Playwright Matome Rapetsoa gets message to the masses
Industrial theatre producer Rapetsoa enjoys phenomenal success crafting plays that carry a corporate message, writes Edward Tsumele
When theatre writer, actor, director and producer Matome Rapetsoa became a radio actor at the age of six, and stage actor at 12, he believed he was carving out a path to a successful career on the commercial stage.
Instead, he found a niche as a producer in industrial theatre, and he has made a phenomenal success of it — for himself and several actors.
Rapetsoa crafts plays that appeal to the corporate market. They are produced by his company, Mahuma Group, based in Centurion, Pretoria.
The young playwright, who graduated from the Tshwane University of Technology in speech and drama, is already a big name in industrial theatre.
His latest production, Time is Money, Save Now, which is touring the country, was commissioned by the Financial Services Board (FSB) to encourage South Africans to save.
"I got an opportunity to work with the FSB in 2015, after they deemed it necessary that, because, generally, South Africans are bad savers, there was a need for an intervention," Rapetsoa says.
"The lack of a savings culture is even worse among the ranks of ordinary people. This is due to … a lack of information about saving, but more importantly, the lack of financial literacy.
"The issue is very simple. One does not need to have millions of rand to save. If you respect one cent today, you will respect millions of rand tomorrow. For example, if people save R5 a day, by the end of the year they would have more than R1,500 in their bank accounts."
Time is Money, Save Now has been performing in communities since 2015 — in cities and far-flung areas off the beaten track. Rapetsoa says the results have been amazing.
"I have been quite surprised by the response and the feedback that I have been getting from people who have watched this production," he says.
This is the beauty of industrial theatre: it can happen anywhere as it is easier to improvise than conventional theatre
The play appeals to people, he says, because "it is quite an interactive production that is adaptable to the local situation. For example, we will always use the language predominantly spoken in a specific community, and the characters are such that people easily recognise them.
"Time is Money, Save Now has two central characters. [One is] an old man, who has retired in style from his factory job, and has been financially prudent in his working life as he saved well. He has bought a house for his family and is living off his savings. He has not touched his retirement funds. He is the pride of his community.
"The other character is broke, has exhausted his retirement funds and has not even bought a house for his family. He used to be a man about town, drinking single-malt whisky and shopping expensively in capitals of the world, including in Dubai. Now he has nothing."
Rapetsoa roped in his father, Mahuma Paul Rapetsoa, a well-known playwright himself and former head of drama at SABC radio station Thobela FM, as director of the play.
Time is Money, Save Now has toured Gauteng, North West, Limpopo and the Eastern Cape.
Young South Africans should dream big and desist from having an attitude of entitlement
"At some places, because we use public venues, we attracted as many as 2,000 people, which we would not be able to do in a conventional theatre due to capacity issues," Rapetsoa says.
"This is the beauty of industrial theatre: it can happen anywhere as it is easier to improvise than conventional theatre."
The play toured the Free State from October 19 before moving to the Northern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal and will be in the Western Cape from February 2018.
"When I look back, I am proud of what I have done with my theatre skills since 2003 when I went on my own after leaving acting in my father’s productions as well as on TV," Rapetsoa says.
"I have built a company, the Mahuma Group, from scratch.
"It is an outlet for theatrical work, but has grown to become a multimedia company that also provides communications, branding, media buying and event management solutions to corporate clients.
"Not even in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be where I am today — one of the main players in industrial theatre in the country.
"I took advantage of an information dissemination gap in the market, and I am using the skills I know best, which is theatre, to fill that gap, and it is working amazingly well.
"This proves that young South Africans should dream big and desist from having an attitude of entitlement as is often the case — especially among young black people today."