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BWW Special Feature: Top Ten Highlights from the Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards

The uber-glam Cathy Specific, who
co-hosted the 52nd Fleur du Cap
Theatre Awards with Africa Melane

The Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards were presented at a ceremony themed "Live with Flair" at the Artscape Theatre Center last night. Directed by Matthew Wild, with assistance from Jason Jacobs, the evening was a more toned down affair than usual. This comment might sound like criticism, but indeed the approach kept the focus of the evening where it should be: on the nominees and the winners. The standard of the entertainment was a cut above the average awards night fair, with entertaining performances in between the sets of award presentations as well as a medley of musical theatre numbers that highlighted some of the theatre productions that are already on the boards and will be seen on stage during 2017.

And now - a countdown of my top ten highlights of the event, which was hosted by the gracious Africa Melane and the glamorous Cathy Specific:

10. Taryn Sudding Winning Best Performance by a Supporting Actress in a Musical

This choice is a rather sentimental one on my part, but it was wonderful to see Taryn Sudding take home this award, which she mentioned in her speech was a first for her. What made the moment a full circle one for me was seeing an actress who was in the show that made theatre "click" in my mind as a child. When I was ten years old, I saw a production of Peter Pan at the Port Elizabeth Opera House in which Sudding played Wendy. I might never have found my way to the stage, the director's chair, this column and - perhaps - even my upcoming marriage without that trip to the theatre almost thirty years ago.

9. The Recognition of Theatre for Young Audiences at the Awards

In my blog on last year's ceremony, I lamented the lack of meaningful recognition for Theatre for Young Audiences at the Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards, following this up with an article that focused specifically on that issue, to which ASSITEJ South Africa, an organisation that advocates for Theatre for Young Audiences positively responded. Theatre for Young Audiences, in all the many forms it takes, means a great deal to me. I have witnessed young people transformed forever by theatre and performance, so it was encouraging to hear the announcement that, from next year, an award will be put in place to recognise this vitally important form of theatre.

Earl Gregory as Joseph in

8. The Interstitial Performance Pieces

This year, the interstitial performances raised the rafters at the Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards. Zoe Modiga was excellent, her silky voice and emotional conviction featuring in both in her solo turn and in the closing number, where she joined Cathy Specific to close the show. Cathy Specific herself had opened the show, channelling Shirley Bassey with "This is My Life". The Rudi Smit Dancers, who appeared later on in the evening were a complete joy, dancing with precision and a presence that hit the back wall of the theatre with every move.

7. The Musical Theatre Performances

Everyone I know knows that I am a sucker for a musical theatre performance, so this quartet of performances was bound to make my list. FUNNY GIRL, which recently started rehearsals for its upcoming season at The Fugard Theatre was represented by Ashleigh Harvey, who sang the iconic "Don't Rain on My Parade", while Earl Gregory performed "Close Every Door" from JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT, the show that launched his career and to which he has returned a decade later. The preview of EVITA, with Jonathan Roxmouth (who would go on to win Best Performance by a Supporting Actor in a Musical for JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT) singing "Oh, What a Circus", was made even more intriguing by the announcement on the projection behind him that South African audiences will be seeing the landmark Harold Prince staging of the show. The final performance of this sequence was from PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT, which opens soon at Artscape. When Londiwe Dhlomo, Thembeka Mnguni, Candida Mosoma took to the stage to sing "It's Raining Men", they took no prisoners - it was all kinds of fabulous!

6. The "In Memoriam" Segment

"In Memoriam" sequences tend to be rather controversial moments in awards ceremonies. Either the accompaniment undermines the tribute to those who have passed away, or someone is left off of the list, or (as at the recent Oscars) a living person's picture appears on the screen. This year's "In Memoriam" segment at the Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards was subtle and understated, with the names appearing in juxtaposition with a live performance from African Angels. It was a moving and deeply respectful moment.

Pieter-Dirk Uys, the winner of this year's
Lifetime Achievement Award at the
Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards

5. Pieter-Dirk Uys's Video

Pieter-Dirk Uys received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards this year, but he was unable to attend the ceremony and submitted a video acceptance speech. Seated at a dressing room table as he applied false eyelashes, he commented on his age, his award and his work in a manner that inspired many heartfelt chuckles. When Evita Bezuidenhout suddenly appeared in the dressing room, she quickly shooed away the cameras, having not given her permission to be filmed by the free press - a smart ending that underlined the trademark satire for which Uys received this award. (While we are on the subject of chuckles, an honourable mention must go to Saul Radomsky who, upon winning the award for Best Set Design for CLYBOURNE PARK, came out for the second time in his life, stating: "I am... not Mannie Manim.")

4. Andrew Buckland's Speech

Andrew Buckland's speech upon winning the Best Performance by a Lead Actor in a Play for THE INCONVENIENCE OF WINGS was a pivotal moment of the evening's proceedings. His call to address and bring an end gender-based violence, citing the #RUReferenceList at the university currently known as Rhodes, resonated strongly with the audience. Beginning by acknowledging the privilege to which he has access as a white man, he finished by using this platform to raise awareness about an issue that is ripping to shreds the very fabric of our society.

