Archive for the ‘QUACK!’ Category

Officially speaking….

The dynamic young organisation, which this year celebrated its sixth birthday, moves into the next phase of growth with a strong focus on its education programmes including the Artsbridge International Exchange. In addition, the creative team will enjoy new artistic mentorship under the guidance of company member Jayne Batzofin, who has been with the company since 2009. Batzofin takes over the role of Artistic Director, and overseeing the company’s education and creative output, from founder and current Artistic Director Rob Murray, who is taking up the position of resident director with Janet Buckland’s Ubom! Company in Grahamstown.

“The first six years have been an exhilarating rollercoaster ride,” says Murray. “We have toured extensively nationally and internationally, won multiple awards and developed a ground-breaking theatre education programme for Deaf learners.

“It is now time to consolidate what has been created and build on that foundation to nurture a sustainable theatre training programme that provides opportunities to Deaf learners from all over the country. FTH:K is today an established entity in itself and has at its helm a strong new leadership team to take it into the next five years. “

Murray will be working with Batzofin as part of the handover which will also see Batzofin taking over as South African director of the Artsbridge International Exchange programme. Artsbridge is a two-year skills and cultural exchange project between Deaf and hearing communities in South Africa and the USA. It involves workshops, discussions and the creation of a work with Wings Theatre Company from the USA, which will be performed at QuestFest in Washington DC in March, followed by a national tour of South Africa. Batzofin was part of the team that travelled to the USA this year as part of the first phase of the project.

Company Director Tanya Surtees, who relocated to Washington DC earlier this year, will head up the Artsbridge Exchange from abroad while also working for QuestFest hosts, Quest Visual Theatre. She will remain on with FTH:K in an advisory capacity supporting Ana Lemmer, who joined FTH:K in March, in her new role as Company Director from 2012.

“It remains an honour to work for FTH:K, brokering the Exchange from the DC side and working to get the Company onto the international stage. It is humbling to see how over the years FTH:K has grown bigger than the vision of any one of its members or co-founders, and it is particularly satisfying to see new faces joining the family, fresh voices emerging in both leadership and creative roles, and old faces moving on to tackle new challenges.” says Surtees.

“2012 also marks the next phase of our Tell-Tale Signs education programme. The national tour next year with Artsbridge will include workshops that serve as an audition process for our next intake of trainees. This will be the first time we have been able to potentially offer places to students from outside of Cape Town. 2013 will mark the start of the three-year Deaf training programme, as well as a run of our latest production, Benchmarks, which won a Handspring Puppetry award,” says Murray.

“I am honoured to be working with Ubom! next year and, as a Rhodes graduate who studied under Andrew Buckland, I feel lucky to be returning to my theatrical roots.”

Joining Murray at Ubom! is company member Liezl de Kock who has been with FTH:K since 2006. Fleur du Cap-nominated actress de Kock will continue to perform her acclaimed roles in productions such as Pictures of You, Womb Tide and Benchmarks.

Batzofin graduated from Wits University Cum Laude with a BADA (Honours): majoring in directing and stage and costume design. She first met FTH:K in 2007 but was on her way to study for two years at the Jacques Lecoq School in Paris. On her return to South Africa, she joined the FTH:K team and has performed in and designed their highly acclaimed productions such as Womb Tide and Benchmarks. She has also played an integral role in the development of the Tell-Tale Signs programme as well as devised, designed and directed productions such as Shortcuts for the national schools tour.

“I am looking forward to working with the FTH:K team in my new role and helping to take the company to even greater heights,” says Batzofin. “It is a privilege to take over the mantle from Rob, and build on the outstanding work that he and the company have done to lay the foundations for the next five years.”

*FTH:K is a young, ground-breaking theatre company that works in the field of Visual Theatre. Without a dependency on any one language, its work crosses over cultural and linguistic divides and calls on audiences to “Listen With Your Eyes”. It has already won multiple awards, toured all over South Africa, Germany and Argentina, and in only 6 years, has reached more than 47 000 people.

More than that, FTH:K is South Africa’s premier Deaf and hearing theatre company with the goal of integrating the Deaf into the performing arts world in South Africa. This aim is best illustrated through its unique Tell-Tale Signs programme which is currently training South Africa’s first generation of Deaf artists for inclusion in the professional performing arts industry. There is currently no other project like it (nor has there ever been) running in South Africa.

FTH:K works include its award-winning performances of Pictures of You and Benchmarks (in association with a conspiracy of clowns), GUMBO, and its multi-award-nominated QUACK! and Womb Tide.


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.”

Can anyone say LEGACY?!  We can!

2010 Naledi Awards To be honest, our trip to Jozi for the Naledi Theatre Awards was insane.  It was as if the entire history of FTH:K has been condensed into one evening…the espresso of FTH:K elements: losses, wins, disappointments, surprises, celebrations, conversations, parties, people, troubled transport, touch-ups, and tequila!  We’re not at liberty to divulge too much on this blog – obviously – but feel free to offer to take us for drinks and we’ll tell all!!

