Mariska Denysschen: Independent Theatre Making Revolutionary

Mariska Denysschen
Executive Producer and Director of the South African Theatre Village

Executive Director and Producer of the South African Theatre Village (SATV), Mariska Denysschen, who was awarded the Most Promising Director at the 2015 National Arts Festival (NAF) is back with a packed line up of riveting theatre shows which are all on the way to the 2018 NAF.

According to Denysschen, the “South African Theatre Village is a theatre production company whose mission and vision includes housing emerging artists and sourcing out platforms for emerging writers and directors to showcase work… We collaborate as a team to make it easier for emerging theatre writers and directors to take work to the National Arts Festival.” I can easily see how this vision is being accomplished with the current year seeing SATV take 6 self-funded shows to NAF. Coming from a background where institutions collaborate with the festival to take a single show down to Grahamstown, one can only imagine the mammoth financial effort it takes to get six shows to travel down. On her reasons for starting down this seemingly difficult path, Denysschen asserted that:

There is a great need for emerging theatre writers and directors to be assisted with resources to get their work out there. You do not become a paid writer/ director by profession by just graduating and waiting for a job. We prioritize creating our own work and helping each other get new work out there in order to build experience, to generate exposure and to have structures of references for future endorsements. As professional artists we need to be known, seen and tested in order to be trusted with endorsements for commercial work of artistic value, and the National Arts Festival is the simplest platform to have access to, that will allow us to be known, seen, reviewed and tested.

South African Theatre Village Artists
The faces behind the drive to take 6 shows to NAF in 2018

Denysschen started SATV with a team of talented artists, including Thapelo Sebogodi, Calvin Ratladi, Sthandile Nkosi, Adrian Steyn, Emil Lars, Mphoentle Ngoepe, Jade Traci, Renette Denysschen, Mimi Mamabolo, Charmaine Ramathlape, Jean-Pierre Besselaar and Carla Belmonte. The journey upon which this dynamic collective has embarked is one rarely traversed by such large groups, mainly due to financial reasons. However, the clarity of vision as is seen within this organization ensures that each creative finds a home to practice their craft despite the limitations. In a country where the youth feel disillusioned by the promises made in the past, Denysschen and her crew of vibrant theatre revolutionaries are making a solid impact in the lives of many artists and audiences in the capital city and beyond.

Poster Collage 2018 copy
Human Pieces II; Lift Club; Menstukke; Ninah; Rhoda Miller & The Train

The line-up of shows coming up at the National Arts Festival from the 2nd to the 8th of July includes:

Human Pieces II written and directed by Mariska Denysschen (Silver-Ovation Award Winner)

Lift Club written by Renette Denysschen, directed by Mariska Denysschen

Mensstukke written and directed by Mariska Denysschen

Ninah written and directed by Sthandile Nkosi

Rhoda Miller written and directed by Calvin Ratladi

The Train written by Adrian Steyn, directed by Calvin Ratladi.

Thapelo Sebogodi  and Mariska Denysschen
The creative team of Dress to Kill coming to the State Theatre 4-6 June

As if this wasn’t already enough, Denysschen is also involved in the show Dress to Kill created & performed by Mariska Denysschen and Thapelo Sebogodi. This production will feature as part of the Youth Expressions Festival at the State Theatre in Tshwane from 4-6 June. As part of the build up to NAF, there will be special runs of the following shows at the POP Art:

Mensstukke – 11 June 8pm – Written and directed by Mariska Denysschen; starring Carla Belmonte and Jean-Pierre Besselaar.

Rhoda Miller – 12 June 8pm – Written and directed by Calvin Ratladi; starring Mariska Denysschen and Thapelo Sebogodi

The Train – 18 June 8pm – Directed by Calvin Ratladi, written by & starring Adrian Steyn, co-starring Thapelo Sebogodi and Emil Lars.

Lift Club – 19 June 8pm – by Renette Denysschen, Directed by Mariska Denysschen; starring Emil Lars, Jade Meyers, Carla Belmonte and Sthandile Nkosi.

SATV takes on NAF18
The shows from SATV going down to NAF. Designed by Roo’s Art.


Katlego Chale ©


Reflections on the Savanna Trust’s SADC Theatre Camp 2018

African capitals look the same. Or rather previously colonized African cities look the same. Especially when two places have been colonized by the same nation. I am referring to Harare and Pretoria. The perceived independence of the countries housing these cities could make one believe that they are better off after the so called civilizing project.

