Doing it for the kids

Carl Collison

“Many of the pupils who come to see this adaptation will come because they have to; because it’s a setwork and because their teachers told them to,” Lee-Ann van Rooy, who portrays the lead character in Fiela se Kind concedes.

“But,” she adds, “what many of them probably don’t realise is that, for many of them, this will probably be the last piece of theatre they will ever see in their lifetime. Still, what I do know is that they will never forget the experience. That is why this is so important. Nothing can take away an experience.”

Important as that may be, providing pupils with a culturally rich experience is merely an added advantage to the setworks being staged at the theatre.

Artscape CEO Marlene le Roux says that while the initiative will “be introducing pupils to theatre and drama productions of a high quality, thereby building the audience of the future”, she adds: “The purpose of the educational programme is to assist Grade 11 and 12 pupils academically by presenting plays which are taught as literature on a theatre stage, therefore putting it in its intended setting.”

Productions to be staged are aimed at Afrikaans, English and Xhosa pupils, through the plays Fiela se Kind, Krismis van Jacob Map, Nothing but the Truth and Amaza.

Fiela se Kind, which opened yestersay, Wednesday April 20, and runs until Saturday April 23, is an adaptation of Matthee’s story of Benjamin, a white boy, who grew up with a coloured family, headed by Fiela. When he is taken away from them, he begins a journey to find himself, while Fiela fights to get her child back.

As to what drew her to portray this role, Ms Van Rooy says: “It’s a classic, much- loved South African tale; it’s part of our history and DNA. Who could forget Shaleen Surtie-Richards as Fiela in the movie and stage performance in the 1980s? I saw both as a young student. Not once did I think, back then, that I would be portraying this role myself.

“Both Shaleen and June van Merch, who also portrayed the character, are mentors and role models of mine. They have both done much to pave the way forward for us as South African actors and female storytellers. So this really is an honour.”

However, said Ms Van Rooy, getting the production staged did not come without its share of headaches.

“Co-ordinating our various schedules was a challenge. This is an epic production, (with) nine students and seven adults needing to be accommodated – never mind the crew.

“The students were writing exams – some were even busy studying backstage – and some actors were in rehearsals for more than one show, myself included. It was busy and frantic at times, but then again, that’s the beauty of telling a collective story: no part is too small as each person offers their part. So, with commitment and grace, we moved into the ‘oneness’ of story.

“It is a stellar cast,” she says of her fellow cast members, including Charlton George, Waldemar Schultz, Nicole Holm, Luke White, Carla Smith, Wian Taljaard, Cantona James, Tomley van Vuuren, Patricia Baadjies and Chanté Plaatjies.

“”We set out to tell the story by inviting the audience into Fiela’s world and the world of ‘die warme Langekloof, die Knysna bos en die see’. You see, the imagination is more powerful than anything you can get from an XBox or Google.

“Unlike so much in today’s digital age, which seems to perpetuate a sense of isolation in a crowd, exposure to such a thing as a play builds community because it is a shared experience; a sharing of the same emotions on a macro level. And that is priceless.”

* Fiela se Kind runs at the Artscape Theatre until Saturday April 23, at 3.30pm and 7.30pm. Tickets are R40 and can be booked through Computicket or Artscape Dial-a-Seat at 021 421 7695.