If you have been following the lead up to the Naledi’s, you’ll know that we were up for a number of awards, 5 to be exact.  In fact, in their Press Release celebrating the nominees, the National Arts Festival noted that, “The largest bouquet of nominations has been scooped by the Cape Town-based theatre company FTH:K who have both a strong reputation and a following at the Festival. The company has been nominated for a total of 7 awards between the Fleur de Cap and the Naledi Awards.”

Yep. That’s us.  However, we didn’t scoop ANY of the 5 awards for which we were nominated at the Naledi’s.  Not one.  Which resulted in a serious depletion of the bar’s tequila and whiskey stocks.  Until, out of the blue, a new award was announced – The Herbert Dhlomo Naledi Award for Emerging Theatre Companies.  Taking the podium with Ismail Mohamed of the National Arts Festival, Dawn Lindberg said:

“This is the first year that we are introducing the Award for Best Emerging Theatre Company.  This Award was suggested by fellow Board member, Ismail Mahomed, Director of the National Arts Festival, who are generously sponsoring this Award, and named by our Chairman, Dali Tambo, after the legendary Artistic Activist and Pioneer of Black Theatre, Herbert Dhlomo.

We have decided to name the Best Emerging Theatre Company award in Dhlomo’s name and the winning company should push boundaries and take theatre into new realms of artistic expression.  For this first Dhlomo Award, we are giving the Naledi trophy and certificate as well as a cheque for R5000.

We are proud to present the first Herbert Dhlomo Naledi Award to Emerging Theatre Company, FTH:K.”

At first we were a little confused, and that wasn’t only because of the tequila. Were we still only “emerging”?? Hells bells, what does it take, then, to “emerge”?!?!  But Ismail answered this quite succinctly (as only he can) by saying on Facebook:

Best Emerging Theatre Company 2010 “In the presentation of the award the word “emerging” was not to denote newcomer on the block but it was intended to acknowledge a company whose work is giving rise to newly emerging forms of artistic expression, entrepreneurial best practices and a commitment to grow social consciousness through quality driven entertaining theatre productions. The first ever award in this category receives its own sense of value by it being given to a company that celebrates a strong track record of representing the values envisioned by this award.”

Most of this is captured in the Artslink release about our win, but what you might not have seen (unless you got our blow-by-blow account on Facebook) are the pics, including our win pics! (Thanks, Liez!) Herewith, for your entertainment – all taken on a BB of some sort so forgive the quality!

So, we got two awesome bits of news today.  The first was that the Fleur du Cap nominations are out.  The second was that the Naledi nominations are out.  Ok, neither of those constitutes good news in and of themselves, but they do if FTH:K has been nominated 7 times between the two!!

That’s right, folks! QUACK! and Womb Tide are tearing up the award charts with the following nominations:

Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards

  • BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS – Liezl de Kock in Womb Tide
  • BEST DESIGN – Craig Leo & Emilie Stark for Prop Design in Womb Tide

Naledi Theatre Awards

  • BEST THEATRE SET DESIGN – Craig Leo & Emily Stark for Womb Tide
  • BEST COSTUME DESIGN – Leila Anderson for QUACK!
  • BEST THEATRE LIGHTING DESIGN – Rob Murray for Womb Tide

And all this before 11:30 am! Roll on Monday!!

MS, CB, & ToS at Laager Board Our Festival is officially open! And Opening Night rocked!  In typical FTH:K style, it was an experiment; a chance to try something different; a new format for an Opening Night shebang.  See, when we were planning the Fest, we couldn’t work out how to do our Opening/Media Night.  Would we do two evenings, one for QUACK! and the other for Womb Tide?  Would we have to cover drinks and food for both?  On the media front, could we really expect them to come to both shows?  And if they did, would they have enough space in their papers to do two reviews?  Surely not.  Surely they would have chosen a single evening to attend and a single performance to review.  Which would have defeated the point of the Festival insomuch as we wanted to show two very different and distinctive pieces of FTH:K’s rep.  I mean, what if they chose the show that didn’t speak to them and as a result reviewed the whole Festival in that one light?  Precisely.  So we decided to do a double-bill Opening Night.  QUACK! at 6, then dinner, then Womb Tide at 8:15.  And, as it turns out, it was the right thing to do.  We were initially concerned that people would leave after dinner having seen only QUACK! – which as we already know, is not everyone’s cup of tea; especially if they happen to be older than 37 ;-) – but the theatre seemed even fuller for the performance of Womb Tide, which was awesome to see.  People came out at the end of the evening comparing the pieces, which they had enjoyed more, why, how they had interpreted the pieces, which elements had spoken most to them etc, but moreover, getting a window into the scope of FTH:K’s creative style.

We are anything but dull, seems to be the general consensus.