As a man from Pretoria, who has recently travelled to Gaborone and Harare, I find it difficult to say what the essence of each place is just by looking at the built environment. The cities all look the same, it is just the flavour of colonization that gives the illusion of difference. The true uniqueness of these places is captured not in the infrastructure that the west so often uses as a catalyst to pacify the conversation about the real effects of colonization in Africa, but in the people living in these places. Specifically, the descendants of those previously colonized groups. Inasmuch as strides have been made towards instilling pride in the hearts of indigenous peoples after their liberation, there is a danger of falling into a trap of complacency when we mis-take those strides for meaningful progress. Twenty four years after changing a constitution to give people socio-political freedom should not fool us into thinking our work is done. It has only just begun.

This was an ongoing conversation in my mind as I watched the HIFA festival unfold in Zimbabwe. The performers in a dance piece I was able to see embodied great amounts of potential with an opportunity to grow into strong performers. But Africa does not just need potentially strong performers. In my home country I see great technical ability but Africa doesn’t just need technically astute performers. Yet, in both countries I have seen people stand to their feet in applause despite these glaring shortcomings. How do we then merge the potential of one neighbour and the technical ability of the other to complete the products we are selling as theatre makers? Cue the Savanna Trust’s SADC Theatre Camp. A ten day series of workshops which brought together theatre makers from five countries in the SADC region for collaboration and network building purposes. Workshops were led by South African Monageng Motshabi, whose main focus was theatre making, and from Zimbabwe we had Leonard Matsa (Writing), Daniel Maposa (Arts Management and Cultural Policy) and Benjamin Nyandoro (New Media and Effective Marketing). To say that it was a lot to guzzle down in a short amount would be an understatement, and yet each day had so many gems that participants found themselves asking for more despite their fatigue.

The Savanna Trust has managed to affect the working processes of more than ten influential practitioners who all testified to the major perspective shifts that occurred as a result of the workshops. From Botswana, there was Katlego Mononyane, who has a passion for effective organizational governance in the arts, Augustine Lungu and Lee Kabongo Senford from Zambia who are both spellbinding poets and intelligent theatre makers, Silvana Pombal, a fiery actress from Mozambique; from South Africa there was Mandisi Sindo the artivist and founder of the only shack theatre in the country, Lebo Mazibuko, a writer and fierce poet and myself, Katlego Chale, a lecturer, writer and voice artist. From Zimbabwe there was Tafadzwa Bob Mutumbi, a brazen physical theatre practitioner, Charmaine Mudau, a well-informed editor and powerful actress and Rumbidzayi Karize, an actress and member (Boss) of Savanna Trust. On some days we were also joined by other artists from Zimbabwe including energetic musician and physical theatre practitioner, Brezhnev Guvheya, dynamic theatre and film actress, Sitshengisiwe Olinda Siziba, and students of the Zimbabwe Theatre Academy. Each and every one of us began interrogating ourselves, our work and each other in a manner that was non-confrontational, whilst managing to pose difficult questions to ourselves as individuals and as ambassadors of our respective countries and organizations.

If I could, I would apply again next year just to be in a space where cultural exchanges happen so naturally. In these workshops we developed a new vocabulary for conducting the business of the arts, and we will forever be changed for the better as a result of this camp. If anything, we have learnt how to be more honest with ourselves, our collaborators and our audiences when creating our work. We often hear the words “great show” being uttered after performances but when engaged about these shows, people unravel and reveal their true opinions which present shrewder reflections. These shrewd and true reflections are what Africa really needs; at least in my opinion.

As Africans we must stay away from praise. Lest we start to think we have arrived. We have only just left the starting block. And from that perspective our focus should lay on how we can improve upon the little work we have started. A mammoth task awaits us. We must rise to meet it, and not be fooled by the claps. Savanna Trust has already started doing this. My suggestion is that we need to do it far more than we already are. Meet more. Converse more. Collaborate more. And work, work and WORK. Our work is far from done. It has only just begun. To the Savanna Trust and to my new SADC theatre making family, all I can I say for now as I zoom in on the objective of this article, is thank you!

