patches within the tapestry work in unison, together, how they reflect each other’s qualities as different actors in a singular story that makes it shine, sparkle, complete.
We are one nation and our beauty resides in our diversity. As each year pauses and as we annually celebrate the achievements of our theatre community, we are conscious of the challenges that still face our society and industry and yet confident of our future. Perhaps our handmade quilts were incomplete up to 1994 and now joining the proud Afrikaner and British theatre traditions, we are seeing more African patches join this quilt. The brilliant bead work of the Ndebele, vibrant colours of the Venda, the energetic patterns and textures of the Zulu, the linear excellence of the Xhosa and the rich heritage of our Indian and coloured cultures. If we continue on our path, we will knit a theatrical patchwork that represents, reflects and glorifies the collective vivacity and ingenuity of a truly South African Theatre Industry.
South African Theatre is alive, its future is bright and our theatre community is united.
We, as the Naledis, welcome you all as co-workers in the kingdom of culture.
(Speech given by Naledi chairman Dali Tambo at the Naledi Theatre Awards held at the Drama, State Theatre, on Sunday, April 19, 2009).