The Baxter’s annual Zabalaza Theatre Festival, which showcases around 40 productions by dynamic young theatre-makers from all over the province, is back.Now in its eighth year, the festival kicked off on Saturday 10 March and will end on Saturday 17 March. The Baxter Theatre Centre will be buzzing with more than 40 different theatre productions and events, featuring close to 150 artists and a line-up which is jam-packed with dynamic and diverse options catering for all tastes during the week-long festival.The award-winning actor and director Mdu Kweyama has been appointed as curator of this year’s festival and he joins the team which is spearheaded by artistic director Bongile Mantsai along with Zoleka Helesi (co-ordinator), Lauren Hannie (administrator) and Monde Myataza (sales and marketing). Kweyama has a master’s degree in Directing from UCT. He is also the 2016 Fleur du Cap New Director Award winner and a former Baxter artist-in-residence. Some of his work at the Baxter in recent years includes Reza de Wet’s Missing and Woza Albert! by Percy Mtwa, Mbongeni Ngema and Barney Simon.RAW (Real Art Wednesdays) showcased on Sunday 11 March and will showcase again on Friday 16 March, featuring singers, bands, dancers, rappers, poets and beatboxers, all taking to the stage to entertain audiences. Other performances on the weekend line-up include six productions from the Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport’s Game Changer and after-school programme. The main festival, with some 28 productions in the line-up, started yesterday and will run until 16 March with daily shows at 10:30, 12:00, 14:00, 16:00 and 19:00. The festival will culminate in the awards ceremony on Saturday 17 March, where awards will be presented to artists and productions in various categories, while the Best of the Zabalaza Festival winner will be announced. One of this year’s highlights is the introduction of the Baxter’s brand new Platform for Special Talent, made possible through funding from the City of Cape Town. This vital initiative emerged from a need to “bridge the gap” between opportunities for young, new theatre-makers and well-known established ones. The aim is to develop and sustain theatre in South Africa by identifying talented theatre practitioners and providing them with a platform to improve their artistic portfolio and expose it to a wider audience. These artists are creating excellent work and this initiative will provide them with opportunities to enhance their skills through mentorship and immersion in a professional theatrical space, designed to enrich their experience and skills as they build viable careers in the performing and creative arts environments.Five artists and their productions have been identified, namely Chuma Sopotela’s Rest in Love, Thando Mzembe’s Zebra Conspiracy, Bulelani Mabutyana’s Final Chapter, Lwanda Sindaphi’s Kudu and Nwabisa Plaatjie’s 23 Years, a Month and Seven Days, with the latter two having full runs at the Baxter during March.Baxter CEO and artistic director Lara Foot has once again introduced the Zabalaza Challenge where she has bought 40 tickets at only R30 each to the performances at this year’s festival and she challenges individuals, businesses and the public to join her. “These tickets will be given to learners who cannot afford to buy any. The takings at the door go straight back to the young artists who are presenting their work at the festival. This money therefore goes back into the community so that more plays can be produced by these talented artists.” To join the challenge, go to www.baxter.co.za/ZabalazaChallenge.Another important addition this year is a three-year bursary from City Varsity to one of the participants on the main programme who applies to Zabalaza. The successful recipient will visit the Cape Town campus during 2018 and meet with curriculum advisors to decide on a course of their choice. A one-year internship at the Fugard Theatre has also been made available for a lucky incumbent selected by the Zabalaza team to hone their craft and gain further insight into the operations of the theatre.Kweyama says: “We are super excited about the programme and I would like to welcome all the performers and theatre-makers to the 2018 festival. We are especially proud of the new additions to the line-up and, in particular, the opportunities that we are able to present to the artists.” Tickets cost just R30 for any production, with the exception of the RAW (Real Art Wednesdays) showcases which are R50, and the comedy showcase oMpondo Zihlanjiwe on Saturday 10 March at 19:00, which is R80.V Booking is through Webtickets on 0861110005 or at www.webtickets.co.za, or at selected Pick n Pay outlets. Visit the Baxter website at www.baxter.co.za for the full programme.