By Natalie Grillo
The night before the first performance of 'Every Year, Every Day, I Am Walking' (see review here) I attended a pre-show lecture given by UMass Amherst professor Dr. Megan Lewis.
Dr. Lewis is a South African performance scholar. She as well as many other people and organizations were able to bring The Magnet Theatre Company to UMass Amherst. This was the first time the company performed in the United States. Dr. Lewis discussed both the history of the theatre company as well as the history of South Africa. Last year marked the 25th anniversary for the Magnet Theatre Company. Professor Lewis described the company as making space in theatre, and being the most innovated companies in South Africa. After going over the many hardships the country has faced with politics, massacres, environmental resources, and AIDS epidemics, she described that remembering the past was everyday life in South Africa. She then defined remembering as putting the body back together. The Magnet Theatre Company is able to tell indigenous stories and bring lost stories to life on stage. Then with tears in her eyes, Dr. Lewis proudly and gladly introduced director Marc Fleishman, performers Jennie Reznek and Faniswa Yisa, and musician/composer Neo Muyanga to discuss their experiences with the company.
Faniswa began by speaking of how the most important story to tell is history, however text is often hard to deal with. Jennie then spoke of how when putting together shows they asked the question, "How do we not exclude people who speak other languages?" After all there are eleven official languages of South Africa. The notion of the body then became fundamental. Director Mark Fleishman conveyed how they needed to create a space in which people could work together towards imagination and the future. Telling stories changes the world as well as alters the way people see reality. Dr. Lewis in the beginning of the lecture noted how there is a need for theatre in South Africa. The Magnet Theatre found a way to tell stories to people who speak all languages. They don't just tell stories, they tell history, which is not always happy and pretty, and often times controversial. So why risk telling these stories that some people are not comfortable with? Marc responded with the following questions, "Do you choose to represent or do you choose to remain silent? What is ethical?" By representing, history is able to be told and people like myself are able to learn. History is a huge part of remembering, accepting, and then moving on and learning from mistakes.
The next night following the opening performance of Every Year, Every Day, I Am Walking, there was a post-show discussion with the same people. The majority of the discussion was about physical theatre. The panel discussed how physicality is simply another language. Physical theatre is theatre that starts with simply the body in a space; it is not created with pre-determined text. Jennie Reznek described it perfectly when she said, "To teach a body to move is to teach a body to be free." This freedom was so well displayed by The Magnet Theatre Company. Two bodies beautifully told a story, went through a wide range of emotions, and were able to move an audience. It was clear that Dr. Megan Lewis felt extremely strongly about this company and bringing them to the United States, and it is now clear why.
Theatre is all about telling a story, and there are many different stories to tell and many ways to tell them. I have such a respect and appreciation for The Magnet Theatre company for telling honest yet difficult stories of South Africa's history, and using physical theatre to do this.
'Every Year, Every Day, I Am Walking' ran at the The Rand Theatre at University of Massachusett's Amherst Theater January 30-February 2.
For more information on The Magnet Theatre Company, click here.