Mhlanguli George and his Ikhwelo Arts community theatre group in Nyanga East, Cape Town, is on the money - without having any of it. This prolific theatre group has decided that instead of focusing on trying to get original works into standard theatre infrastructure, they are taking it into people's backyards. They are focusing on small audiences and high impact.
Their four man piece Fourth Person in the Backyard explores the lives of Capetonians living in backyards. In South Africa people who live in wendy houses (wooden huts) or shacks (structures made using found materials) in backyards are called Backyarders, and they constitute a significant percentage of the population.
Fourth Person in the Yard is a 35 minute piece, and for the first time on Friday the 3rd of May, we had the opportunity to feature the production on one of our specialist tours. Cape Town Tourism was hosting a group of local and international bloggers, and asked us to put together something around storytelling, something new and surprising. Not so easy when our product range is already full of newness and surpriseness (it's our business to be new and surprising), but we had recently reconnected with Mhlanguli and had been thinking for a while, in terms of Arts and Culture policy development, about ways to move theatre beyond centralised modes of play (ie always in iconic theatres or at least theatre-specific spaces) and into decentralised, smaller intimate home spaces.
The Cape Town Tourism request gave us the opportunity to try it out. We had already seen some of the group's work ( an original isiXhosa zombie production in a community hall in Nyanga, wild show), and knew it could work.
And it did. It wasn't light theatre, it was real and potent and no pastiche for tourists with singing and dancing and smiling natives. But we know that if the topic is tough, that doesn't mean that a traveller won't connect to it. And they all did, they described it as hard hitting yet moving.
So we are hoping to expand on this, and find a way to introduce it as a regular offering.