Archive for the ‘GUMBO’ Category


by Cristina Salvoldi- Photo by Wendy Birt

Benchmarks, not only the name of our new show, but the goalposts we keep moving.

Here’s where we’ve come so far:

 “ FTH:K is an independent and vibrant theatre company that has enriched the South African theatre landscape with its original and unique approach to visual theatre. Having pioneered itself as a groundbreaking South African theatre company which casts both hearing and Deaf actors, their work challenges and enriches both the artists and the audiences through a combination of visual and performing arts forms such as puppetry, masks and live performance. As trendsetters of this genre in South Africa, it is clearly evident that the current growth in visual theatre on the festival and mainstream circuit is influenced by FTH:K’s prolific style and their ability to continually raise the bar both on excellence and innovation.”
-Ismail Mahomed, Director of the National Arts Festival

Some of you, those loyal enough to have been at our AGM will remember Ugli Bob‘s rundown of the artistic journey which explained how we got to now and for those of you who weren’t there – We’re only telling you this twice.

Phase 1:

The company has its roots in what we call our Environmental Phase. Tanya and Rob started out as dance and drama teachers at Community Arts Project (CAP) where they started the  Professional Development Programme (PDP). Under this banner they combined African storytelling with mime and created the piece Touch Wood in 2003.

Wayyyy back

Full cast of Touch Wood- Photo by Steve Kretzmann

This was created in response to fires that blazed on Table Mountain for weeks.  This was followed  by Water Pockets and very crucially, Imbew’embi: The Bad Seed, which saw the Rob collaborate for the first time with Janni Younge, for the making of shadow puppets.  Water Pockets was the first production to be housed by a major theatre, and enjoyed a run at the Artscape Arena.

In 2005,  FTH:K was officially launched and with funding from the National Lotteries Distribution Trust Fund (NLDTF), was able to employ its staff on a full-time basis. Water Pockets toured the Western Cape and a crucial stylistic benchmark happened with the creation of  Leap of Faith for the Mental Health and Disability Conference. This was the companies first integrated piece, with hearing and Deaf performers. Scripts were thrown out, and the non-verbal style that would become the companies trademark, entrenched itself.

2005 was also the the year the company won the ACT Cultural Development Award, and the Western Cape Award for Disability in the Arts. 

Phase 2

Having developed stylistically, FTH:K entered into its second phase – Integrated Theatre: where the company did away with written scripts and made their work more accessible to the Deaf and hearing. 2006 saw the beginning of the Integrated Professional Development Programme (IPDP). Liezl de Kock and Lysander Barends joined the programme and became long-standing members. Liezl is still with the company while Lysander left after five long years.

Generating new forms of income:

At the time the NLDTF funding was coming to an end and the company turned to associated producing to generate income. Here they threw themselves in the deep-end of marketing to produce shows such as the Dogs Bollocks by Gaëtan Schmid and Birds’ Eye View. The company then won the ACT Most Successful Company Award.

At the end of 2006, the company created Gumbo which was a fully integrated Deaf and hearing clowning production.

Gumbo in Argentina

Benchmark: South America

2007 was the year of Gumbo. The show toured around the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Pietermaritzburg, Polokwane, Johannesburg as well as Frieburg, Berlin, and Munich in Germany and Argentina. During this year, FTH:K’s friendship circle grew enormously and left a strong impression on two particular Wits students, Simangele and Jayne. Both ladies would later move to Cape Town and become full-time employees of the company, Simangele in 2010 as Educational Co-ordinator and Jayne as a theatre-maker, performer and designer in 2009.

By 2008, Gumbo had it’s 100th performance at the Baxter Studio and as the company grew, it became more accepted as a visual theatre company rather than a company that was Deaf specific.

The tag line, “a conspiracy of clowns” became the name of the experimental wing of the company, and premiered Pictures of You, their debut piece in 2008. Pictures of You went on to be the sleeper hit of the National Arts Festival.

Phase 3

By 2009, FTH:K entered into its 3rd and current phase – Visual Theatre. Pictures of You, by the Conspiracy of Clowns in association with FTH:K ran at the Baxter and at the National Arts Festival where it was the top selling show of the festival.

"Mama I made it!"

Stylistically the company was moving away from sign language in their shows as they had done with Gumbo, which had its 124th performance in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Sign language just seemed to make hearing audiences uncomfortable and left out.

In that same year, FTH:K produced their first Deaf only piece, Ek Roep vir Jou Vanaand created by Lysander and directed by Liezl. This piece toured both Deaf and hearing schools around the Western Cape.

At the end of 2009, QUACK! was born. This dark and edgy story premiered at the Baxter and brought on new collaborators, Jayne Batzofin, who then joined the company, as well as Jori Snell.

