So far, the festival has hosted creative collaborations between local and international dancers and choreographers, activated site-specific performance interventions, hosted talks and facilitated workshops across Emakhazeni, Mpumalanga.
With much more to come, we sat down with Forgotten Angle Theatre Collaborative’s Development Manager Tshego Khutsoane to find out more about her role in the festival, the role of performing arts festivals in a ‘post-pandemic’ world, and what audiences can expect for the second half of MBMS22.
First off, can you tell your readers a bit about yourself and your roll at FATC?
My name is Namatshego (Tshego) Khutsoane, I currently hold the role of Development Manager with The Forgotten Angle Theatre Collaborative.
I have experience in theatre-making (as performer/collaborator/devisor/director) and education in my capacities as facilitator (of academic and practical study). My continual honing across multiple performance and facilitation contexts engages subject matter to do with concepts of identity, sitting particularly at the intersections of Role, Expectation and Behaviour.
So, among many things, as a multi-hyphenate practitioner, activism or in my case ARTivism moves my enjoyment (however counterintuitive this may sound) of, and involvement in, the creative and cultural industries; community narratives and dialogues; inter-disciplinary collaboration; social entrepreneurship; and gender interests.
As a scholar-practitioner and perpetual learner I’d say that my study background has positioned me to consider, interrogate and ultimately communicate ideas around how to do things impactfully in consideration of complex human and social issues, that are nuanced-culture (in its widespread definitions) informed. In my undergraduate years I studied towards the humanity-foregrounding disciplines of Acting, Directing, Contemporary Performance and Applied Drama and Theatre specialisations, and further integrated that learning through my honours qualifying study. My more recent Master qualifying studies; Master of Business Administration degree (2019, University of Reading – as a recipient of the Johnny Clegg Scholarship for creative practitioners); a Masters of Dramatic Arts (2013, University of the Witwatersrand) – through which I qualified with distinctions in Theatre as Activism and Reflective Practice specialisations – are what have more concretely threaded my honing interests in their intersections of concepts to do with Business, Identity, Policy, Culture, Influence, Visibility/Invisibility negotiations, Access and Inclusion.
So, wherever I am in the world, whether I am performing; writing for pleasure, for funding, for course/study design; implementing projects of whatever kind, the reflective activist in me reigns supreme, as the core: the blood in the veins: the heart.
So, MBMS22 is in full swing! How have the first weeks of the festival been and what are some of your personal recommendations that audiences can look forward to over the next few weeks?
The first week featured our hosting of two French companies Ex Nihilo (Marseille) and Cie Morphose (Reunion Island), who collaborated with FATC in a project called Crossroads. It was very exciting and moving, on account of it being the first moment of our palpably feeling the shift in the story that we had been pushed into in the past two years or so. It was inspiring in the way that the artists embraced public space as improvisation and creation opportunities; and in the way that we were able to see how really beautiful work could be created from nothingness.
A weekly frame within the overarching Festival’s of Meetings and Greetings gives each residency period an intention. The Dumelang! Sanibonani! Hello! signifies our agreement to meet, our collective acknowledgement that we are together in this now time, to carefully step into gathering in artistic exchange again. So, both the coming together and culmination of the first week of receiving old and new friends as the festival itself transitions, was a confirmatory meeting and greeting. And an affirmation that we are where we sense we should be.
That said, we are really looking forward to seeing what emerges from the remaining collaborations.
Week 2: Le Kae: How Are You? | Where Are You?
In the week of 21 – 26 March, we had artists Musa Hlatshwayo of Mhayise Productions developing a work with interns and graduates. This process has engaged many discussions on what the artist’s responsibility is, and to whom the artist’s work is showcased, and why. As process leader Hlatshwayo has activated re-consideration of the artist’s position in relation to a number of factors pertaining to how/where their work is expressed and how/why their work is shared to their immediate community; their artistic community and within the parameters of geography as it affects and is affected by location.
Week 3: Dumelang! Let’s Get Reacquainted.
