Review: Fresh theatre at the ZABALAZA THEATRE FESTIVAL at the Baxter

This festival will run from 25 to 31 March.

By: Mar. 27, 2023
Review: Fresh theatre at the ZABALAZA THEATRE FESTIVAL at the Baxter

The Baxter's foyer was packed on Saturday night for the opening of this year's ZABALAZA THEATRE FESTIVAL. It is the festival's 13th year, and according to its Artistic Director and Curator, Mdu Kweyama, the core team started their planning in May of last year. One can imagine that this festival must be a beast to manage, boasting a total of 200 artists and 40 productions. The festival's schedule is fully packed, and the opening night was used to present snippets from each production.

Unfortunately, the opening event began a lot later than advertised, likely due to load-shedding. But the audience was not deterred, and it was the most engaged audience I've seen in a long time. From the snippets presented, ZABALAZA THEATRE FESTIVAL seems to offer theatre for young people by young people. But make no mistake, this is not children's theatre, but rather mature productions dealing with the complexities young South Africans face.

From the brief excerpts shown on opening night, it is clear that the environment young South Africans face is no walk in the park. Many of the scenes had moments of visceral conflict between characters and exhibited a sense of suffering; be it emotional, physical, mental or spiritual. Although this might be troubling, the bravery of the performers seems to indicate a certain tenacity present in young South Africans - hopeless they are not.

Across the board, the performers are courageous and unyielding in their commitment to their productions. The rawness of the productions seems to be a key marker of the festival, and I believe this is why the audience was so viscerally connected with what was presented. The festival is therefore enormously important in the way it gives a platform and opportunity to young theatre artists. With the current theatre landscape, these opportunities are invaluable, and an important reminder of the calibre of talent present in our local theatre industry.

Additionally, the festival is also committed to developing audiences. Tickets are inexpensive, costing only R30 per performance. However, R30 is unfortunately still not an accessible amount to everyone, and the Zabalaza Challenge serves to rectify this. The Zabalaza Challenge encourages people to buy tickets for learners, students, and groups who cannot afford to purchase a ticket themselves. You can choose to buy any amount of tickets you like, and the Baxter will distribute them accordingly.

Hopefully, the rest of the festival is not plagued by any delays and runs as smoothly as its artists and audiences deserve. The snippets on opening night presented theatre experiences that promise to engage the mind and the senses; combining music, movement, and visual elements in fresh ways. Productions run in a packed daily schedule in Baxter's different venues. One can either pick a select few shows to attend or make it a full-day event and enjoy the variety of the festival's offerings.

Photo credit: supplied

The ZABALAZA THEATRE FESTIVAL is on at the Baxter Theatre Centre until Friday 31 March, with the awards ceremony on Saturday 1 April. Tickets are available on Webtickets, and you can support the Zabalaza Challenge by clicking here. You can view the festival's schedule here.