12 years a play and still walk­ing

Mail & Guardian - - Film & Theatre - Faye Ka­bali-Kagwa

We have all trav­elled, no mat­ter how short the dis­tance. We know what it means to tra­verse space and time, and to land in some­place new. We all know move­ment. For some, mov­ing is not as sim­ple as pack­ing up and leav­ing.

In Europe, there is a surge of rightwing move­ments against the flow of refugees and im­mi­grants jour­ney­ing there. In the United State, leg­is­la­tion and ac­tions against mi­grants has drawn heavy crit­i­cism.

In May 2008, South Africa’s ideas of na­tion­hood and be­long­ing ig­nited and Africans from the con­ti­nent and other mi­grants had their homes and shops burned and looted. In the span of 14 days, 30 000 peo­ple were dis­placed and 65 peo­ple had been killed, 21 of whom were South Africans.

In 2006, just two years be­fore the xeno­pho­bic at­tacks, Ev­ery Year, Ev­ery Day I Am Walk­ing was com­mis­sioned by the African The­atre Fes­ti­val for Chil­dren and Young Peo­ple in Cameroon. The play drew on the killings of Ethiopi­ans and So­ma­lis in Cape Town.

Cre­ated with Cape Town’s Mag­net The­atre and di­rected by Mark Fleish­man, with ac­tors Faniswa Yisa and Jen­nie Reznek and mu­sic by Neo Muyanga, Ev­ery Day I Am Walk­ing is the com­pany’s longestrun­ning pro­duc­tion. It tells the story of a mother and her daugh­ter who flee a Fran­co­phone coun­try in Africa and their jour­ney to Cape Town.

Back in Cape Town for five shows, the pro­duc­tion has been per­formed in 25 coun­tries. Yisa says the dura­bil­ity of the play has to do with the fact that “there are no bound­aries in terms of the lan­guage with this par­tic­u­lar piece. It’s a hu­man story.

“In a way, the show pre­dated what was go­ing to be the theme of the years which we’re liv­ing in, which is mi­gra­tion and move­ment, whether it be forced or not forced,” says Reznek, who is also a co-direc­tor at the Mag­net The­atre.

For Reznek, Ev­ery Year, Ev­ery Day I Am Walk­ing is about fam­ily and loss and how — or whether — a per­son re­cov­ers from the loss of a loved one. “Maybe one can only make one play in one’s whole life; it’s just the same themes over and over. Do you know what I mean?”

Told through a mix of ges­ture and min­i­mal di­a­logue, the play re­lies on a vis­ceral un­der­stand­ing of dis­place­ment. Be­yond that, it makes clever use of im­ages.

“When I look back at it, we were quite brave,” Reznek says, as she re­counts the mak­ing of the play more than a decade ago. “Faniswa wanted to burn. There’s fire on the stage. Real fire. It’s hec­tic.”

Yisa lets out a raspy laugh.

“And then I said I wanted to make this image with the pack­ets,” Reznek con­tin­ues, “and then we had this thing that we’re go­ing to move a ma­chete. We fought for these im­ages and I think they’re quite brave in a way.”

“They are brave,” af­firms Yisa. Yisa and Reznek are sit­ting on black chairs on the Mag­net The­atre’s stage. Reznek speaks with her hands. Yisa opens her eyes wide when she be­comes ex­cited and oc­ca­sion­ally folds her legs up on the chair.

“I will never ever for­get when we were in Cameroon. When­ever the ma­chetes came ev­ery­one …” — she searches for words as she be­comes more an­i­mated — “I mean … this one per­for­mance we had lit­tle kids, all of them put up their hands and started go­ing like this: ‘No no, no!’”

Yisa raises her hand into the air, her fin­ger point­ing up­wards. She leans for­ward, eyes wide. “It meant some­thing to them. It was a lan­guage they un­der­stood. We didn’t un­der­stand what it meant to them. They knew. All of them knew what a ma­chete rep­re­sented.”

Even be­tween Yisa and Reznek, mean­ing is not static. Yisa speaks about one of her favourite scenes. “Right at the be­gin­ning of the play, when the sis­ters are play­ing, there’s a bird that comes, which for me rep­re­sents in­no­cence. It rep­re­sents home. It rep­re­sents lan­guage. But when we’re trav­el­ling we lose the bird. We pick it up much later when the mother brings in the shoes, be­cause the bird was al­ways kept in the shoes.”

Reznek asks: “So you think the mother puts the bird in the shoe?”

They look at each other and then break into laugh­ter.

Reznek and Yisa re­count a per­for­mance they did at the Bax­ter The­atre, where they had in­vited refugee women and their chil­dren from a cen­tre they had vis­ited while do­ing their re­search.

“That was quite ten­der and hard to do,” re­calls Reznek.

“It was scary,” echoes Yisa. “I was too scared to even ask them what they thought. But it was beau­ti­ful be­cause there were things that they knew so well. They would act it back to us af­ter the show as if to say, ‘We know this so well’. For in­stance, learn­ing how to speak English. There’s a whole scene in the show where we say, ‘This is my nose, this is my ear’, they laughed and they laughed be­cause they know …”

Yisa says of the most strik­ing thing she’s learned while per­form­ing the play: “Trav­el­ling [with the play] is scary, be­cause you’ll never fully un­der­stand the peo­ple,” she says. “You’ll never fully un­der­stand the au­di­ence and what they’re used to.”

The play has res­onated with au­di­ences the world over, even if the mean­ing shifts de­pend­ing on the con­text. Af­ter 12 years Ev­ery Year, Ev­ery Day I Am Walk­ing re­mains rel­e­vant. The power does not lie in a har­row­ing ac­count of dis­place­ment and move­ment, but rather in the evo­ca­tion of me­mory and the cen­tral­is­ing of our hu­man con­nec­tions. And we re­mem­ber what it feels like to be­gin a jour­ney and the un­cer­tainty that brings, as we move to­wards a des­ti­na­tion that may or may not be wel­com­ing.

Mov­ing play: Jen­nie Reznek (left) and Faniswa Yisa per­form in Ev­ery Year, Ev­ery Day I am Walk­ing that has opened for a short, five-night run at the Mag­net The­atre in Ob­ser­va­tory, Cape Town. Photo: David Har­ri­son

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