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The Naledi Theatre Awards: 15 years of rewarding theatre magic

WORDS: Dawn Lindberg, founder and CEO of the Naledi Theatre Awards

The Naledi Theatre Awards celebrates its 15th anniversary this year. What began life at Richard Loring’s Sound Stage Theatre in Midrand in 2004, has become the highlight of the social and theatrical calendar.

Naledi Theatre Awards 2019
Tshepo Ncokoane and Kiruna-Lind Devar in Snow White – The Fairest Pantomime In All The Land

This glittering event will be staged at a new home, the Joburg Theatre in Braamfontein, on 20 May. The Naledi Theatre Awards will remain at this venue, the pinnacle of Gauteng theatres, for the next three years.
     Over the years, Naledi has evolved and transformed, and we rejoice at the manner in which this was achieved. We have taken cognisance of suggestions and ‘notes for Naledi’ from the industry, as we strive to hold a mirror to the changing face of South African theatre and reflect the burgeoning excellence of our younger creative souls.
     The awards for productions staged during 2018 were evaluated and judged by the existing two panels of judges. Each judge saw more than 80 productions. This system remains in place for this year’s Naledi Theatre Awards.
     Due to the sheer volume of productions, we have refined and restructured the judging process for the 2020 Naledi Theatre Awards. We have split our judges into six specialist panels. We now have a total of 50 judges, concentrating on their fields of expertise. Each panel has a convener who communicates with the Hub, or central Naledi office. This is administered by Kealeboga Tshenye, who is a specialist in musical theatre.

Naledi Theatre Awards 2019
Ryan de Villiers Matilda

     Our new panels for productions staged during 2019 include: a ‘main-stream plays’ panel with Wits lecturer Neka da Costa as the convener; a ‘main-stream musicals’ panel with convener Dr Lance Maron, an ear, nose and throat specialist; panels for ‘theatre for children aged 0-13’ and ‘young audiences aged 14-17, including set works’ – these two panels are supported by ASSITEJ South Africa, and the convener is Thea Gafin, a drama teacher specialising in young theatre-makers; a panel for ‘contemporary dance, physical theatre and ballet’, headed by Ignatius van Heerden, a dance and ballet teacher and lecturer (we are particularly proud to have contemporary dance and ballet included in the Naledi Theatre Awards for the first time next year); a panel for ‘independent fringe theatre’ is headed by Khutjo Green, an award-winning actress and director – this category includes smaller budget, but often outstanding, cutting-edge productions staged in pop-up venues such as PopArt in Maboneng, Olive Tree in Alexandra, the Table in Tembisa, the Hillbrow Theatre, and the smaller spaces at the Soweto Theatre; and our sixth panel is for ‘tertiary students and incubator theatre’, convened by Tiffany Higgo, who has a doctorate in English education with a focus on writing for the theatre – this new category features students who have dedicated their lives to professional theatre.

Naledi Theatre Awards 2019
Lara Foot

     These panels began work in January this year. Their votes will be assessed for the 2020 awards ceremony for productions staged during 2019.
     A major challenge this year has been securing a headline sponsor or receiving significant funding from official funding bodies.
     A plus factor has been Auto & General’s contribution, facilitated a few years back by Carolyn Steyn, which was most supportive for three years, and also Distell, which stimulated our enjoyment of theatre’s magic with prestigious wines for the past ten years.
     Naledi is registered as a section 18A NPC, which means that all monies sponsored are tax-deductible – a very good incentive for future sponsors!

Naledi Theatre Awards 2019
Kabelo Togoe

     Our board of directors is also working hard. Our patron is the esteemed Dr John Kani, and chairperson is Kgomotso Christopher, a recent South African Film and Television Award (SAFTA) winner for Best Actress in a TV Soap for her role in Scandal!
     Executive director/legal is Lihan Pretorius, a lawyer, actor, director and rugby sevens referee. Deputy chairpersons are Sello Maake ka Ncube, acclaimed stage and television actor, director and producer; Maishe Maponya, writer, director and arts activist; and theatre icon Mbongeni Ngema.
     Des Lindberg is Naledi’s technical director. He has been in showbiz for a record 54 years, as a performer, songwriter, and lighting and sound designer.
     Des and I have the puzzling honour of being appointed Living Legends by the Minister of Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa in 2016. The chairman of Living Legends was congenial playwright and producer, Welcome Msomi, who was also acting chairman of the Naledis.

Naledi Theatre Awards 2019
Dawid Minnaar, The Train Driver

     The ceremony will again be shot in HD for television by Clive Morris Productions, headed by Lala Tuku and Dom Gumede. As in previous years, it will be broadcast on kykNET and Mzansi Magic – and a big thank you is due to M-Net for this generous exposure.
     A few more thanks are in order: To all the managers and owners of the wonderful venues for making Naledi feel so welcome over 15 years, especially Tsogo Sun and the Lyric Theatre at Gold Reef City. A special mention goes to the Market Theatre, which has hosted our nominations reveal for the past four years – thanks to James Ngcobo and Ismail Mahomed. To Joburg Theatre and its dedicated and friendly management team and staff. It’s headed by CEO Xoliswa Ngema, COO Bridget Mshika, and a marketing team comprising Ntombi Mashaba, Lindiwe Lekasapa, and Nomsa Nsibande. Enos Ramaroko and Simon James head the backstage techies, and Timothy le Roux is company manager, director and choreographer. A massive thanks to Alistair Kilbee and his merry men at Splitbeam, Josh Cutts of Visual Frontiers, and Duncan Riley of DWR. They have sponsored all the state-of-the-art technical equipment needed to transform the event from a shoe-string budget into a spectacular, acclaimed event.
     Finally, to Creative Feel magazine for coming on board as our highly valued media sponsor, together with MixFM, and the more recent Mail & Guardian’s The Weekly Mail.

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