The week starting on 28 March will be the final residency period of a two week interdisciplinary collaboration between 20 clustered local Emakhazeni artists (of fine art drawing and painting, beading crafts, crocheting, traditional dance, poetry and various musical forms), invited to get reacquainted with one another and their artistic practices. Their showcases take place on 2 and 3 April in Emthonjeni and Dullstroom.
Week 4 – Lotjhani! Le Kae? Let’s Meet Again.
Week 4 (4 – 10 April) brings together four dance companies with which FATC has a long history. The idea here being that the collaborating organisations The Forgotten Angle Theatre Collaborative (FATC), Vuyani Dance Theatre (VDT), Moving into Dance (MID) & UNMUTE share many similarities. There could be great value in working together creatively again to make sense of the emerging themes / concerns / opportunities pulling at dance organisations for attention. In the same week, and parallel to the residency invitation for the dance organisations to find themselves through each other, parallel to that Drama for Life, a long-standing partner in our relationship with our youth network, significantly boosts FATCs re-activation of in-school and after-school Local Education in Arts Programme (LEAP) sites with workshops and performances.
Following this dance organisation collaboration in residency, showcases will happen in the weekend of 9 and 10 April, while Drama for Life’s workshop and showcase will happen throughout 4 – 10 April.
Week 5: Back @ Home
The final week (11 – 14 April) of the MBMS22 festival returns focus to FATCs community of primary concern. We are prioritising home-base by showcasing only the work of the young people in our LEAP programme, and sharing the dialogue-starting nutrition and farming edutainment work that has been in continued development by the trainees of the Agri-CULTURE project.
The re-focus of engaging and listening to the young people FATC typically works with between the ages of 5 and 20 years of age. This week is intended to re-connect and guide us, we anticipate, with how MORE we should be thinking about our work towards the sustainability of beneficiaries in the long-term. The work of enabling beneficiaries to imagine into; actively produce and create the futures that can sustain themselves, and their communities by extension.
The showcases will happen throughout this week.
This year’s festival is a series of smaller creative encounters over a longer period of time, with the aim of engaging as many people from the Emakhazeni creative arts community as possible. What are some of the challenges of putting together a multifaceted festival such as this?
Stamina in general! More pointedly, this festival, because of the nature in which we are working with artists, and their driving of the where, when and how decision-making of their work and pop-up presentation processes, it’s all very dynamic. Everything is a moving target. People are not coming with set work, we are not pre-determining space, things are happening as the residencies unfold and generate leads that the artists follow. Things are shifting all the time until the very last minute.
And what are the benefits of such a format?
That it’s all quite exhilarating and challenging. And purpose giving.
Can you give us some insight into how you go about curating each year’s festival and selecting the artists, artisans and spaces you work with?
We respond to what is happening in the world and our more immediately tangible worlds. Tuning into the conversations and looking out for the gaps and blind spots. At the core of any given curatorial lens of a festival iteration the human rights experience and relationship the associated and intersecting subject matter.
ACCESS and INCLUSION are always embedded in FATC’s responses to the happenings of the current climate. We drive to create bridges between the limitations of those with and without attention and opportunities. The Rural/Urban divide has been a significant influence, and we have a reputation of bringing unlikely people together in the programming and experience of the festival. This has always been what has motivated the selection – whether through application process or formal invitation – of artists, and by virtue of those selections, the audiences that are attracted.
This year, with the general feeling in the air of people wanting to meet in person, with our attention on our local environment first, we are responding with cautious visits, hosting, and walking / exploring the streets of Emakhazeni. This year, we wanted to be in the safe and intimate company of one another again to ask How are you/we? Where are you/we now? To acknowledge more deliberately, How we move together now into the new shapes of our relationships, our communities and our creativity.
Could you also tell us a bit about the thematic focus of this year’s festival, ‘Where Art and Climate Meet’? How will this influence the work being produced?
From the 14 March – 14 April festival period, the MBMS festival organises to facilitate moments of creative residency, where new ideas can be explored, and creative disciplines stretched in gentle collaboration. Each meeting is set to culminate in a sharing moment that pops up in various spaces in the Emakhazeni district. The presentations of this moving festival of fragments, pop-up relatively unannounced to control numbers, keep engagement safe, but to be where people are. People who are familiar with the festival will feel its resurgence, while new meetings, particularly in the Dullstroom-sho’t left tourist attraction space, will happen.
