Archive for the ‘Profiles’ 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.”


Portrait of the artist as a business science student

PENNY HAW 2010/04/26

THE PLAY’S THE THING: Theatre maker, director, choreographer, educator and theatre company director Tanya Surtees. Picture: SAM REINDERS

IT TOOK longer than it should have to write this article. I wanted to be especially creative, and having just read that the average adult comes up with three to six alternatives for any given situation, while the average child thinks of 60, I waited for my son to return from school to get some help in that regard.

The depressing theory — that we are naturally creative when we are born but, as we grow up, we learn to be uncreative — is supported by research conducted in the US by scientist and author, George Land, among 1600 five-year-olds.

Beginning in 1968, Land tested the children using a creativity test used by Nasa to select innovative engineers and scientists. He re-tested the same children when they were 10 and again when they were 15 .

The five-year-olds scored 98%. When they reached 10 , they managed 30% and, as 15-year-olds, they scored just 12%. The same test was given to 280000 adults who achieved a miserable 2%.

“What we have concluded,” wrote Land in his final report on the study, “is that noncreative behaviour is learned”.

Creativity is considered a core competency for leaders and managers. Generating innovative solutions for problems and the capacity to create new products, systems or services are among the sorts of intellectual capital that set companies apart from their competition.

Albert Einstein, with whom (I never hesitate to point out) I share a birthday, believed that the will to learn and creative thought are lost through strict rote learning. He also said , “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” But, given that five-year-olds, as creative as they are, are not equipped in other ways to run organisations, we have a problem. So, what is to be done to counter dwindling creativity in adulthood?

The good news is that it is widely accepted that creativity is a skill that can be developed and a process that can be managed.

According to Linda Naiman, who is the founder of training and coaching consultancy, Creativity At Work, learning to be creative is similar to learning a sport.

“It requires practice to develop the right muscles, and a supportive environment in which to flourish,” she says. “Business leaders are increasingly adopting the principles and practices of art and design to help build creative muscle in their organisations.”

Naiman provides her clients with workshops, coaching programmes and corporate retreats designed around building creativity.

Others, however, are turning to mentors to help get their fountains of ingenuity flowing freely once more.

Third-year Bachelor of Business Science student at the University of Cape Town and fellow of the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation’s Fellowship Programme, Thembeka Stemela recently became aware that, while she plans to major in economics and follow a career in commerce, creativity is a precious commodity in any business and one worth nurturing as soon as possible into one’s career.

“If there is one lesson that the foundation has taught me it is that creativity comes in many forms and can be used widely and effectively in business,” says the 21-year-old, who recently completed a traineeship with Transnet as part of her learnership.

“This year, I am particularly keen to explore my creative side. Being in commerce sometimes seems to hinder the artist in you. My goal for 2010 is to try to merge the factual, numerical and artistic aspects of my personality and life, and find out how to make them work well together to build my career.”

The undergraduate category of Allan Gray’s fellowship programme provides an external mentorship module whereby third- and fourth-year undergraduate fellows have the opportunity to select a mentor they believe will add to their entrepreneurial learning.

“Mentors are invited to the programme from all walks of life,” says head of the Allan Gray fellowship programme, Agnes Sibanda. “They are then interviewed to ensure compatibility to the programme. All our mentors are themselves achievers, and are selected for their incredible life experiences, which enrich the learning of our fellows. As the programme has grown (it is in its fifth year), the majority of our new mentors are increasingly referred to us by those already in the pool.”

Having identified her short- term goal as wanting to develop more creativity this year, Stemela studied the pool of available external mentors closely and recognised good potential to boost her ingenuity when she came across the credentials of Tanya Surtees.

Theatre maker, director, choreographer, educator and company director of Cape Town-based (and winner of two categories in this year’s Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards) theatre company From The Hip: Khulumakahle , Surtees is without a doubt a dynamo when it comes to creativity.

Not only has she produced award-winning visual theatre and successfully managed a theatre and education company since 2003, she is also pioneering theatre for deaf performers in SA.

But, as confident as Surtees justifiably is about her creative and entrepreneurial skills, she was not convinced at first that she was mentor material.

“I was concerned that, as an arts manager, I might not have the kinds of skills needed to mentor a young person who is ultimately going into a more science-based career path,” she says.

Surtees however, was soon assured that the mentoring process required by the fellowship programme has less to do with passing on specific career-related skills and more to do with guiding and assisting mentees to achieve the goals they have set for themselves throughout the year, be they academic, personal or professional.

Encouraged to examine what she might have to offer as a mentor, Surtees evaluated the many skills she has developed through her experiences in performing art and as an entrepreneur. The study provided consequential insight.

“I realised that while being an entrepreneur is hard, being an entrepreneur in the arts is very hard,” she says.

“More than any other industry, the arts has arguably the most resilient, economical, creative, and open-minded individuals who consistently produce magic against all odds.

“We, more than any other industry, know that to be successful you have to have your fingers in several pies concurrently, hone a variety of skills at once and keep a number of balls in the air simultaneously.

“Quite simply, once you have worked successfully as an entrepreneur in the arts, you can master any field.”

Coincidentally, Surtees herself is a fellow of the John F Kennedy Centre of the Performing Arts in Washington.

“I realised too, that I know, first hand, the kind of impact a successful mentoring process can have on your life and on your business,” she says.

“And I also acknowledged that there are few things more fulfilling than being a part of someone’s personal growth, development and ultimate success.”

So the stage was set for Surtees to assume the role of mentor to Stemela.

While mentor and mentee have a set of specific goals they aim to achieve during the year, Surtees says that, over and above those objectives, she would like to add to help Stemela build creativity by “igniting a passion in her to find the ‘play’ in everything she undertakes — because I believe that if there isn’t any enjoyment in what you are doing, you are doing the wrong thing”.

Art processes, says Naiman, help people develop fresh thinking through aesthetic ways of knowing, imagination, intuition, re-framing and exploring different perspectives.

They also help people learn to be comfortable with uncertainty, ambiguity and paradox. This provides a good foundation for creativity.

But Surtees hopes to expose her mentee to more than just the arts and the ways of an entrepreneur.

“I also hope to pass on anything that will enable Thembeka to avoid making mistakes where avoidable, learn from mistakes where possible and laugh at herself where appropriate,” she says.

“In addition, I hope to do some learning of my own. An important part of our everyday learning, whether centred around creativity or not, comes from the interactions we have with people, and as such, I believe I have as much to learn from Thembeka as she has to learn from me.”

Now that’s creative thinking. And, encouragingly, it does not come from a five-year-old.