There’s a cultural revolution on the go in PE
Pieter Bosch Botha
Pieter Bosch Botha: There’s a cultural revolution taking place in Port Elizabeth, and now is the perfect time to get involved.
On a tiny corner of the Donkin Reserve in the beautiful (and windy) city of Port Elizabeth, sits the oldest Victorian theatre in the Southern Hemisphere. The PE Opera House is 121 years old, and it has played host to some of the most profound historical productions, and housed prolific South African theatre practitioners.
After a period of turmoil for the Opera House, which was once part of CAPAB, there is a new force behind the advancement of arts in PE. The man behind that force is Monde Ngonyama. In 1996 the Arts, Culture and Heritage White Paper led to the dissolution of such institutions as CAPAB with the 1997 Cultural Institutions Act permitting for the establishment of new companies. By John Kani’s admission, the establishment of new companies ignored the realities that were to be faced by new ill capacitated provinces like the Eastern Cape. The PE Opera House was not declared as a performing arts cultural institution. This institution is now registered as a Section 21 / Non Profit Company, dependent on constant fundraising with limited income streams to ensure self-sustainability in a desired manner.
In May this year I was contacted by the Director of the National Arts Festival, Ismail Mahomed, to serve as a Creative Consultant on a collaborative project between NAF and the Opera House. Six Opera House productions were selected to be presented as part of the Main festival, and six Creative Consultants were brought in from across the country to offer creative guidance and support for the Directors of these productions. The other consultants were Thenjiwe Stemela, Tara Notcutt, Thando Doni, Napo Masheane and Princess Mhlongo. Through this initiative, Ismail and Monde hoped that the Opera House would benefit from expert guidance, as well as gain interest from theatre practitioners from other provinces. It was a very successful venture and I know that each one of the six consultants, including myself, were drawn to the artistic rejuvenation that is happening at the Opera House.
The Opera House has launched various exciting projects and programs in an attempt to foster the continued growth of artistic expression in PE and surrounding areas. It has become a beacon of hope for the young writers, actors, poets, musicians, directors, producers and dancers. A place where their voices are heard, and their talents are nurtured. Every Wednesday, up in the Barn Theatre at the Opera House, an event takes place which is called “Yiyo”. It’s a fairly casual ‘open mic’ session where artists are given the opportunity to test new writing, or songs, or dances or even acting pieces. Whether it’s for fun, or for the purposes of development, it doesn’t matter. Here artists have a safe environment for creative exploration, which includes a space for constructive feedback from peers. The Performing Arts Company of the Eastern Cape (PACEC) is a company of actors and musicians in the permanent employ of the Opera House, who produce theatre productions for the public, as well as educational shows for schools. This company works pretty much on the same model as the old Performing Arts Councils which were disbanded shortly after 1994. This is nothing short of a miracle. In a country where the economic instability consistently and significantly impacts the performing arts, to be able to run a resident theatre company is a marvel. I, along with the other Creative Consultants, have worked with PACEC, and I can safely say that the level of talent exuding from this group is remarkable.
Recently I was asked by Ngonyama to return to the Opera House as one of a panel of expert adjudicators who would select 10 productions to be part of the Iphulo Festival, which is a provincial festival which showcases, nurtures and celebrates young playwrights from the Eastern Cape. This festival is generously supported by the EC Department of Arts and Culture. Other expert members of the panel were Mandla Mbothwe, Nomhle Nkonyeni and Colin Ward. I felt very privileged and honoured to be amongst names of this stature and calibre. Over two days we subjected numerous artists to rigorous questions about their intentions and writings. We sifted through 28 proposals in order to select the final 10, which would go on to receive financial support and guidance from the Opera House in order to stage a full production of these works. I was truly inspired to meet all these young and hopeful artists from the EC. Hearing their ideas, thoughts and feelings about their craft and their stories was an invigorating experience. It gives me so much faith in the exciting possibilities for artistic expression and exploration in Port Elizabeth and surrounding areas. These young voices are confident and vibrant, and their ideas are uniquely enthused with local flavour. There is an endless fountain of stories in the EC, and with the help of initiatives like the Iphulo Festival these stories can come to life and inspire, challenge, remedy, entertain and change the social norms.
Monde Ngonyama and his team of administrators, creatives and technical staff at the PE Opera House are a force to be reckoned with. Ngonyama is all fired up. He wants to see great artistic and administrative transformation which will benefit the local theatre industry tremendously. I so enjoy hearing him talk. He is a clever man with a bright vision, who is backed by a fantastic team. What more could one want? Well, funding… One always needs funding. While many of the Opera House projects are generously funded by local provincial and private partners, there are massive running costs which need to be covered.
Now here’s what I have to say about that: Dear potential funders, take note. Keep your gaze firmly planted on the Opera House in PE. There are hugely exciting projects taking place which create jobs, inspire transformation, entertain and uplift the cultural status of Port Elizabeth. Projects which are essential and beneficial to those who reside in the EC. As a funder, this institution is a goldmine for corporate social investment. You could be responsible for allowing the important voices to be heard. You could be part of a full on cultural revolution! Ngonyama will continue regardless. He has a resilience and attitude tantamount to a warrior. But with kind and generous financial help, the possibilities are endless.
To artists I say the following: Take your work the PE. The Opera House is ready and waiting with a smile. I have always been treated with utmost respect, kindness and appreciation, and have always felt valued as an artist in this institution. They really know how to take care of one. This is an excellent platform for the expansion of the reach of your work. Do the sums, and send them a proposal. Be brave. Take a leap and show the windy city what you’ve got. They’re hungry for it!
For the other projects, and more info on the PE Opera House visit: www.peoperahouse.co.za
Pieter Bosch Botha
076 488 5626
Article source: http://www.artlink.co.za/news_article.htm?contentID=33770