Bafana Republic 1 - History

On the basis of the experience of 2006, my first year as a full-time playwright/producer, I decided that I needed a piece of theatre in my repertoire that could generate income on an ongoing basis to subsidise my plays that appealed to a more niche market audience.

The two money-spinners in the theatre industry are at opposite ends of the spectrum: either large scale musicals or one-person comic routines. The success of Pieter-Dirk Uys, Marc Lottering, Alan Commitie and others inspired me to choose the one-person route which is relatively inexpensive to produce and which is extremely portable.

I decided to focus on the 2010 FIFA World Cup as a source for two reasons:

  • it has provoked much controversy and is high up in the public consciousness and
  • if the play proved to be successful initially, there would be material for the next three years and the play could be updated (given its sketch-based style) and become an income-generating brand like Joe Barber

The public launch of the play as a concept to members of my database (people who had attended some of my previous plays), was scheduled to take place at the end of February 2007. Part of the intention of this launch was to solicit feedback to some of the writing (it was only very partially written at that time), but mostly to raise production funds for the piece. This was an experiment in trying to raise funds to produce the play by having supporters purchase tickets (at least three months) in advance.

Lindiwe Matshikiza (now based in Johannesburg) arrived in Cape Town the day before the launch to take part in my play Mixed Metaphors at the Western Cape Schools Festival. I asked Matshikiza to do a reading of excerpts of the script as it existed at the time of the Baxter launch. Mike Wills hosted the event and interviewed me about my work and this particular play, after which Matshikiza “performed” a script that she had only received the previous day. She did such an outstanding job and received such warm audience feedback, that I decided on her as the actor for the play.

In a genre largely dominated by men, with many male characters playing female roles, this would be different in that a young, black woman would play a series of different roles, many of them male roles. The one difference would be that unlike Marc Lottering, Pieter Dirk Uys, Alan Commitie and the stand-up comics, Matshikiza would be performing someone else’s script.

Die Burger Suidoosterfees had commissioned me to do a play for its festival in February 2008. Through discussions with Niel le Roux and Tanya Williams of the Festival about which play to do (the options were a new piece or a reworking of Hostile Takeover that has yet to be performed in Cape Town), it was agreed that Die Burger Suidoosterfees would sponsor Bafana Republic, and that this would be the production to be performed in 2008. In the meantime, it would tour the country and carry the branding of the Die Burger Suidoosterfees with it. Additional sponsorship was also raised from Spier (mostly to cover the costs of marketing) and the Prins Claus Fund in the Netherlands, so that the full costs of the production were guaranteed prior to its first performance.

A first draft of the script was available in April and rehearsals began in earnest in the last days of that month with Lara Bye as the director. The first milestone for the play was the inaugural Franschhoek Literary Festival scheduled for 11-13 May, with the play being invited to “premiere” there.

As a company, we (Bye, Matshikiza and I) decided to use these first public performances as part of the script’s development. After just over two weeks of rehearsals, with limited costumes, visual and sound effects and with the limitations of the NGK Church Hall in Franschhoek, Matshikiza performed Bafana Republic to two packed houses on Friday 11 and Saturday 12 May.

On both occasions, the audience members were given short questionnaires in which they were required to rate each sketch out of 10, with 1 being poor and 10 being excellent, to rate the play as a whole out of 10 and to give feedback to each scene if they wished.

We were overwhelmed by the positive feedback of the audience who were enthusiastic about Lindiwe’s performance and generous in their feedback to the script. Based on the ratings and the written and verbal feedback, I rewrote the sketches that proved to be less popular, made judicious edits and to re-ordered the scenes.

After the high of the Franschhoek Literary Festival, the play then went back into rehearsal and the impressive sound track by James Webb as well as the video and Zapiro cartoons (put together by Jaco Bouwer) were added to the production.

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