At the heart of the festival is the gentle, safe and intimate coming together, to agree (as represented by the alternative/additional meaning to the word Dumelang: to say hello, to agree) to meet each other again, to acknowledge one another more deliberately, consciously, in order to work together with FATC’s beneficiaries to re-build our relationship to our local community, and to our creativity.
We are especially mindful of how much dialogue and collective decision making is required. We are all each other’s benefactors and beneficiaries at this moment. No one is necessarily more equipped to say HOW ‘festival-ing’ should look like from as many perspectives as we can consider. What we can do, however is develop the shape of things moment-by-moment, thought-by-thought. Making our coming together moments ‘meetings’ of education, capacity building, development and presenting new work.
So that really is the invitation to the artists. To contemplate the current climate through their art. In the associations that best apply to them and their craft. In so doing, the programmes, engagements and presentations of MBM22, will feature works that will have interrogated:
- The climate of our creative and cultural industries, of widespread practice, performance climate
- Environmental climate, as it relates to personhood, politics, geography etc.
- Change as it affects our micro and macro realities; climate change.
- The contradictions of the current climate situation(s) put under the artistic microscope; social justice.
‘Where Art and Climate Meet’ is also pointing to a concretising of what has and continues to be the finding-purpose-through-crisis focus of FATC’s work. The fact that the statement pulls on a much louder climate conversation is not lost on us. We are meeting ourselves there too as an organisation. At the moment, that is through our sustainability, food-security focused Arts and Agriculture training project initiating small scale farming projects across Emakhazeni, and in upcoming collaboration exploring Art and Climate-Justice in the second half of the year.
MBMS22 takes place after two years of relative isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, as people come together again, how can inter-disciplinary collaboration help us to and reacquaint ourselves with one another and with our own practices? And on a more personal note, what is it like to be out in the world again, facilitating and witnessing live, public art?
The collaboration is a key pillar to the MBMS22 Meetings and Greetings Structure, because there is a meeting and greeting of various elements in creative collaboration. Another very important aspect of this moment centring collaboration, is that this Covid-accompanied climate, requires of us to reimagine ourselves, to find our feet, to gather from each other. Being back out in the world in the ways that you describe is exhausting at the moment, we are unfit and don’t have the muscles to do with engaging with other human beings. The muscles have weakened and have to be re-built. So we are back in gym, in training, as each other’s coaches/trainers, and it’s eina in that pleasure-pain kind of way of working things out.
In a similar vein, how do you think the pandemic has impacted performing arts festivals in general? What are some of the things that have had to be revised or adapted and how has this impacted the festival model?
It’s changed everything; the way artists interact; the way we think about and can interact with audiences. It’s changed the scale of our interactions. It’s changed how we communicate; how we trust each other, how different communities see and experience each other. So, as has been suggested by FATC’s Artistic and Managing director, and I agree, the models need to address the precariousness of our relationships; not destabilising them further, but to find how to (better) secure them now.
In addition to the various performances, workshops and residencies of the festival, you are also hosting a series of MBMS Talks on the festival’s Facebook page. Can you tell us a bit more about these talks and what online audiences can expect?
What they are is an extension of the Festival’s theme of Meetings and Greetings – conversations that are meant to facilitate their own kind of meeting and greeting opportunity. Through the talks, the online audiences can expect to meet MBMS22 artists more intimately, to catch up really, finding out where they are, and how they are making sense of themselves and their work in a ‘who am I and what is/can/should my art be in this pandemic informed climate’ kind of way. Even better if someone witnessing the talks could see and hear themselves/their experience in the sharing of the featured guests. We are a mixture of recovering from the impact that COVID-19 has been, and finding ourselves and each other again in relationship to it, in this NOW moment. This is part of the slow and steady return to working with ourselves and others, to getting in touch with the pulse, by finding our bodies on the floor or in the studio and outside, because it is these community spaces that anchor us, that we largely have not been able to be connected to for over two years. That’s a long time to be without what is life-giving.