From the midlands to Malawi and back

2011-01-31 00:00

CREATING a network of performing and visual artists, writers and poets who will support one another, is one of the key goals which William le Cordeur­, the new director of the Schlesinger­ Theatre at Michaelhouse, has set himself.

From 2007 to the end of 2010, Le Cordeur was the programme director for Nanzikambe Arts in Malawi and while there he got involved in broadening arts networks, such as the Arterial­ Network and Africa Synergy, across the southern African region.

“It was bloody hard,” the 31-year-old Hilton resident says. “Communications are very difficult, resources are limited and transport is expensive — but we managed to pull it off. If that can happen on such a large scale, with so few resources, why can’t it happen here in a much smaller area with so many more resources.

“We need to create a network of audiences­ for each other’s work — whether we’re involved in visual arts, the theatre, write books and poetry or are local musicians.”

Le Cordeur intends to liaise with existing­ organisations such as the Friends of Tatham Art Gallery (Fotag) and the Midlands Arts and Crafts Society­ (Macs) in Pietermaritzburg and the Meander Craft Guild in the midlands to get the network started and to push the agenda of the Performing­ Arts Network of South Africa­ (Pansa).

In his role as director of the Schlesinger Theatre he also plans to challenge pupils by bringing in productions that are likely to make them think.

Among the plays he hopes to stage in the coming months are Lara Foot’s Tshepang, which was inspired by the shocking true story of the brutal assault­ of nine-month-old Baby Tshepang, and Mike van Graan’s fast-paced political­ thriller Green Man Flashing, both of which are setworks for drama students.

Le Cordeur would also like to stage a Zimbabwean double bill featuring The Crossing, a play written and performed­ by Jonathan Khumbulani Nkala, which chronicles Nkala’s journey­ from the small dusty village of Kwekwe in Zimbabwe to Cape Town; and From Bush to Country, Arifani­ Moyo’s story about a Zimbabwean­ historian looking for meaning in his country.

The play enjoyed a successful launch at the Musho International Festival of One and Two-Hander Theatre­ in Durban, alongside the comedy Men’s Room by Mary Steward­, which Le Cordeur also hopes to bring to the midlands.

“The whole point of theatre is to create a forum for discussion,” he says. “When I was in Malawi, we did a lot of community and educational theatre dealing with issues such as governance, HIV and Aids, tuberculosis­, burns and cancer.”

And he wasn’t afraid to take on established­ works. Last year Nanzikambe­ Arts travelled to Pietermaritzburg and Grahamstown to perform­ the MaKwacha HipOpera, an adaption of Brecht’s The Three Penny Opera.

This musical hip-hop theatre experiment delved into Malawian urban life in a riotous journey through love, betrayal, corruption and revenge, asking questions like what is morality­ in a country plagued by poverty and who are the bigger crooks: the NGOs, the thugs or the politicians?

Asked what had prompted him to move back to the midlands, Le Cordeur said that following the death of his father — well-known Anglican minister­, the Reverend Dan le Cordeur — last year, he had felt in need of a new challenge.

“I wasn’t looking to come back to Pietermaritzburg and the midlands,” he said, “but I put out a few feelers while I was here and when I got back to Malawi, friends of mine sent me the application form for the Michaelhouse job. It made sense and it’s good to be able to have time to spend with my mother.”

Le Cordeur is also excited about what he sees as the untapped talent in this area. Among those whom he believes have a great future ahead of them are Pietermaritzburg actors Moyo and Mandisa Haarhoff, whose new one-hander, Crush-hopper, received the audience award at Musho.

“After Musho I have all this energy and I’m just so excited to be here. There is so much we can do. I really­ want to be able to make the most of this wonderful theatre. They simply don’t make them like this anymore.”

• Anyone interested in getting in touch with William le Cordeur to talk about the Schlesinger Theatre, Pansa or about arts networking in the midlands, should phone 033 234 1049 or 078 134 8383. Alternatively e-mail him at

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