Award to two EC theatre icons richly deserved

Rhodes>Perspective>2013 Archive

With more than 30 years of performing at the National Arts Festival, South African theatre legend Andrew Buckland has developed a signature style of performance.

His huge body of work, which has been honoured both nationally and internationally, is provocative, entertaining and stimulating. Using a dynamic and exciting combination of visual comedy, clowning, physical theatre and mime, Buckland is a sophisticated storyteller and an astute political satirist. Similarly, over more than four decades, South African actress Nomhle Nkonyeni has made an immeasurable contribution to South African theatre.

Although for many people Nkonyeni may be best known for her roles as a performer on radio, television and theatre, there is another side of her work which is rooted in her devotion to sharing her knowledge of her craft with younger aspiring actors and actresses.

Nkonyeni's passion for the performing arts has encouraged her to create opportunities for young people so they can share in her enjoyment of her craft and learn its secrets. Both Nkonyeni and Buckland have given many opportunities to a younger generation of artists to take full advantage of their generosity as teachers, facilitators and mentors.

Both artists have placed a high premium on giving younger artists the opportunities to perform with them, direct them and to write for them. Nkonyeni and Buckland are at the core of the kind of open access spirit and philosophy which underlines the ethos of the Fringe programme at the National Arts Festival.

They have nurtured a growing sense of the need for a radical change in the place and purpose of theatre in South Africa. To create a truly viable and meaningful "people's theatre", to which all can contribute and which benefits all, they have been at the forefront of empowering younger artists by supporting incubator arts companies in the Eastern Cape.

Buckland is associated with the Grahamstown-based Ubom Theatre Company and Nkonyeni is associated with the Port Elizabeth-based Eastern Cape Performing Arts Company. Both their outstanding contributions have served to bring drama closer to its full potential as an integral part of community life.

She has also been honoured by the organistation, Woman of the World, for her efforts in breaking down barriers in live theatre for South Africa's performers and audiences. Most recently, she received the Eastern Cape Metropolitan achievers award for a lifetime in the theatre as both a performer and an educator. Her commitment to the theatre also led to her to continue her own personal growth and education so as to better guide others.

She completed both a master's degree in theatre for development at King Alfred's College in Winchester and a diploma in conflict management at London's Lewsham College. Now, having returned to her home town of Port Elizabeth, she has taken on the role of patron of the Port Elizabeth Opera House.

In this latest demonstration of her dedication to passing along her knowledge of her craft, she has worked with a group of Eastern Cape young artists for one of the Opera House's showcases for the National Arts Festival, directing them in their work, Truck Driver.

In 1986 Andrew Buckland was awarded the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for drama. For his showcase production at the festival he co-authored a production with Soli Philander and performed Pas De Deux about the life of Nijinsky.

Since then his original plays have won 18 national and international theatre awards, including several for best performance, best script, best production and play of the year. He spent 2008-2009 performing for Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas. Since July 1992, Buckland has been employed in the drama department at Rhodes University and in July 2010 he was appointed head of the department.

His excellence as a creative artist is paralleled by his reputation as a respectable theatre professor and his unwavering commitment as a staunch arts activist. Buckland and Nkonyeni are both Eastern Cape artists.

When all the festival venues have been packed up and after all the logistics have been rounded off for the 2013 National Arts Festival, there is absolute certainty that the work for Buckland and Nkonyeni will not yet have ended. Both these icons will continue to plough their efforts into continuing to invest in building the next generation of artists.

As for their standing ovations, the echo from the applause will still resonate for many more years.

By Ismail Mahomed

Ismail Mahomed is the artistic director of the National Arts Festival. He writes in his personal capacity.

Photo Caption: ANDREW BUCKLAND, Creative Spirit

Article Source: The Herald.