SADC Theatre Camp 2018
Front Row from left to right: Daniel, Lebo, Me, Charmaine &; Nyasha Second Row: Benjamin, Lee, Mandisi, Brezhnev Back Row: Katlego, Tafadzwa, Augustine & Silvana


Katlego Chale ©


Embracing the industry: Sthandile Nkosi creates a provocative theatre production titled Ninah

Sthandile Nkosi
Sthandile Nkosi: Director of Ninah

Fresh out of the TUT Drama Department, graduate Sthandile Nkosi (24) has chosen to embrace the challenging South African theatre and film industries as an actress, model, writer and director. Contracted to Just You agency, Nkosi has managed to hit the ground running with adverts for McDonalds, South African Tourism and the Nedbank Cup currently on air. She also holds the position of Director and Scriptwriter at the South African Theatre Village with a theatre production titled Ninah, currently in rehearsal towards performance. Nkosi elaborates on what inspired her to create Ninah:

“In drama school, we were taught pages and pages of Western drama… and we would find that there would only be a page on African theatre [in a book of 500 pages], and this often made me question why this was so. Because I imagined how many stories Africa has to tell and how much [in terms of] culture the world could learn from Africa… In my third and fourth years… I directed Absurd plays… So I believed that what I knew about Absurd Theatre, I needed to learn just as much and more about African Theatre… Ninah was born in a time when women were walking targets… it felt unsafe to be a black woman. Ninah was inspired by the interviews of the Chibok girls, particularly those who had returned.”

Nkosi believes in the power of making relevant and timeless work that has the possibility of giving a message of urgency to African peoples. Ninah suggests that it is time for African people and women in particular to regroup. “We are in a state of emergency,” exhales Nkosi, “where women are being killed, harmed”. Ninah makes a clarion call for women in particular and black people in general to stand together and fight back against those who have taken from us for so long. The play is set in a cave and looks to rely of African storytelling narrative techniques, with elements of physical theatre. Through collaboration that relies on a scripted narrative, Nkosi and her collaborators, Mpho Ngoepe (24) and Mimi Mamabolo (28) engage the work as if putting together a puzzle. “I invited everyone to jump in… so that we create a work that is timeless, but also that has a strong statement,” added Nkosi. Ninah calls for four things. First, for a woman to know that she possesses gold within her and realize that she is a goddess. Second, for the children of Africa to stop fighting between themselves and unite as children of the same mother protecting the gems, naturally located in their homes. Third, for society to realize that the cruelty against women could lead to the end of our generation. Fourth, for African people to become aware of the urgency needed for us to reclaim our identities.

Ninah will be staged at the Youth Expressions Festival in Tshwane from the 21st to the 23rd of June in the Momentum at the State Theatre. Thereafter, the production will travel down to the Eastern Cape for the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, from the 5th to the 8th of July. Promising to be a paradigm shifting production, Nkosi’s new work definitely sounds like it is worth the watch.

Actress: Mimi Mamabolo
Actress: Mpho Ngoepe



Katlego Chale ©

To Ike / Golden Screening Review

How many films have we seen capturing the essence of the youth culture in the townships of Tshwane? After this pioneering effort by Artsake Productions and Lesufi Films, we can safely say that there are two new entries in what promises to be a growing repertoire.

Many art based movements have long been central to the two economic powers in the country, namely Johannesburg and Cape Town. Despite the fact that Tshwane houses the country’s HQ, bearing the title of the capital city, capital-based and innovative art movements have not flourished. One could argue, that as the capital city, Tshwane should be leading the pack in terms of growth, development and entrepreneurial opportunities for artists in the country. All too often, the trend of migrating to the two above mentioned cities happens when artists in Tshwane consider their economic prospects. This trend, it could be argued, has also led to potential audiences in Tshwane preferring to commute to Jozi for a fun night out filled with quality art.

The partnership between Lesufi Films and Artsake Productions seeks to challenge this narrative as far as the film culture in Tshwane is concerned. These companies have managed to use film as a doorway into generating new local content, with the hope of building an audience that can sustain a sub-culture which is mainly supported by, but not limited to the youth. Artsake and Lesufi have managed to surpass their limitations with two evocative short films, touching on the themes of patriarchy and rape culture in To Ike, and the coming of age of a young man in Golden.

To Ike follows the exploits of a young woman named Slindy (Itumeleng Mofokeng), who fights against the pandemic of rape in the society. She does so by singling out male figures, who look to sexualize her, lures them into a setting where they are comfortable, even vulnerable. She disarms them by letting them think they are about to score, and at that moment, she pulls out a steel blade and digs into their jugulars to ensure they never see the light of day again. It is later revealed that she, too was a victim of sexual assault, and every time she meets a new potential subject, she greets them by her rapist’s name. The person who raped her, just so happened to also be her uncle, Ike (Isanalemvula Maseko).