The young company of THE FALL: Cleo Raatus,
Tankiso Mamabolo, Sizwesandile Mnisi (back),
Oarabile Ditsele, Sihle Mnqwazana, Thando
Mangcu (middle) and Ameera Conrad (front)
Photo credit: Oscar O'Ryan

3. The Recognition of THE FALL to the 2016 Theatre Season

It was wonderful to see THE FALL recognised with an award at the Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards. The new award, titled the "Encore Award", was presented to Ameera Conrad, Oarabile Ditsele, Tankiso Mamabolo, Thando Mangcu, Sihle Mnqwazana, Sizwesandile Mnisi and Cleo Raatus. Each contributed an acceptance speech upon receiving the award. THE FALL is an important piece of contemporary South African theatre, and it is wonderful to see it returning to South African stages this year after its 2016 premiere.

2. The Presentation of the Innovation in Theatre Award to the Makukhanye Art Room

A shack theatre based in Khayelitsha, the Makukhanye Art Room aims to be a creative space for artists and lovers of art to interact. It is a space that innovates and transcends social restrictions. It is a space that has seen many achievements. Mandisi Sindo began his acceptance speech with a tribute to Joe Mafela, who passed away on Saturday night, and proceeded to decolonise the space in his acceptance speech. It was a crucial moment in a narrative that was present throughout the ceremony and served as one of several beacons from which the light of transformation radiates.

1. The Protest Against Discrimination in South African Theatre

The most powerful moments of the night were comprised of the disruption of the Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards by four black women whose view is encompassed in the statement released by Mamela Nyamza today:

The problem really begins when we, the protestors, are labelled "those four ladies"! We continue to be regarded as anonymous, nameless, faceless, voiceless in the midst of our protest against lack of equity and access in the arts. So, let me first give back our identities as artists: we are Mamela Nyamza, Chuma Sopotela, Buhlebezwe Siwani, and Zikhona Jacobs.

Our protest was all about the gatekeeping, the discrimination, and indeed the dishonesty of the mainstream theatres of art in South Africa. Under their watch, they allow elitist audience to strive for the elitist art and artists. Under their watch, they allow black people to be mis/used in the works of arts with no recognition awarded for their work. Hence the chosen costume we wore for our protest. As black people, we continue to be used as labourers, just like prostitutes on stage, and all accolades and high salaries go to the so-called directors and producers. Our white underwear with the old apartheid South African flag depicts a total lack of transformation in the mainstream art and its theatres. Hence the statistics we highlighted on our placards. After 23 years into democracy, we still have a skewed biased event for the minority in this country, and we are saying ALUTA CONTINUA against racism, sexism and fascism in our land.

Mamela Nyamza, Chuma Sopotela, Buhlebezwe
Siwani, and Zikhona Jacobs making their way into
the Artscape Theatre at the start of the 52nd Fleur
du Cap Theatre Awards presentation

It is evident from this statement that the Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards are not alone in their discrimination and that the awards programme is one function of practices that take place on systemic, institutional and personal levels. While the Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards certainly has to transform - with something like three-quarters of the nominees being white, how can they not? - I know that this protest has also challenged me personally as a theatre consumer, theatre-maker and theatre critic. There is so much work to be done.

In addition to those mentioned above, other winners on the night included Faheem Bardien (Best Lighting Design for ITYALA LAMAWELE), Paul du Toit (Best Performance by a Lead Actor in a Musical or Music Theatre Show for HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH), Lara Foot (Best Director for THE INCONVENIENCE OF WINGS), Genna Galloway (Best Performance by a Lead Actress in a Musical Or Music Theatre Show for HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH),Niall Griffin (Best Costume Design for JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT), David Kramer (Best Soundscape, Original Music Composition or Original Score for DISTRICT SIX - KANALA), Marlo Minnaar (Best Performance in a Revue, Cabaret or One-Person Show for SANTA GAMKA), Mongiwekhaya (Best New South African Script for I SEE YOU), Mbongeni Mtshali (Best New Director), Jennifer Steyn (Best Performance by a Lead Actress in a Play for THE INCONVENIENCE OF WINGS), Anthea Thompson (Best Performance by a Supporting Actress in a Play for A DOLL'S HOUSE) and Rob van Vuuren (Best Performance by a Supporting Actor in a Play for A DOLL'S HOUSE).

Sustained by the Fleur du Cap wine brand and supported by the Distell Foundation, the Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards programme put together a ceremony that was tight, well-paced and professionally run. The challenges that face the programme going forward, as highlighted in my special feature counting down to the ceremony, are both practical and ideological, and they must be addressed if the programme wants the theatre community to respond to this awards system in good faith. The 2016 panel consisted of Beverley Brommert, Steyn du Toit, Marina Griebenow, Africa Melane, Christine Moritz, Niel Roux, Tracey Saunders, Lwando Scott, Johan van Lil and Eugene Yiga. Moritz will step down for 2017, with Maurice Carpede, Wayne Muller, Peter Tromp and Fundi Zwane joining the panel, which is chaired by Melanie Burke. Here's to moving forward and finding ways to value the full scope of the theatre in Cape Town and its surrounds in the coming year.

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From This Author David Fick