Napo Masheane Tells the Story of Black Women via Virtual Theatre

Moliehi ‘Didie” Makobane. Picture: Lungelo Mbulwana.

While the government has given theatres across the nation the green light to start operating under the strict lockdown level three regulations, many of them, including the Market Theatre, decided to remain closed until much later in the year.

But the show does go on via streaming and different social media platforms, which has the full support of the Market Theatre.

Audiences are now embracing the art form from the comfort of their couch, where they sing while watching the productions or sip on a cup of tea or glass of wine while tucking into their favourite snacks.

Napo Masheane, creator and director of a brand new production “Elelloang”, took some time out of rehearsals to tell us about creating theatre content under the “new normal.”

The narrative explores self-esteem, self-worth, structural inequality, and suppression of being a foreigner in South Africa amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Masheane explained: “The subtext in the play is a love story amidst Covid-19. Through Elellong’s voice, we get to explore and dismantle this notion that people who are not South Africans cross the border illegally in search of milk and honey.

“Truth is sometimes people leave their homelands and fight to be here just so that they can be with those they love most. In essence, Elellong’s story shows us how this pandemic has affected ordinary lives, blocked dreams, and robbed many of love.”

The cast of “Elelloang”. Picture: Lungelo Mbulwana.

While also a poet and theatre practitioner, she is passionate about telling the story of black women.

She offered, “I have few dreams… but the ones that allow me to live out of my nightmares are those that allow me to tell stories of black women. I actually have an obsession with black women’s narratives… so if I know, hear, see or read about their lives I find solace and immediately use or channel their voices in my work.

“Every black woman’s herstory has me in it… parts of her (their) experiences are mine too and my job through my art forms is to say their names aloud so that history doesn’t erase them.”

On how she created “Elelloang” specifically for digital viewing, she explained, “My new tagline now is ‘let’s take theatre to the people’ through any digital platform… if they can’t come to us, we will go to them. So I guess Covid-19 is a blessing and a curse, in that, one has been able to grow into this digital space and reach a much wider and vast global audience.”

Masheane continued:  “This pandemic has literally forced us to step up or step out of our comfort zone while trying to keep safe and sane at the same time. We don’t know when all this will end yet we are here, doing what we can, with what we have, where we are. We also trust that the ancestors of the theatre will hold the ghost light until we can be back in the theatres again.”

On South Africans embracing virtual theatre, she said, “Theatre is a sacred art form. Most of it is based on human spiritual drama. There is always a performer and the spectator whether around the fire, inside the black box, or over a digital media platform. At the end of the day, stories need to be told. Someone has to hold the mirror back to society.

The cast of “Elelloang”. Picture: Lungelo Mbulwana.

“Some of us have to be that cautious-drunk-aunt who has to call everyone and everything out loud for someone’s story to be seen and heard. This for me is what this pandemic is forcing us to remember; that when all is said and done, our creativity is all that we have, and all we will be left with after this Covid-19.”

The production is free of charge as the Market Theatre wants everyone to have access to theatre while on lockdown.

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