Golden is a coming of age tale about a young lad named Jabu (Noko Mabitsela) who finds himself living with his aunt and cousin in Mamelodi. After his father, a famed criminal, goes to jail for white collar crimes, he tries his best to remain focused on his studies, and he seems to be doing very well, when one day, instead of studying, he chooses to follow his cousin (Abe Pupunyane) and friends on a mission to steal money. He comes to learn that crime doesn’t pay when he leads his cousin and the gang to one of his father’s safe houses, and someone is there already. When they open the garage they are met with a hail of bullets and Jabu and his cousin are the only ones who make it out alive.

After both screenings, the creative team invited us into a Q + A session. In this session, several pointers were expressed by the audience, including the representation and impact of crime and violence in our films and our communities. One viewpoint, which was supported by other members of the audience, was the idea of Golden having a sequel to answer to certain questions like the identity of the shooters in the final scene and what happens to Jabu after this entire experience. Does it change him for the better or the worse? Inasmuch as certain things need to be left to the imaginations of the audience, stories need closure for viewers to feel that the experience was complete and holistic. Or maybe I also just want to see Golden Part 2: The Accountant’s Revenge. Suggestions and comments aside, the brain trusts of Lesufi Films and Artsake Productions have started what seem to be the beginnings of a promising sub-culture in the City of Tshwane. What makes the initiative more fitting and fulfilling is the location chosen to house the culture: 012 Central.

In an age where artists in the capital city of a country as significant as South Africa are losing hope in the ability of large institutions to assist them to realize their visions, independent initiatives in alternative spaces become all the more important. When one sees the birth of such a movement as this, only one thing seems appropriate to say: for the love of God, please DO NOT STOP! We are here for you, and your time is now! Do. Not. Stop!

Creative teams

To Ike:

Vuyani Bila: Director, Editor, Co-Writer & Executive Producer

Linda Makgabutlane: Production Manager

Mathabo Mothibe: Producer & Co-Writer

Spiwo Moleoa: Executive Producer & Assistant Director

Zamo Ndhlazi: Cinematographer/Director of Photography

Onthatile Thati Makgeledisa: Production Designer, Set Decorator & Art Director

Louis Lunch Semenya: Original Music/Composer

Kruger Otto: Sound Mixer, Boom Operator & Cable Person

Itumeleng Mofokeng: Lead Actress

Isanalemvula Maseko: Supporting Actor

Sello Ramolahloane: Supporting Actor

Tshepiso Lesufi: Supporting Actor



Vuyani Bila: Director, Writer, Actor

Mathabo Mothibe: Producer

Onthatile Thati Makgeledise: Producer

Peter Lesufi: Executive Producer & Supporting Actor

Tshepiso Lesufi: Executive Producer & Supporting Actor

Spiwo Moleoa: Co-Writer & Supporting Actor

Noko Mabitsela: Lead Actor

Abe Pupunyane: Supporting Actor

Kabelo Mashika: Supporting Actor

Mphoentle Ngoepe: Supporting Actress

Samela Tyelbooi: Supporting Actress

Jacob Rabothata: Supporting Actor

Zamo Ndhlazi: Cinematographer/Director of Photography

Queen Mabena: Set Decorator & Makeup Artist

Mpho Chabalala: Sound Mixer & Boom Operator



Katlego Chale ©


SONATF Reviews 5/5: Dikakapa

DIKAKAPA by Lebeko Nketo

Director: Lebeko Nketu

Assistant Director: Modisana Mabale

Mentor Director: Mpho Molepo

Cast: Naledi Khaalo, Kholisile Dlamini, Mdengase Govuzela, Tumelo Mdabuli, Mojabeng Rasenyalo , Teboho Serapelo, Mbali Bewula and Sibusiso Sithole


The spirit of Grotowski is alive, and it is African at its core. Halfway through this high energy production one thing became clear to me: I wanted it to end so that I could stand up and give as rousing a standing ovation as I have ever given in my life

If we were to weigh each performer before and after they stepped onto that stage, I guarantee that by the end, all of them would have lost at least a kilogram in sweat. From the moment you take a seat to the moment you leave you remain transfixed to the intensity of this show. Following the tragic tale of a betrayed struggle veteran through high paced storytelling that used the body as a tool for communication and image formulation with the ease of a seasoned ensemble.

The performers create everything from a train to a house to a convertible super car, right down to one of the most captivating chase scenes I have seen in a theatre. They didn’t use a single prop as they swayed through different characters using psychological gestures to maintain the characterizations of the different roles they embodied. To discover after the show that almost the entire cast was made up of high school pupils added to the wonder of the making of Dikakapa. From a collaborative workshop process to an acclaimed award winning production.

