This year’s Baxter Zabalaza Theatre Festival line-up boasted an impressive 56 local productions. Featuring drama, musical theatre, comedy and much more, the 2017 event was bigger and better than ever before. This was the seventh year of an event designed to showcase South Africa’s theatrical talent.
Zabalaza is the Baxter Theatre’s flagship development programme. The objective is to create a platform for young, promising artists enabling them to realise their creative talent. This year it was all about fresh ideas and innovation. 300 talented artists took to the stage from 18 to 25 March to put on a spectacular visual feast for audiences. The main programme or Zabalaza Week ran from Monday 20 to Friday 25 March with daily performances in English, IsiXhosa, IsiZulu, Sesotho, Setswane and Afrikaans. Productions were selected from mini-festivals held across the Western Cape earlier this year. The introduction of reggae in this 2017 line-up aimed to attract a broader audience of musical theatre lovers. The primary funder of the festival is the Western Cape Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport with some assistance from the City of Cape Town.
Lara Foot is festival host and the CEO / artistic director of the Baxter Theatre Centre. She says that development initiatives are integral to the growth of the industry and believes that the Baxter Theatre has an important role to play in cultivating emerging talent. “The Baxter Zabalaza Theatre Festival has produced many success stories and it has given rise to great young stars that have graced the world’s stages in a short period, gathering accolades along the way. Many other artists have become recognised and have managed to carve careers for themselves in the arts, both locally and abroad,” says Foot.
Behind every successful large-scale event is a dedicated, creative team. Artistic director Thami Mbongo, co-ordinator Zoleka Helesi, executive manager Bongile Mantsai, administrator Akhona Shinga and audience development officer, Monde Myataza are the driving force behind the Zabalaza initiative. In 2016, Zabalaza won a prestigious Fleur du Cap award for ‘Innovation in Theatre’ and in the same year, Mbongo received the Western Cape Department of Cultural Affairs and Sports Ministerial award for the ‘Best Contribution to Drama’ in the province. To date, six Zabalaza play scripts have been published through a partnership with Junket Publishers. “Zabalaza is about building a community of theatre-makers, guiding them and caring for their development every step of the way. Every year I am encouraged by, not only the work, but also the support and faith that these artists have in us. This allows us to expand the programme for artists and audiences, so that we are able to build a community and live the spirit of Zabalaza,” says Mbongo.