BWW Interview: Emma Kotze and Wynne Bredenkamp Behind Taking The Edge Theatre Collective Digital
Emma Kotze and Wynne Bredenkamp started their journey with The Edge at the National Arts Festival 6 years ago, and today are navigating the new way of moving their Fringe productions online. From filming challenges to seeing a new future for The Edge, Kotze and Bredenkamp chat to BroadwayWorld South Africa about their experience.
BWW: Tell us a bit about the beginnings of The Edge. How did it come about and how did you get involved?
The Edge team: The Edge was founded by FTH:K and Hearts and Eyes Theatre Collective in 2006. It has always been under the management of theatre practitioners who felt the need to create a safe space - for audiences and theatre-makers alike - in the very daunting National Arts Festival Fringe space. The Edge promotes an ethos of collaboration between participating companies: shared resources, combined marketing, the creation of a welcoming home-base for artists and audiences, and a support structure. Both of us started our journey with The Edge in 2014 with our debut production at the NAF. As has often been the case with our predecessors, the great support that The Edge offered us served as inspiration to continue building the legacy of the collective and in turn continuing to create a space where theatre-makers and actors can feel supported and inspired.
BWW: This year must be a first in The Edge history! What has been the biggest challenge moving your venue virtual?
The Edge team: Our biggest challenge was understanding how our productions could film their shows at a professional level and working with film makers to meet this new challenge. Theatre and film have quite different approaches to the same problem and different expectations when it comes to budget and equipment. It was really great to hear that the NAF opened up spaces in the major cities to facilitate recordings and our productions have decided to either use the NAF's resources or our own at The Drama Factory in Somerset West.
BWW: With that challenge, how have you helped productions navigate the digital sphere and taking their productions virtual?
The Edge team: As soon as we heard the physical festival was cancelled and that the NAF was going digital, we notified our productions of our aim to be in the virtual space as well. We pushed to talk to filming partners immediately as well as discussing possible methods of performance with our shows. It's been a highly collaborative process, but we took every opportunity to understand the direction the NAF was taking and disseminating this information to our productions - helping them to mentally and physically prepare for this new challenge. We've been in constant talks with the NAF to be included as a recognised curative space on the new platform and we are in the final stages of firming up our presence and packages on the site.
BWW: Under "normal" circumstances, how do you choose the pieces for The Edge? And has this changed because of having to go digital?
The Edge team: When we heard that the festival is going virtual, we had already selected our line-up. We ask productions to apply and once we have all the applications we slot them into different categories: Young Guns (a new theatre maker graduate with exciting work), Returning Favourites (shows that the audiences loved the year before or earned awards at the previous NAF), and On The Edge (shows we feel push boundaries and challenge our perspectives). After categorising them, we go through the incredibly difficult task of selecting the eight shows we feel will bring a wide range of experiences to our audience as well as high production value. This is obviously a subjective process, but we've worked hard to ensure variety in genre, narrative, age and perspective.
As of this year, we have also expanded our curation panel beyond just us two to be more racially and culturally representative as we realised that we could not be the sole panelists if we wanted to push The Edge to be fully inclusive of the talent and experiences of our theatre community.
BWW: Do you think having productions shown virtually for the NAF will be something your theatre collective will consider in future when the pandemic is over?
The Edge team: If the NAF continues with its virtual offering, I think we too would continue to offer a virtual presence. It's clear that there are many costs productions can save by filming and streaming their shows instead of attending the NAF, and we believe that theatre can translate beautifully through film if done correctly. These shows may also be able to reach a wider range of audiences than possible at the physical NAF, especially as audiences and artists alike are hit hard economically after the COVID-19 pandemic. If the festival returns to the version we have known for all these years in 2021, we will definitely be implementing some of our learnings in the virtual experience to reach a greater audience and especially in marketing the work the collective has to offer.
BWW: What sort of productions can audiences look forward to on their screens this year? Do you have any favourites?
The Edge team: One can't have a favourite when all contain such different and exciting elements! Unfortunately not all our artists could join us this year virtually so we only have 3 productions to share with audiences. We have Mike Van Graan's HE HAD IT COMING, a hilarious and deft performance by Nancy Sekhokoane (who received the 2018 Fleur du Cap Award for Best Student). Next is YOUR PERFECT LIFE, written and performed by Erika Marais and Faeron Wheeler, which revolves around a life event that many of us dread: the school reunion! This powerhouse duo won a Standard Bank Ovation last year at the NAF so we are so glad it's getting to reach audiences once again. Lastly - and by no means least - we have Sue Diepeveen's SO YOU WANT TO BE A TROPHY WIFE?, a witty and at times perilous look at Marie de Waal's search for a new husband.
What is especially wonderful about all three plays is that they look at different generations of women going through the ups and downs of life in the modern world. How often do you get to have that under one roof or rather, in one click?
BWW: And to end - are there any other independent theatre projects outside of the NAF/The Edge you would like to share at this time?
The Edge team: Blythe Linger has started a promising project called South African Theatre on Demand which observes the model of various online theatre streaming platforms as well as video-on-demand and platforms. Furthermore, many of the comedians are doing great work in the form of live streams, such as Rob van Vuuren (a firm Edge favourite), Schalk Bezuidenhout and Alan Committee. It has been very inspiring to see creatives remould and shape platforms that were traditionally used for other purposes (such as webinar hosting services), to continue entertaining their audience. The Fugard Theatre has also recently launched their "Fugard at Home" which offers audiences the opportunity to view some of the theatre's most successful works online, watch "The Performers Series", and take a virtual tour of the theatre space.
Photo credit: Supplied
Works will be available every day of the Virtual National Arts Festival 2020 on demand through their website and other internet-based platforms from 25 June to 5 July. Visit the NAF website for more details: https://www.nationalartsfestival.co.za/