Acknowledging his roots

2010-10-12 00:00

WELCOME Msomi, one of Durban’s most successful theatre practitioners, has promised to return to the city to stage new productions at the Stable Theatre.

The playwright, producer, director and choreographer won the arts category in the annual Johnnie Walker Celebrating Strides Awards and chose to pour his R125 000 award into helping resuscitate the theatrical art centre at 115 Johannes Nkosi Street.

Speaking at last week’s official handover, Msomi said it was important for him to acknowledge where he had come from and the people who had both nurtured and inspired him at the start of his career.

Unable to study drama at the then University of Natal, he opted to start his own theatre company back in the 1960s. “I would come to the station and approach people to join my plays. A lot of them looked at me as if I was mad, but some were gullible and joined my productions,” he said.

He later formed the Shah Theatre Academy with Kessie Govender, founder of the Stable Theatre. Their aim was to take theatre to all the communities in the province, and while on the road, performing in places like Pietermaritzburg and Ladysmith, they would be invited to people’s homes for dinner and a bit of a sing-along.

“When you mix with other cultures you learn a lot,” Msomi said. “I’m grateful for those days because they inspired me to create other theatrical productions.”

His decision to donate his award money to the Stable Theatre was, he added, his way of honouring his friendship with and the legacy of Kessie Govender. “There was no doubt in my mind that the money had to come to the Stable Theatre. I think the board and other people involved have done a remarkable job [reviving it],” Msomi said.

“Some of the productions I want to do, I will do here. I’m thinking of reviving uMabatha [the Zulu Macbeth]. If I do, I will do it here. It’s not about how big a place is, but about the quality of the piece and whether or not it will inspire younger generations.”

The Johnnie Walker money will be channelled into the Kessie Govender Fund for Theatre Development, which aims to encourage new productions which tell important cultural and diverse stories of KwaZulu-Natal’s people, especially those living in the townships.

“The funds will be specifically used towards the development of new talent in KZN and to encourage and assist up-and-coming playwrights, directors and actors from the Durban and surrounding areas to follow their dreams,” Msomi said.

The first production to be staged at the theatre thanks to the award, is Nkanyezi, and will be directed by well-known actress and newly appointed interim chairperson of the Stable Theatre, Thuli Dumakude.

The play, which will run from December 10 to 19, tells the story of four friends from different ethnic backgrounds who gather together to dress a Christmas tree with beaded ornaments. As they do so, they learn each other’s stories and what exactly Christmas means for them.

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