Authentic Storytellers Must Be Supported   By Cheryl Roberts

30 Apr

denise newmanLast night, whilst at the Baxter theatre in Cape Town to see a performance of ‘Cinnamon’ by acclaimed dance performer and choreographer, Glenda Jones, I enquired about ticket purchase for ‘Cold Case’. I was taken aback and surprised to hear that ‘ticket sales are slow and there are lots available’. With opening night a week away, by now, I thought tickets would have been in demand and selling, with a rush by people wanting to see this performance.

After all, this is a production of authentic storytelling, not for money or fame, but for a people’s remembrance against forgetting. ‘Cold Case’, is scripted by and performed by authentic and iconic storyteller and performers, Basil Appollis and Denise Newman. This production is about the life of anti-apartheid activist, Dulcie September, a woman teacher from Cape Town, who joined the ANC and went into exile only to be horrendously gunned down whilst representing the banned ANC in France.

Storytelling and recall about a people’s past and history, about how people have moved along their life’s journey and the significant moments about contextualized lives, are all pivotal to our understanding and knowledge of who we are and where we are.

Nowadays much more powerful storytelling is occurring in theatre and in film and in book writing, by those who know the imperative of passing on information about people’s past lives and living. Authentic storytellers, writers and film-makers are everywhere. Most times, it’s a struggle and hustle to produce, write and film the stories which must be told; the stories which are crying out to be appreciated and recognized.

When these productions are undertaken, it’s done because the storyteller and performer feels very strongly about giving it life on stage, in a book or on screen. Money is not the driving factor; its being done to remember the past, to be better informed and enlightened.

Being surprised and startled about the slow ticket sales, as I walked into the theatre space, I recalled how productions about ‘Coloured’ people’s resistance and life during apartheid were performed to sold out audiences in Cape Town.  Last night’s performance of ‘Cinnamon’ was abut 70 percent full.

This made me ask: ‘Why do people fill up theatre seats of storytellers like David Kramer and give his productions full house and sold out signs, yet don’t do the same when authentic storytellers from the very community of the people whose stories are being performed, stage their films/doccies and productions and publish their books?’

Look at how the productions by David Kramer, sometimes in collaboration with (the late) Taliep Petersen, bring ‘Coloured’ people to the theatre. Tickets for these productions are not cheap, yet people do attend to hear and see the stories of their ancestors and their lives. Yet, productions by authentic storytellers and professional performers such as Denise Newman, Basil Appollis, Glenda Jones are not playing to sold out audiences every performance.

These productions are initiated and undertaken with no budgets; most times they are self-maintained and dependent on purchase of tickets. Most times, sale of tickets move slowly.

What more must authentic storytellers do to get people’s interest and support? If the relevant stories are not told, then who is going to tell them? I can assure you that a white entrepeneur, with a brain for making money, is going to come along and make that story happen and the very same ‘Coloured’ people who should have supported the authentic storyteller, is going along to buy expensive theatre tickets for a production by a non-authentic storyteller.

I’m writing this blog to encourage Cape Town to go and see ‘Cold Case’. I haven’t seen it yet, but I know it’s relevant and significant. It must be seen. Denise Newman and Basil Appollis are authentic in their work and relevance on stage. They have undertaken this production with no funded budget. Yet, they are putting their ‘brand and name’ on the line to bring to stage the life of a human rights activist.

If we support productions by David Kramer about ‘Coloured’ people’s lives, then why don’t we support the authentic performers who write and stage the productions we should and must see?

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