Adapt or die

2011-08-19 12:54

After a few direct messages on Twitter and a phone call, Clive Mathibe, who wrote and directed the play 8 Minuets,managed to ensure that I made the time to go and see it.

The show recently opened at the State Theatre in Pretoria and has since been all the rage.

So after attending a performance, we met for a chat about his challenges in the industry and
the show getting a second season.

In 8 Minuets, Mathibe directs eight actresses to explore the burdens and lives of women
in a rapidly transforming South Africa – though the narrative is essentially carried by four of the women with the other four playing a supporting role.

One of the lead roles is an orphaned young girl forced to become a parent and look after her siblings while still in need of parenting herself.

The second story, enacted by Sibongile Ngele, looks at an upwardly mobile young woman who takes on the corporate world, and so must navigate sexism and sexual advances on her way to the top.

Then there’s the story of a young, urbanised Ndebele girl struggling with the cultural requirement of going through the rites of passage into womanhood.

She doesn’t quite understand, nor can she relate to, the customs she is being burdened with to embrace and carry across to the next generation of girls. Pamela Ndlovu ably takes her character through a set of identity crises.

The fourth vignette, told through actress Tlhapang Petso, involves a young girl torn between the Christianity espoused by her grandmother, and her African spirituality and destiny to be a traditional healer.

The word “minuet” refers to a slow stately dance that originated in 17th century France. This means movement and song are central to how the play is structured, hence the story doesn’t follow a linear flow of events.

The narratives, or minuets as it were, are fragmented to create an ebb and flow of a song, and not a chronological development of events.

The initial scenes are driven mostly by monologues and some choreographed sequences, before moving onto a more song-based structure.

To explain his method, Mathibe makes a proclamation with cocktail in hand: “I’m a very non-conventional theatre-maker!”
Then he says he had to find a more interesting approach to present these stories, because “the linear story approach is, frankly, boring”.

But in trying out his “unconventional approach”, Mathibe laments fielding resistance from the industry leaders before trying out new ideas.

“We keep on being told that this is too experimental; it’s not mainstream enough?.?.?.?it’s too artistic.

But if it’s not artistic what should it be?”

He says: “The reason 8 Minuets is a success is because we decided not to wait for anybody to give us money to start working. We just went to the rehearsal room and did it. Then we started going to places to look for performance space.”

The show has been to the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown and had a run at the Market Theatre too.

8 Minuets as it is today, was created in 2009, though Mathibe says it began as a 30-minute play for his third-year directing course at technikon.

Mathibe holds a B-Tech degree in dramatic arts from Tshwane University of Technology, formerly Technikon Pretoria.

He says: “When making 8 Minuets, I was very concerned about bringing out that new
voice of us young post-apartheid directors and theatre-makers ?.?.?.?looking to shape a
new creative identity.”

But it appears as though that hasn’t been easy and Mathibe has an axe to grind: “People have been getting the same kind of crap for too long, and producers are constantly telling us that audiences are not ready for this kind of work; that it won’t sell.

“But I feel that for as long as there are artists making this kind of work, there will be people who will get it.”

»?8 Minuets is on at the Momentum Theatre, State Theatre, until August 28. Book at Computicket.

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