UJ Arts & Culture’s award-winning ‘Choir Boy’ comes to Joburg’s RedFest in Morningside for two performances, on 29 and 30 September 2018.
After its premiere at this year’s National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, where the production received an Encore Award; this will be Choir Boy’s third showing in Johannesburg where it has also played to full houses and very positive responses from audience members of all ages.
Written by American playwright and actor, Tarell Alvin McCraney – currently the chair of playwriting at the Yale School of Drama, the story translates seamlessly into the local context as a result of director Tshego Khutsoane’s treatment; with Pieter Jacobs as Executive Producer, Ayanda Bulose as Assistant Director and Production Co-ordinator, and Original Lighting Design by Oliver Hauser. The cast is led by professional actors Renos Spanoudes and Lebohang Motaung, while the schoolboys are played by current and past UJ students: Muneyi Masibigiri as Pharus is studying BA Film and Television; Makotone Jack Mabokachaba as David is studying Operations Management; Phumelelokuhle Ngidi as David is a UJ Alumnus: BA Film & Television Communication; Gilvio Daniel Phiri as Bobby is studying BA Human Resource Management; and Lulama Damba as AJ is studying LLB Law.
Arts Critic Robyn Sassen explains that the narrative of ‘Choir Boy‘ centers around the skill of the beautiful voice and competition behind leadership, that “this is about grown, sexually aware children and how high school is an incubator to very fragile tender dreams, which can be smashed by the values of others;” with Associate Professor of Education at Wits, Lee Rusznyak, describing it as an excellent example of the dangers of structural discrimination perpetuated within the school system, and a valuable catalyst for important conversations of all kinds.
‘Choir Boy’ follows a group of young, black students at a school for boys as they struggle with issues of identity and sexuality. Pharus is the vivid central character, a bright-eyed, smart and enthusiastic student. His pride in singing the school anthem at the graduation ceremony is sullied by the gay slurs hissed at him from one of his fellow students in the audience. Pharus may not speak of his sexuality, but he’s not really hiding this beaming light under a bushel, either. The action begins as he refuses to divulge the name of the boy who taunted him, maintaining that this would be a breach of the school’s honor code. Even under the threat of expulsion, Pharus insists on behaving “as a man should,” but Pharus also knows that he can exact his own private revenge. Gospel music is a tradition as old as the school itself, and that tradition is embodied in its choir, where Pharus stands out and is different without fear – because he’s the choir’s best. As leader of the choir, he has the power to decide who can and cannot sing. In the choir’s first school year meeting, after a few tart exchanges with the boy whom he believes humiliated him, Pharus flares into a righteous mode and kicks Bobby out.
Given its links to the action, it comes as no surprise that the power of voices in harmony weave their way successfully through the storyline. Sassen writes that “the songs are performed with an integrity that is achingly beautiful.” Khutsoane elaborates on her musical and directorial choices: “Through meticulously layered writing, ‘Choir Boy’ reminds us most of how music holds the human experience. Every time there is a major movement, ‘struggle’ or cultural happening – you see, feel and hear it in the music of that time. A definitive marker of our process-approach towards creating this version of the work has been navigating exciting complexity at the intersection of history, tradition, identity, and spirituality at a boarding school for black boys; as well as deeply considering and reckoning with ‘glocal’ relevance and nuance.”
RedFest Director Matt Counihan says “Particularly as a UJ alumnus, I’m incredibly excited to have ‘Choir Boy’ coming to be part of the magic at our Redhill Arts Festival. My own journey began with UJ, and now it’s not only coming full circle for my ‘varsity to be presenting work at a Festival I’m running, but my involvement in what the arts have to offer has evolved into so much more than ‘just’ what’s happening on stage, and lighting those initial sparks is what this RedFest is experience is all about!”
‘Choir Boy’ is presented by UJ Arts & Culture, a division of the Faculty of Art Design and Architecture (FADA). Performances are on Saturday 29 September at 16:00 and Sunday 30 September at 17:30 at Redhill School’s RedFest; and are suitable for age 14 up. General entrance to the Festival is R50 without theatre tickets, and/or show tickets for cost R100 (and include free entrance). Tickets are available via Webtickets or at Redhill School, 20 Summit Rd, Morningside, Sandton. For more information, please see #redfestza or #redfestunplugged, or https://redhillinnovate.co.za/redfest/redfest-2018.html
Schools interested in booking the show for its 2019 schools tour should contact Yusrah Bardien on firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOTES TO EDITORS:
TSHEGO KHUTSOANE is a Performer, Director and Applied Theatre Practitioner. Her commitment to the Social, Educational and Developmental aspects of the arts was moulded during her time of study at Rhodes University; and work with UBOM! in the Eastern Cape. She has experience performing in and directing for stage, site and varieties of target-based theatre; facilitating applied drama and theatre processes with schools, groups, communities, and collaborative-educating. Tshego is studying towards an MBA degree with Henley Business School of the University of Reading, UK.
RENOS SPANOUDES holds a BA(Ed), BA(Hons) and MA from Wits University. He is Head of Dramatic Arts and Arts & Culture at King David High School Victory Park and has received numerous awards both nationally and internationally for his work as an actor, teacher, director and playwright. He also writes poetry and short stories, is a radio announcer and television presenter and was a founder member of the Drama For Life Playback Theatre. He serves as Chair on the NALEDI Theatre Awards Judges Panel and his Best Actor accolades include those as Advocate George Bizos in Sekhabi’s ‘Rivonia Trial’, Verwoerd’s Assassin, Dimitri Tsafendas in Krueger’s ‘Living in Strange Lands’ and multiple characters in his self-penned ‘Broken Plates’ dealing with the Diasporan experiences of a South African born of Greek-Cypriot parentage.
LEBOHANG MOTAUNG studied Dramatic Arts (BADA) at Wits University before joining Inzalo Dance and Theatre Company (IDTC) in 2005, where he performed in Dancing Ahead of Time, Bodyscape and Solve for X. Alongside Peter Butler, Lebohang played three characters in the well-received South African Political Drama ‘Comrade Babble’, which premiered at the 2011 Musho Festival in Durban, before touring nationally for a number of years. In 2014 and 2015, Lebohang played Tlhogo Moimele in a new, futuristic play called ‘Book of Rebellations’, which received a Naledi nomination for Best Ensemble. He has recently appeared in ‘The Crucible’ at UJ Arts Centre (2015). His directorial debut was ‘The Caucasian Chalk Circle’ staged at the Joburg Theatre in 2015. Lebohang’s credits extend to television, where he has appeared on ‘The Wild’, ‘Umlilo’, ‘Mamello’ and ‘Yalla’, but is remembered as the infamous Jabu on Rhythm City.
“The play was absolutely fantastic and the guys’ singing was really good.”
“I really enjoyed the show and the singing. I feel like you guys belong on the stage!”
“On my way home I was thinking about it and I finally got it: We can all be prejudiced, but don’t allow yourself to be put down by others; we should accept that we are all different.”
“What I realized is as teachers we shouldn’t be discriminative; it gave me a lot to think about.”
“The entire cast was excellent. The choreography and set was also so clever. We really enjoyed our evening out. Congratulations to all involved.”
“I felt I could relate to everything about the story.”
“The show was excellent. I really enjoyed and learned a lot from it.”
“An excellent piece of theatre. I would highly recommend it. Thank you.”