THIS year kicked off on a pow­er­ful and poignant note as The Mar­ket The­atre’s pro­gramme opened with The House of Truth. And artis­tic di­rec­tor James Ng­cobo main­tains that force­ful mo­men­tum with The

Meet­ing, which is part of Fe­bru­ary’s “Black His­tory Month”.

In a chat with Tonight, he shed light on his plans for The Mar­ket The­atre, his up­com­ing stage com­mit­ments and where act­ing slots in on his fre­netic itin­er­ary.

He says, “Last year, I shot BET’s Madiba se­ries with Lau­rence Fish­burne. I played Duma Nokwe, South Africa’s first black ad­vo­cate.”

Sadly, his role as artis­tic di­rec­tor doesn’t al­low much free time to act. Ng­cobo main­tains, “I’m still an ac­tor. For me, this is just ex­plor­ing the other side. I am al­ways fas­ci­nated with the be­hind-the-scenes go­ings-on. Be­ing artis­tic di­rec­tor is an ex­ten­sion of who I am.”

His com­mit­ment and pas­sion to leave his in­deli­ble foot­prints in this role, which he has in­hab­ited for the past three years, is not just ad­mirable – it’s in­spir­ing.

He says, “One of the things I started when I went in was to cel­e­brate Black His­tory Month. I’ve al­ways been say­ing: We have to lead our­selves in sto­ry­telling in this coun­try, whether in tele­vi­sion, TV or film... It’s some­thing I’ve been driven about.

The Meet­ing fol­lows The Coloured Mu­seum, which I directed. It’s a satire on slav­ery. I also directed A Raisin in the Sun last year. I’ve done A Tribute to Maya An­gelou. And, now, I’m do­ing The Meet­ing. For me, it couldn’t be a bet­ter time to stage this play. It’s at the end of ten­ure of the first black pres­i­dent of Amer­ica and the be­gin­ning of the tran­si­tion in Amer­ica at a time when there’s such heavy vis­i­bil­ity around ‘Black Lives Mat­ter’.”

The Meet­ing looks at two of his­tory’s le­gendary po­lit­i­cal ac­tivists: Martin Luther King Jr and Mal­colm X.

The di­rec­tor notes, “It looks at things like: Have we ever achieved this dream that Martin spoke of .... Jeff Stet­son ex­poses the pri­vate mo­ments of th­ese men. You get to meet them as hus­bands and fa­thers. There are mo­ments in the play, where Mal­colm talks about Amer­ica and Rus­sia. This was in 1965 but is so per­ti­nent to­day. The world evolves but some­times it can stand still.”

Re­vis­it­ing his ob­jec­tive with the pro­duc­tions that were given the green light at The Mar­ket The­atre, Ng­cobo says, “We are cu­rat­ing in a brave way. We are evolv­ing the brand to take the the­atre to the fu­ture. When I stand out­side, see­ing young cou­ples, black and white, come and watch our plays, my heart smiles. We have to put on works that ap­peal to this new gen­er­a­tion.”

He elab­o­rates, “When I talk about Mal­colm X, Martin Luther King, Steve Biko, Gandhi, Man­dela – all of it comes from my gen­er­a­tion. I’m 47. But we need to un­der­stand that their (the new gen­er­a­tion) re­al­ity is dif­fer­ent. So, when we touch on her­itage pieces (I hate us­ing the word his­toric be­cause it sounds preachy), we need to en­sure that a young per­son feels per­suaded and moved to un­der­stand the story.

“Find­ing the right ac­tors to an­chor the pro­duc­tions is also a cru­cial factor he is cog­nisant of. Ac­tors are con­stantly look­ing for things that bet­ter their craft. When I pro­gramme, it is with an ac­tor and an au­di­ence in mind. I au­di­tioned Litha Bam three years ago. I was quite fas­ci­nated by this young ac­tor. Sadly, it turned out he got a schol­ar­ship to NYU and was leav­ing. Bren­don I’ve never worked with but I’ve seen him sev­eral pro­duc­tions. I’ve al­ways loved work­ing with Aubrey.” So, what can the­atre lovers an­tic­i­pate for The Meet­ing, which will see the Amer­i­can play­wright in at­ten­dance on open­ing night?

Ng­cobo says, “Peo­ple can look for­ward to th­ese two men dis­sect­ing their philoso­phies. They spoke to the same con­stituency about the free­dom of black peo­ple but their ap­proach was com­pletely dif­fer­ent. There’s an amaz­ing line, where Martin Luther King says to Mal­colm X, ‘You want to free blacks. I want to free Amer­ica.’ That line marks pin­na­cle dif­fer­ence in how they were ap­proach­ing the free­dom of black peo­ple!”

The Meet­ing is run­ning at The Mar­ket The­atre from Fe­bru­ary 2 to 26. It will be staged from Tues­days to Saturdays at 8.15pm and on Sun­days at 3.15pm. Ticket cost: R65 (for stu­dents), R95, R120, R195 and R140.

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