There was a single moment that darkened the entire experience, literally. By no fault of the performers, as often happens in alternative theatre spaces, the lights went out (a situation that was soon remedied). Despite this, the performance never stopped, and the audience missed nothing as quick evolution of the story ensured that just by hearing the story we could keep pace with the performers. However, this break in lighting made me wonder if perhaps this type of theatre is better suited in open spaces with general lighting as the wonder and spectacle is not lost as a result of the lack of flashing reds and blues. All you need is a space and an audience.

The brilliance of Dikakapa lies in the elements of ensemble and collaboration. One follows clearly every aspect of the story and comes to appreciate not only the commitment of the performers, but the clarity of intent and creativity of the creators. Mtwa, Grotowski and Ngema would be proud to see the spirit of their work alive and well at the inaugural SONA Theatre Festival.


Katlego Chale ©

SONATF Review 4/5: Defiance

DEFIANCE by Eddie Thaba

Writer & Director: Eddie Thaba

Assistant Director: Siziphiwe Maqubela

Cast: Siyabonga Falakhe Makhubo and Mothusi Manele


The sins of the fathers shall no longer be known as the sins of the sons. Old ideas are challenged by new voices in Eddie Thaba’s Khongolese inspired work. Charting the trajectory of a conversation between a struggle veteran who is the custodian of Khongolose’s political school and a defiant young man who has been ordered to take the course as a repercussion for an incurred suspension.

The lines between fact and fiction are straddled and blurred as audience members come to realize that he narrative unfolding before them is a fictional retelling of the events that led to the expulsion of Julius Malema from the ANC. A tug of war ensues as each force, one representing the old guard and the other representing the new lifeblood of the organization lock horns as they work through and argue over the ideas being advanced by the course. Divided into five sections, the syllabus covers aspects such as political speak (highfalutin, verbosity, tautology and all) and the type of discipline expected of cadres in the organization. These and other pointers prove to place both factions on opposing sides of the spectrum when it comes to key issues central to the management of Khonglose. The audience is transported through a sea of questionable morals, values and double standards that expose the narrow-mindedness of the old and the lack of patience of the young. One comes to appreciate both sides of the argument, but in the end it becomes clear which of the two factions has the upper hand: the defiant one.

Though at times the text seemed to overpower the actors, the audience was tickled to listen to language not used colloquially by the average Tshepo. Non-sequitors, perambulators and interlocutors aside, Defiance, which starred Siyabonga Falakhe Makhubo and Mothusi Manele and AD’d by Siziphiwe Maqubela was worth the watch proving to be an important production which makes our recent complex history easier to understand. The only drawback of the production was the directorial approach to the work which often felt stagnant with the actors rarely entering each other’s private spaces in the moments of confrontation.

A powerful textual work about the current state of party politics in the country with specific reference to the genesis of the rivalry between the Reds and the Greens. Thaba challenges his performers and audience alike with his own work of Defiance.


Katlego Chale ©

SONATF Reviews 3/5: The Visit

THE VISIT by Ronald Manganye and Tesh Koketso Mashedi

Writer: Tesh Koketso Mashedi

Directors: Ronald Manganye and Tesh Koketso Mashedi

Cast: Sibongile Nsibande, Thabang Chauke, Tumelo Makaleni, Busisiwe Ndlovu, Khanyisa Diko, Alifonia Makgabo, Snenzolo Mondli, Mandla Mgwevu, Tshepo Maseko and Olwethu Maxhawulana


The struggle against any form of oppression, whether it is racism, classism or sexism, is inherited by every incumbent generation. The visit speaks to this theme as it follows the journey of an angry high school dropout who tries to mobilise her community to organize and fight the system of oppression that has kept them in the trenches for far too long.

She is met with great reluctance by her townsfolk as people prefer to continue eking out a meek existence in the face of extreme poverty. Everyone around her, including her grandmother make it clear to her that she is far too ambitious and that she should return to school. She remains undeterred in her pursuit for freedom. The most powerful moment in the piece occurs when the girl discovers that her grandmother who was against her reveals that she too was a freedom fighter, exposing her own revolutionary, activist history. In the end, she manages to mobilise her people on the day the mayor comes to visit for campaign purposes, and they turn against him to hold him accountable for the unfulfilled promises of the past.

This production required work in the departments of the progression of events in the story and a greater attention to detail in terms of acting. Many small mistakes such as masking and staging choices tended to make the performance seem slightly lacking. However, one gets the sense that the State of the Nation Theatre Festival as a whole was about the truthfulness of content above all else, and in the department of truth, The Visit managed to inform audiences of the sentiments of many young people in the country.



Katlego Chale ©