2010 was a bumpy year as the company spent much of its time on tour. The company ran three major productions, Pictures of You, QUACK! and the newest offering Womb Tide. The Deaf trainees, Marlon, Tomri and Christo along with Simangele Mabena, the companies new education co-ordinator, did a national tour of the country with their piece, Tales from the Trash.

In September the company left to conquer Johannesburg, running a season at the Market Theatre, playing both QUACK! and Womb Tide.

- Photo by Wendy Birt

The company  also won their first Fleur Du Cap, awarded to Rob “Ugli Bob” Murray for his lighting design

For 2011, the trainee piece Shortcuts is set to tour nationally. The Conspiracy of Clowns premiers their new piece Kardiàvale in May and a “Conspiracy of Clowns in association with FTH:K” piece, debuts Benchmarks at the National Arts Festival.

Benchmarks will be on the Main Programme of the festival, just another benchmark for FTH:K.

Rob’s Conclusion:

” 6 years old and we often have to pinch ourselves at the good fortune and success we have had.  Success that is moderate according to our ambitions, but immense in terms of the groundswell and recognition we have achieved not only for Deaf education, or the integration of the Deaf and the hearing, but of massive strides we have undertaken in ushering in and being part of the Visual Theatre wave sweeping across the country, as well as backing that up by innovative business and organisational development, marketing, and publicity.

Packing the massive trailer to head off to Oudtshoorn and the KKNK recently, Tink sighed and said to me wistfully: “You remember when we used to make theatre on string and bubble-gum?”, harking back to the days where a set was a bucket, or a few umbrellas, and fitted into the boot of a car as did all the performers and tech crew, and not a trailer and mini-bus load.  It is true that our production values have increased (often to the headache of our managers and budgets), and our vocabulary has become more sophisticated, but one thing our work has always been is very rich.  Because it has been made on and by the bodies, hearts, and imaginations of a particularly awesome group of people.  Misfits, clowns, fools the lot of us.  But rich and strong and passionate.  And this will make all the difference.

Ladies and gentlemen, we may not be the biggest company in the world, or the country, and not enough people know about us yet, but the people you see before you tonight, represent perhaps one of the hardest working companies.  I salute you all, as well as our ardent supporters, and extended family, and promise the best is yet to come.”

At last, FTH:K is working its last day before the well-deserved holidays kick in, bringing 3 weeks of fun, sun and beer (and a Mexican New Year for some of us ;-). That’s before we come back to take 2010 by the scruff of its neck and shake what its mama gave it in true FTH:K style.  But for now, just fun, sun and beer! As we reflect on 2009, we are reminded of how lucky we are to do what we love for a living, and how grateful we are to all of you who have supported us over the year.  Everything FTH:K achieves happens through collaboration in one way or another, and so from all of us here we say a huge, hands-flapping THANK YOU for your role in our development. We really wouldn’t be here were it not for people like you.  Go team!

Nolly & 2009 FTHK braai 092

Whew. Ok, so 2009 has been one hellova year for FTH:K. I know we say that every year, but seriously, this time we really mean it! And if you don’t believe us, have a look below at some of the highlights of our year:


  • Pictures of You clocks in as the highest grossing theatre production on the National Arts Festival fringe programme, and 12th highest across all categories
  • Besides the NAF, Pictures of You plays to huge success at the Suidoosterfees, the Baxter Theatre, the Western Cape School’s Festival, the Festival of Fame, and the Witness Hilton Arts Festival
  • Company Manager, Tanya Surtees, is invited to present the Keynote Address at the Western Cape School’s Festival
  • FTH:K features at South Africa’s first large-scale Deaf and hearing party called SenCity (click here to see the DTV clip – and see if you can spot Frank and Janet of Pictures of You boogieing down on the dance floor)
  • GUMBO travels to Argentina to have its 124th (and final…sniff…) performance in Buenos Aires (click here to see the tribute made by Clare Louise Thomas)
  • QUACK! plays to sell-out houses at the National Arts Festival and the Intimate Theatre
  • Ek Roep Vir Jou Vanaand, FTH:K’s first all-Deaf performance, tours to schools around the Western Cape and enjoys a run at the Intimate Theatre
  • FTH:K launches a new level to its Tell-Tale Signs training programme to prepare talented Deaf learners for employment in the Company
  • Compared with 2008, FTH:K doubles its beneficiaries in the Western Cape, doubles its reach to previously disadvantaged individuals, trebles its Deaf beneficiaries, and doubles the number of people employed by the company

No bad huh??  And there’s actually more but we can see we’re making you blush already…

So, what’s next, you ask?