So far, reviews for both pieces have been positive, with most reviewers getting the point of this all: visual communication.  And this extends from the integration of the Deaf and hearing communities (both of whom had strong representation at Opening Night) to the style of the pieces.  And with the two works being so different, we never expected everyone to love both.  But we did want to make them think.  And talk.  And discuss.  And debate.  After all, part of FTH:K’s purpose is to push its audiences, sometimes to places of discomfort, but always with the intention of getting them to engage with the experience.  Even if it’s only to unpack that which they didn’t understand or enjoy. Interestingly, one reviewer (who shall remain nameless lest Christine kill this blog-poster on returning to Cape Town!!) refused to review QUACK! He came to Opening Night and only stayed for half the evening as he had “seen Womb Tide in Grahamstown” and said that he disliked QUACK! so much, he couldn’t bring himself to “waste time reflecting on the piece” by writing a review.  This in an email to The Market Theatre.  Interesting, huh?  The Producer from The Market called before sending the email on to us, worried that we might be very disturbed by the reviewers negativity.  The thing is, when you are a theatre company that is committed to breaking new ground, trying new things, pushing that envelope as far as possible, you get used to some people responding as if with an allergic reaction to your work!  Does it get us down?  Not so much.  Sure, it’s kak to have a negative responses to stuff that you put so much love and time into, but you can’t win ‘em all.  Neither would we want to.  Or we would risk becoming the MacDonalds of visual theatre (to steal a phrase) which would suck even more.

As economist John Kenneth Galbraith said: In all life one should comfort the afflicted, but verily, also, one should afflict the comfortable, and especially when they are comfortably, contentedly, even happily wrong.

Sma applauds Sure, it can be lonely at the front, but we keep having to remind ourselves to look back at the people following us, and notice that our audience base continues to grow by the season, and we have far more positive reviews under our belt than negative ones.  (And we include in these, those reviewers who might not have enjoyed a piece but still have something to say about it.  Engaging with the experience in some way, you know?)  Our FTH:K family members constitute those people who are prepared to go on a journey with us, even if it’s to places dark and unknown.

And for that we love them stukkend!!

So.  We had A Plan.  For the record, we had A Plan, ok??  And it was all written out on a smart Excel doc, with dates and times and activities and relevant people and everything.  But there’s a saying about “best laid plans” and all that, and lo, how true it has rung for us.  Firstly, the PX container, with all our QUACK! and Womb Tide stuff in it didn’t arrive.  However, after much phoning and wailing and gnashing of teeth, it finally got delivered an entire week after it was sent, and a day later than it was needed.  Luckily, The clever Plan (and the awesome Market Theatre technical crew) saw us being ahead of schedule by a day or two.  So, when we finally began, we were a day late for being early but on schedule, in fact.  If that makes sense.

Then, there was a delay in our funding, which meant we couldn’t get paid on payday.  Again, we had A Plan in place, but, you know, funders go on holiday; reports get lost; people with signing-off power go to workshops for days…and the 25th comes and goes…and even the Womb Tide puppet starts worrying.

But all these things we can deal with.  The set arrived and the funding came in today (so drinks on us tomorrow ;-)).  But what are we to do about this strike??  One has to marvel at how NOT PART OF THE PLAN it was for us to be in South Africa’s political hotspot, running a theatre festival that targets schools as 50% of its programme, just when a major strike including teachers, army and police force is about to break out!!!  For the love of theatre, Zuma, if for no other reason, find a decent compromise in the next 2 days!!!

Luckily the QUACK! team had a sense of humour about it all in today’s Tech Rehearsal:

QUACK team strikes

Eish.  Sometimes this job we do is not easy.  In fact, often it’s not easy, but it’s rewarding when it pays off.  And on that we hang our hopes for the coming week.  (Check the pics so far)

Good vibes, everyone, good vibes!

LWYE Poster DRAFT 2 - ONCRM 250 Wow. So you know when you have been planning, discussing, thinking about, working on, and preparing for something for what seems like an age and then all of a sudden there it is, bam! Right in front of you, and you wonder how the hell it got there??  Welcome to our world right now! Right now we are preparing to open our first ever season at The Market Theatre with not one but two FTH:K works and a workshop and exhibition programme to boot. And we have to keep fighting off the feeling that we are playing dress-up in mom’s clothes, and take on the idea that might be growing into our own…

This project at The Market started more than a year ago, when, over Chinese food and red wine, we asked what The Market Theatre was doing to encourage the (pretty sizable) Deaf community in Jozi to come to more theatre. And from that, a conversation began that grew in size and voice, until it was bigger than we ever though it would be when we first birthed it. The project got a name. Listen With Your Eyes: a festival of the visual. It got a home. The Market Theatre. And it got some awesome partners, like Arts Alive and Distell and CitiVibe. And it got two fantastic productions: QUACK! and Womb Tide. And then a workshop programme that runs alongside it. And then interactive exhibitions at Sci-Bono and a visual art exhibition by Deaf artist Tommy Motswai…and then Darren Rajbal even agreed to come and open the whole Festival!! It’s one thing to know that you have a good idea to roll with, but quite another when you see it all come together as other people share the vision. Hats off to The Market for coming onboard what many other theatres might have run from…

Seeing as almost the full company is up here in Joburg (we’re just missing Sma, Yusrah and Ma Angela) as well as some of our extended FTH:K family (Dan, Jori, Kim and Tara) this blog is going to be about this Fest for…well…at least the duration of the blog-writer’s stay in JHB!

Keep ‘em peeled for more tomorrow…but until then, here’s to new and exciting adventures…