Stage presents: Monageng Vice Motshabi. Picture: SUPPLIED
Stage presents: Monageng Vice Motshabi. Picture: SUPPLIED

Theatre director and writer Monageng Vice Motshabi has a smile on his face — for good reason. After crafting several plays over the years, some as collaborative endeavours with other like-minded thespians, he is now reaping the rewards.

He is the recipient of the 2017 Standard Bank Young Artist Award, which gives him the opportunity to develop new work to present at the National Arts Festival to be held in Grahamstown from June 29.

The annual festival is attended by thousands of people, including leading theatre producers looking for new talent.

Winning this award also gave Motshabi a renewed sense of urgency to complete what he had been working on for two years – a book of plays. Entitled The Palms of the Time, it is scheduled for launch this week.

The book features Rebellations, a play Motshabi cowrote with Kgafela Oa Magogodi, and two other works by fellow playwrights — Xoli Norman’s Hallelujah and Mpumelelo Paul Grootboom and Aubrey Sekhabi’s Inter-racial.

The three works, which deal with contemporary issues in SA such as identity, race politics, violence and governance issues, have been performed to critical acclaim, but have disappeared from theatre stages.

"It is sad to witness such great work disappear from the public consciousness and from our stages, particularly after leaving such a huge impression in the minds and hearts of the audiences that saw the productions," says Motshabi.

"It is important that we preserve our theatrical and artistic legacy, and it is for this reason I undertook this venture of publishing these plays, and others will follow in the future."

The book’s foreword by writer and director Warona Seane captures the essence of the plays. "This publication is a journey through our oftentimes macabre existence as citizens of the world, and more importantly of SA. A triumph through the souls, imagining an otherwise reality amid predictable headlines lining the poles of our streets, the disparities in notions of forgiveness, state-enforced mercy, internalised violence that never finds its warranted target and the myriad of spaces we inhabit as we attempt to navigate our lives towards hope."

Motshabi says being declared the Standard Bank Young Artist for 2017 gave him the confidence to publish the book.

"It feels good and is encouraging to realise that people out there are noticing what one is doing. It simply says that one is on the right track," says the 2001 graduate of the Market Theatre Laboratory.

I have always believes that the destiny of SA is linked to that of the African continent

Motshabi has a rare affinity for collaborations and cowrote his new play, which will premiere at the National Arts Festival, with Omphile Molusi.

"The new work is called Ankobia and the name is derived from Ashanti Twi, a prominent Ghanaian language.

"Although at this stage I would not like to talk a lot about the new piece as we are keeping it as a surprise for the audiences in Grahamstown, Ankobia speaks to the idea of memory and the absence of it," he says.

"I deliberately named this play in a Ghanaian language as an act of self-consciousness. I could have given the play a seTswana name, which is my mother tongue, but I could not find a word in that language, or any South African language for that matter, which aptly captures the essence of ankobia in Ashanti Twi.

"In all the work I have created so far, authenticity is important. I have always believed that the destiny of SA is linked to that of the African continent, of which we are part," says Motshabi.

"In all my work, I always try to infuse the essence of the continent, particularly looking into the idea of reclaiming what is good about the continent, but which has been lost over the years because of colonialism — for example, the unresolved issue of land dispossession."

Motshabi says although winning the Standard Bank Young Artist Award is a huge step forward, he does not feel there is now added creative pressure.

"I continue to work at the pace I have always worked throughout my career. If there is any pressure, it is self-consciously generated, coming from within myself to do the best that I can do, creating pieces that stand out and that connect with audiences," he says.

Motshabi’s body of work includes Echoes (2006), Obone Eng (2007) and Chasing Laughter (2008). They have been performed on several stages to critical acclaim, including at the Soweto Theatre and the Fugard Theatre in Cape Town.

"None of these plays were directed by me. Usually, when I write a piece, I prefer that someone else directs the work.

"That way you avoid a situation where you start directing the piece on the page instead of giving an opportunity for directorial perfection by handing over the duty to someone who will look at it from a fresh perspective," he says.

"I know it is not easy to surrender your piece to someone else as there is always a fear that they will mess up your work.

"I had to teach myself to accept the idea of getting someone else to direct some of my work because that way, the end result is always pleasing."

Motshabi has occasionally directed his own works, such as Pap Stories — an adaptation of Dambudzo Marechera’s Pub Stories — at the Harare Festival of the Arts in 2013, where it was well received.

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