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Collaboration and Interdisciplinary creativity thrive at UJ Arts & Culture

Despite the more subdued Naledi Theatre Awards ceremony this year, there was a lot of excitement in the University of Johannesburg’s Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture (FADA) department and UJ Arts & Culture. FADA’s Interdisciplinary Theatre Programme was nominated for nine awards this year and took two on the night for their 2018/19 production of Kafka’s Metamorphosis.

Pieter Jacobs UJ Arts Culture
Pieter Jacobs PHOTO Suzy Bernstein

For the last three years, FADA has run an Interdisciplinary Theatre Programme for second-year students. Students from the departments of Visual Art, Interior Design, Industrial Design, Graphic Design, Fashion Design, Jewellery, Architecture and Multimedia are brought together to apply their knowledge to the development and staging of a theatrical production.
     Guided by some of South Africa’s top directors and producers, these productions are then staged by UJ Arts & Culture, in various runs both at the UJ Art Centre and at the National Arts Festival. Reza De Wet’s African Gothic (2017/18) and Kafka’s Metamorphosis (2018/19), both directed by Alby Michaels, were met with critical acclaim and award nominations. The brutal vampire myth and coming-of-age love story Let the Right One In (2019/2020), adapted from the best-selling Swedish novel and award-winning film by John Ajvide Lindqvist and directed by Rob Murray, saw its premiere development-run in October last year. Unfortunately, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown regulations saw any further staging cancelled.
     The calibre of these productions was recently highlighted and celebrated at the 2020 Naledi Theatre Awards where Oliver Hauser won Best Lighting Design/Animations and the 2018 FADA students (mentored by Sarah Roberts) took the award for Best Theatre Set Design.
     The Interdisciplinary Theatre Programme has become the flagship of the faculty and is striving to build the unique and increasingly important skills required for successful collaboration both in the arts and broader professional fields. 
     ‘Creative problem solving, critical thinking and interpersonal communication skills are the kinds of skills that set professionals apart from their counterparts and practising and engaging with the arts are excellent at developing exactly those essential skills in order to thrive,’ says Pieter Jacobs Head of UJ Arts & Culture, a division of the Faculty of Art, Design & Architecture (FADA).

     This year, the 2020 Interdisciplinary Theatre Programme, a retelling of the Zulu folktale Hlakanyana, co-produced with UJ Arts & Culture by Madevu Entertainment’s Zolani Shangase and Michael William Wallace with award-winning director Janice Honeyman, was initially put on hold. However, with FADA and UJ Arts & Culture’s refocused digital 2020 strategy, much of the development and work has taken place online.
     With so many performances, exhibitions and projects cancelled, UJ Arts & Culture had to refocus their 2020 strategy.  The release of the UJ Choir’s 9th album When the Earth Stands Still brought a welcome reprieve to the UJ Arts & Culture 2020 calendar. The album’s launch, moved forward in the year, facilitated the first of UJ Arts & Culture’s digital projects; The Pandemic, a remarkable interdisciplinary project, driven by Jacobs.
     Twenty-five visual artists and choreographers were invited to create and present a new work inspired by a track from the album and created during the lockdown.  Each work was showcased in a short video slot released each day on social media. The final project will likely be presented in an exhibition in 2021.
     The Pandemic has been followed with The Cure, a similar project, curated by Annali Dempsey, curator of the UJ Gallery, and Guest Curator Johan Myburg and currently running on UJ Arts & Culture’s social media platforms. Extending the interdisciplinary approach initiated by The Pandemic Project, cuts from three CDs by the UJ Choir with Renette Bouwer as Senior Choir Master – Road Home (2011), Sweet Days (2015) and Peace (2018) – are used as inspiration and or soundtrack for the artists’ videos.
     ‘Arts & Culture’s approach during these extraordinary times was not to attempt a recreation of traditional experiences but rather experiment to establish which aspects of our work could effectively be conducted, coordinated, created and presented virtually or digitally. It is our sentiments that human connection and interaction cannot be replaced, which was underscored by our experiments, but we are delighted about the valuable collaborator we have found in technology,’ concludes Jacobs.

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