Bay thespian to direct in Germany
● Educating young through theatre a calling for award-winner Zweni
For Port Elizabeth playwright and actor Xabiso Zweni 2018 was the year to reap the fruit of his labour and, although he already has plans for 2019, he feels it was too “big” a year to surpass as yet.
Since delivering his first-ever performance in grade 9 at Victoria Park High School 17 years ago, Zweni has over the years quietly and consistently grown into one of PE’s most influential actors and activists in the drama and theatre space.
Zweni travels to Germany in February to begin preparations for a play he will be directing for Hessisches LandesTheater Marburg (Hessian State Theatre in Marburg) from May.
“The story teaches the young and old about how to be happy with the little that a per- son has, and that family means more than any materialistic possessions,” Zweni said.
“I’ll be there for two weeks in February to meet the actors and introduce them to the script and then return for the full rehearsal and performance in April and May, “Zweni said.
He will return home in June to take his play So What, Sarafina!? – along with its actors from the Masifunde Learner Development Programme – to the National Arts Festival in Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown).
He joined the programme – an initiative which helps pupils from Walmer township with tutoring, education and life skills – in 2016 as the drama curator for the programme’s Academy of Creativity.
The creation of So What, Sarafina!? is just one of many Zweni achievements which made 2018 for him as it sold out at both the PE Opera House and the Savoy Theatre.
The Stageworld Theatre alumnus received recognition from Eastern Cape development, environmental affairs and tourism MEC Oscar Mabuyane for his excellence in theatre writing and directing at the province’s Entertainment Stars Awards in East London.
Other highlights for 2018 included having his play Let’s Make Ubuntu performed by young German and South African actors on stages around Port Elizabeth and being invited as a keynote speaker to the National Schools Festival ahead of the National Arts Festival in Makhanda.
He was also the recipient of a Fruits of Democracy award in the arts and culture category in 2018.
“I travelled to Germany with about 15 young South African actors to collaborate with 15 more from Germany in 2017, so last year the German actors came to PE to showcase what we had put together,” he said.
Zweni has been travelling between South Africa and Germany since 2014 as part of an exchange programme which develops young actors.
Although the self-proclaimed “son of theatre” has collected numerous awards, he still remembers his first-ever accolade.
“I received my first everaward in 2006 while I was fresh and still doing my first year of theatre college, for the Most Promising Junior Performer in The Herald Showtime Awards,” he said.
Zweni was born in Somerset East but grew up in KwaDwesi in Port Elizabeth, attending Mafini Primary School and later Victoria Park High School
“I did my first play in grade 9 and that’s where the love for theatre and drama grew – and I never looked back,” he said.
He matriculated in 2005 and furthered his studies in theatre and drama at Stageworld Theatre from 2006.
Back then, his hopes were set strictly on becoming a famous actor, but he would later discover the universe had slightly different plans.
“All I’ve ever wanted to do was to act, but as time went by I saw there were a lot more people who looked up to and were inspired by what I do, so much so that I realised that if I did not use this gift to give back to my community then I will be letting myself and my community down.
“I had just hoped that I’d be on TV and that would be it, but life took another turn. I learned that theatre was the calling I would use to share information, direct and mentor young people,” Zweni said.
His work with the youth serves as his external source of inspiration while he motivates himself from the inside.
“I always tell my learners that their greatest inspiration comes from the inside, but my source of inspiration is the desire to ensure that those kids become better people in soci- ety. I am inspired by their smiles, enthusiasm and the jubilation they display after a successful performance.”
Having said that, however, collecting another award for directing is on Zweni’s mental list of goals for the year.
I did my first play in Grade 9 and that’s where the love for theatre and drama grew
ACCOLADES: Bay playwright Xabiso Zweni