TWO POWERFUL BLACK VOICES AT THE MARKET
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.