Theatre – Stable Theatre gets a Welcome boost

2010-11-13 10:50

Welcome Msomi – playwright, ­producer, director, author and ­choreographer – is this year’s winner of the arts category of the Johnnie Walker Celebrating Strides Awards.

In tribute to the late Kessie ­Govender, the mentor of his early days as an actor in Durban, Msomi named the Stable Theatre as the recipient of the money prize ­attached to his award.

Kessie Govender founded the theatre in 1975, operating from ­various venues until he discovered and occupied an abandoned ­electrical depot near the Warwick Triangle in 1990.

Holding out against attempts to move him, he claimed squatters’ rights and won his case.

With support from the ­KwaZulu-Natal arts and culture ­department and the Durban municipality, Stable Theatre is undergoing a rigorous revitalisation programme to reclaim its active role on the city’s arts scene.

Now a considerable force in the communications sector, Msomi returned to Durban recently to hand over the money and was palpably moved at his reunion with old connections and colleagues.

“Meeting Jayashree, Shan and Kovilen (Kessie’s widow, brother and son) was such a joy and fulfilment of a wish to recognise in a small way the contribution that Kessie made to the development of talent in KZN,” Msomi said.

“It has taken more than 40 years for this reunion; to honour Kessie ...”

Msomi and Kessie Govender first met as young actors at the Shah Theatre Academy which was started by Ronnie Govender and Muthal Naidoo.

Previously he belonged to the Durban Academy of Theatre Arts, which included people like Fathima Meer, Devi Bughwan, Dennis Bughwan among others.

Also joining the Shah Theatre Academy were Babs Pillay, Kessie Govender, Guru Pillay and Stanley Mnyandu.

Molière’s A School for Wives, Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, Clifford Odets’ Golden Boy and Govender’s Beyond Calvary were part of the repertoire.

Msomi then formed the iZulu Dance Theatre and Music, producing plays in isiZulu, starting with Nomhlangano Mntanami in 1965, followed by Qondeni and uMabatha in 1970.

The “Zulu Macbeth”, uMabatha, brought him international acclaim. He then established the iZulu Dance Theatre in New York where he wrote and produced numerous productions.

“Kessie went on to start his own productions,” Msomi remembers. “Whenever I was back from my travels I would make time to see the work that he was doing ... such as Stable Expense and Working Class Hero.

With his ­passion and strength, he succeeded against all odds.

“When I got to participate in the Johnnie Walker Celebrating Strides competition, I had no doubt that if I won, which theatrical organisation needed to benefit from the award.

The Stable Theatre was at the top of my list.

People like Kessie need to be celebrated.”

Msomi hasn’t produced any plays in KZN since the last performance of uMabatha at The Playhouse in 1997.

“During my years abroad, most of my productions have been in distant countries,” he explains. “Sadly, South Africa is a hard environment in which to find financial support for the arts.

Even though it’s a challenge to create plays in our country, we must never stop pursuing our vision and dreams.

“I plan to revive uMabatha,” he continues, “not only as a stage production but also as a movie.

KZN is the only province that can offer me such superb talent. I would also like to identify young talent interested in writing and directing stories of a New South Africa.”

» The Christmas season production is Nkanyezi – The Star on from December 10 to 19. Call 031 309 2513 or visit

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