The quiet of the Fugard Theatre’s foyer gives no indication whatsoever that rehearsals for David Kramer’s latest production, District Six – Kanala, are fervently under way.
And, when he sits down to chat to me, neither does the iconic director’s demeanour.
This cool-as-a-cucumber exterior is, however, slightly cracked when he concedes: “Rehearsals are a very up-and-down process. You know, sometimes you feel energetic, sometimes you feel tired. But we’ve come to the end of week one, now and I’m feeling quite satisfied that we’re achieving something.”
The production will not only be staged at the District Six-based theatre, but will also – very fittingly – be opened on February 11, the day on which, in 1966, the apartheid government declared the famously cosmopolitan area at the foot of Table Mountain a “whites only” area. The result: homes bulldozed and thousands forcefully evicted and forced to relocate to areas across the Cape Flats.
In the show’s press release, David is quoted as saying: “Kanala will be my way of celebrating the memory of some of the amazing talents from District Six that I met and worked with over the past three decades. People like Taliep Petersen, Salie Daniels, Cyril Valentine, Billy Jaftha, Dougie Schrikker, Al Hendricks, Zayn Adam as well as Richard Rive and Vincent Kolbe. These were all friends who shared their vivid recollections of place and people with me.”
The production will feature performers such as Loukmaan Adams, Bianca le Grange, Carlo Daniels, Edith Plaatjies, Sne Dladla, Andrea Frankson, Natasha Hess and Cleo Raatus.
The performers will be accompanied by a live six-piece band under the leadership of saxophonist Don-Veno Prins, with the guidance of musical director Alistair Izobell.
Despite the production opening 50 years to the day since the lives of thousands of Capetonians were irrevocably changed, David is, as many would come to expect, sidestepping any overt political pontificating.
Says the director: “I want to remind people of what has been lost, but I see this very much as a tribute and homage to District Six and its people.”
But can one really separate the political from what happened in District Six, I ask?
Loukmaan says: “I think it is possible, yes. With this production, the focus is more on the culture of District Six; the vibe. I think what David is doing here is focusing more on the life there. It’s basically this young girl showing her grandmother’s photo album, saying, ‘Ouma used to say this… Ouma used to say that…’ Basically, telling the story of life in District Six through this photo album.”
The young girl in question is played by Bianca, who, in our conversation, concedes to having no direct connection to District Six.
“My mom used to study here back in the day and used to tell me stories about hoe die bulldozers gekom het, but that’s about it. So, when I did (the 2014 Kramer-directed, Fugard-staged production) Blood Brothers, David actually drove us through the streets of District Six – showed us places such as Hanover Street – to try and give us a basic understanding of what it was like living there.”
Far from seeing this lack of direct connection to the then District Six, Loukmaan sees it as one of the production’s strengths: “People mustn’t get confused thinking they are going to see District Six – The Musical. I mean, 90% of this production’s cast have very little or no attachment to District Six. This production is more like these talented young laaities saying: ‘We are going to take you on a trip through District Six with these beautiful images and bring those pictures to life with these amazing songs.”
But, I ask, playing devil’s advocate, why bring this story to life? Why the need to keep this story alive?
Says David: “Through, say, the writings of Richard Rive or Adam Small or looking at photographs of District Six – or listening to the music from then – it recreates that world and it brings it to life again. Let me make a comparison and say: if someone very close to you has died, you don’t just forget about them. You would maybe have a photograph of them and say, for example: ‘this was my grandfather’ or ‘this is what my grandfather did’ or ‘this is the hardship he went through’. You’ll tell your children these stories. And that’s very important, because when you tell your children your family history it gives them a sense of who they are and where they come from. If you don’t do that, there’s something missing in your story. Stories are very important.”
David adds: “What I’m very aware of, because so many years have passed, is that we’re now in the next generation. We’re in a very different South Africa and the people who lived in District Six then are now either much older or they’ve died. So when Taliep and I did the first show in 1987, it was only 20 years after that 1966 declaration. Then, there were so many people who had experienced that destruction of that community first-hand who were still alive. Since then, two decades have passed, so we need to keep informing people of what happened here. That’s the most important thing today: for reconciliation to happen, you have to understand history; you have to understand what happened in the past and you have to revisit that.”
By way of illustration, David says: “Because Taliep and I grew up during apartheid, our life experiences were very different. To me, meeting up with Taliep and bridging the divide between our two very different experiences of life in South Africa, we discovered things in ourselves that broke down prejudices. We learnt to trust each other through making music together.
Bianca later mentions: “When David talks about those experiences with Taliep, he gets so emotional,” before adding: “That’s also what we’re trying to create. When we tell these stories, the audience must feel like they miss him, too. They must feel like they miss those times.”
“You know,” David adds, “despite his hardships, Taliep had a great passion and zest for life. He had an enthusiastic approach to life. He brought joy into people’s worlds. He made people happy.”
The quiet of the theatre’s foyer returns briefly as he pauses contemplatively before adding: “With this production, what we’re trying to achieve is make people feel those emotions; to feel them through the music. Be- cause,” he smiles, “music speaks to the heart.”
* District Six – Kanala will preview at the Fugard Theatre, corner Caledon and Buitenkant streets, District Six, from Tuesday February 2 and will open officially on Thursday February 11. Tickets for preview performances cost R130 each when booking through the box office on 021 461 4554. Tickets for the remainder of the season can be booked through the box office or through Computicket. For more information, call 021 461 4554.