Jade Bowers: Provocatively Potent

Theatre facilitator and creator Jade Bowers has been recognised as the Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner for Theatre 2016. The talented young artist is known for producing cutting-edge works and has amassed some of South Africa’s top theatre awards in the past couple of years. Creative Feel’s Nondumiso Msimanga spoke to Bowers about the Award.

Sitting for tea with Jade Bowers is like visiting an old friend for the first time. She slightly rocks the chair as she quips about Joko being a really good tea now that the price of Twinings has gone up. She must be the most unassuming person yet to take the coveted title of Standard Bank Young Artist for Theatre. The 2016 winner of South Africa’s most hankered after theatre award puts her hands to her face and says with bright eyes that ‘It feels wrong!’ Her surprise is attributed to the fact that she does not do ‘what I’d call commercial work’. She creates her meaningful output by this simple philosophy: ‘People must either love it or hate it. It must either be fantastic or horrific!’ There is no median with Bowers’ work. She has been experimenting with the most authentic ways to tell the stories that move her. These narratives speak to her from the underbelly of history and are tied by a need to answer the questions ‘How do you define yourself?’ and ‘What do you stand for?’

Bowers stands for the acknowledgement of individual stories within the grand narrative of being a South African during a time that she terms the post-post-apartheid era. ‘There are always stories to tell. It’s ingrained in our South African culture. I think it’s a calling in a way,’ she leans back in her chair and swings. The call to find and articulate the stories that she seeks seems to simply pour out of her as instinctively as her breaths. Bowers does not even call herself a director; she prefers to think of herself as a facilitator who guides her actors’ stories. And the story that most concerns her in this post-post-apartheid time is that of individual history.

‘Identity, it’s something I find with most coloured people that are doing research at this time. As coloured people we find a lack… If I look back in my history there’s Malay and Indian and “Coloured” that comes from a history that’s not written down,’ she states. Her Standard Bank Silver Ovation Award winning work What the Water Gave Me (2014) performed by Cherae Halley catapulted her particular mode of storytelling into the spotlight, gaining her a Naledi Award nomination for Best Cutting Edge Production. In that year she was also recognised with an ImpACT Award for Theatre and has seen the awards continue to roll in this year. She recalls working with Halley and says, ‘We had an intense moment. I was scared I broke her. It changed from there and we both had that moment at the same time.’

The facilitator similarly created the provocatively potent iHamlet, written by Robin Malan and performed by Ashraf Johaardien. She has established a unique ability to craft the one-person show, culminating in the Standard Bank Ovation Award winning Tin Bucket Drum in 2015. Bowers nearly gave birth to her son during rehearsals. She recalls smilingly, ‘He was two weeks old and he was in rehearsals for Tin Bucket Drum: Mackenzie Bowers-Chamberlain.’ Her team is her family. Even Johaardien, who isn’t related to her, is her creative soul-mate with whom she watches far too much Grey’s Anatomy and so calls him ‘my person’. But having rehearsed the Neil Coppen play in her garage whilst caring for her newly born son she truly did have her family as her team. Her father made the set and her mother sewed the pants. She laughs that ‘it’s awesome!’ but she suddenly has a lump in her throat when she speaks about how it always has been a family affair. Her father Gary Bowers and her husband Darren Chamberlain have made her sets and ‘everything’. Bowers says, ‘I would not be able to do what I do without them. It would be impossible.’

Impossible, is what she thought when she got the call from the National Arts Festival artistic director. ‘I was sitting at home breastfeeding my baby and you never NOT pick up a call from Ismail Mahomed,’ she smiles. She is excited, proud and grateful for this honour but also terrified of the pressure. She is not going to change her process to fit the pressure. The work she will present in July ‘has to be small’. It is going to be an adaptation of a novel. She leans forward and stares out dreamily when she says, ‘It makes me feel nostalgic for a past that I’ve never experienced.’ In her words: ‘It’s either going to be fantastic or horrific. I don’t do mediocre!’

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