  • Pictures of You is back by popular demand for a 2-week run at the Baxter Theatre (1st – 13th February)
  • QUACK! heads off to QuestFest in Washington DC and the team tours around the Mid-Atlantic region with an education programme (29th Feb – 16th March)
  • QUACK! returns to wow Cape Town audiences at the Out The Box Festival (+/- 24th – 27th March)
  • Womb Tide premieres in the National Arts Festival’s Arena Programme (watch this space for details)
  • FTH:K presents a month-long festival of visual theatre, workshops and discussions at the Market Theatre (23rd Aug – 26th Sept)

Yes, we are going to be one busy little company next year…

And with that, the only thing left to say is


(and happy holidays!!)

Swine flu

Posted: May 6, 2009 in GUMBO
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We’d just like to state for the record that the man being treated for potential Swine Flu in a Cape Town hospital was not a member of the GUMBO cast, and the rest of the team is feeling perfectly normal…despite what our last salvaged pictures may suggest…

Don't cry for us, Argentina

If you want to read more about the guy who also just returned from Argentina, and who is being isolated in a Cape Town hospital (as a precaution), click here.  Hopefully, it’s just a case of good old human flu!


Posted: May 1, 2009 in GUMBO
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So, on our last day, after being so so so careful with our stuff during our stay in BA (the theft in the streets is pretty much in the same league as SA), some Argie @#$&%&@$% (nasty person) stole a bag out from between the 5 of us while we were calling  taxi.  Literally.  In the time it took for Ugli to hail a cab, the bag disappeared, and no one saw a thing.  It may as well have been beamed up by Scottie.  And in the bag was the company laptop, with ALL the Argie pics – thank goodness for this blog which has saved some – and Tanya’s passport.  So instead of proceeding to the Festival Wrap Up session and awesome lunch, Tink and Ugli had to visit 2 police stations and get the South African Embassy to open up specially in order to get an Emergency Passport to come home.  Super.  Beats a nice lunch any time!!

But as angry and as upset as we all got about this theft, our visit to the first police station gave us some perspective: unlike the couple in front of us in the queue, we were not drugged while out at a bar and robbed of passport, money, camera etc etc.  Seriously.  I’m not making this stuff up.  No one was hurt in the taking of the bag.  The camera was not in the bag, and neither was Tanya’s wallet or green ID book – or there would have been no Emergency Passport that day.  There was no money, no newly-bought stuff, no one else’s passport or papers.  And there was enough time before the flight to get everything sorted out.  Had we been on our way to the airport, Tanya would still be in BA now!  So, some perspective.  Also lucky is that Tanya backs up her emails pretty regularly so she’ll only be missing emails from the past 3 weeks or so.  And in the upgrading of the RAM on the lap top 3 weeks ago, she backed up all her information, so the Company will only have lost a few bits and pieces.  Small mercies…stinky Argies…

Dang, it’s good to be home!

Homage to GUMBO

Posted: May 1, 2009 in GUMBO
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In homage to the final show of GUMBO, lovely photographer Clare Thomas (who’d been capturing Proyecto 34°S) put together this clip in Buenos Aires. Thanks, lady guy – you rock!

The end of the GUMBO era

Posted: April 28, 2009 in GUMBO
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All good things come to an end, they say, and GUMBO, which has been a great thing for FTH:K, has come to an end too.  The final performance of the Festival was an emotional one as it marked a number of “ends” in the Company: Ugli Bob’s swan song in his performance career; Tink’s moving out of the performance/theatre-making team; the closing of our first 3-year cycle; and of course, the final performance of GUMBO (for a looooooooooooong time, at least).  A lot of “ends”.  But then, a lot of beginnings too.  It’s time for FTH:K to be putting out new work and showcasing where we actually are in terms of creating theatre.  GUMBO was made in 2006 so, as Rob says, there’s still so much naivety in it and in many ways, we have developed further than GUMBO represents.  It’s time for GUMBO to make way for the other pieces that FTH:K has to offer, like Pictures of You or Quack! or the big piece we are making in November, or the collaboration with Lara Foot-Newton.  The new ideas and developments and opportunities that have been built on the back of the GUMBO experience…

GUMBO has taken us to the Eastern Cape, Gauteng, Limpopo, KZN, around the Western Cape, to Berlin, Munich, Freiburg, and Buenos Aires.  We have performed in basements, theatres, school halls and empty rooms, and our last performance here was number 124.  And that’s not counting the times we performed it in rehearsal…

So, sleep well, little GUMBO, and thank you thank you for everything!


Posted: April 27, 2009 in GUMBO
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We’ve taking you through the insane day of Wild Translations which was the theme for our Lecture-Demonstrations.  Our workshops (2 X 3-hour workshops with the same group of people) were fantastic, and while the numbers were quite small, the people who came were keen, focused and engaging.  The workshop we presented was called Listen With Your Eyes and it looked at FTH:K’s developing approach to creating and performing work that is highly visual, devised, non-verbal, and thus truly accessible to Deaf and hearing audiences and performers. We believe that this stems from an observation of the space between people, a manipulation of tension and rhythm to create highly charged meaning, and above all, a commitment to play.  Check it out!