Wynberg Boys high School drama department take new approach to Othello with gender swop on lead roles for 11th Shakespeare Schools Festival at Artscape
Wynberg Boys' Acting Association (WBAA) will be presenting their unique abridged version of Othello at this year's Shakespeare Schools Festival South Africa (SSFSA), with the roles of Othello and Desdemona played by a female and male respectively. The SSFSA, taking place at Artscape and the Masque Theatre, launched a day late due to interruptions caused by the devastating Devil's Peak fire.
With gender-based violence and societal injustices being strong themes in this tragic production, director Thomas Hugo and his cast explored the topic with great sensitivity and the decision has given rise to a highly impacting theatrical performance. Hugo is a Matric Learner at WBGH and Head of Drama and this year marks the third play he is directing at the 11th Shakespeare Schools Festival with the school's two performances taking place Wednesday 21 and Friday 23 April at 7pm. Hugo has also choreographed fight scenes, assisted by an excellent crew of WBHS Learners on sound, lighting and costuming. The cast of eleven - a small group in order to comply with COVID protocols - comprises nine learners from Wynberg Boys' High School (WBHS) and two from Wynberg Girls' High School (WGHS), coming together under the auspices of the WBAA. Joint productions are a regular occurrence when circumstances require it, and previous productions include Shrek, the Musical by WBHS in 2019 and The Importance Of Being Earnest by WGHS in 2020.
The WBAA and WGHS drama departments have always been open to casting people of all genders into any role, regardless of what character's gender might be. Casting is based solely on acting ability and role compatibility and in Othello, there are three actors playing the opposite sex, namely Sive Makapela from WGHS as Othello, Mikail Maneveld from WBHS as Desdemona and Benjamin Badiali who takes on two roles as a female, the Senator and Bianca. "The decision to cast Bianca and Desdemona was simple" says Hugo, "as in the audition process it was clear that both Mikail and Benjamin were incredibly well suited to their respective roles. There was a lot of discussion around the decision and everyone involved was extremely comfortable to go ahead with the approach." The cast were also allowed to explore the WBHS costume room and many brought their own items of clothing to build their own costume ensembles, so long as it supported the WBAA's Shakespearean vision.
The way the SSFSA works is that schools prepare and perform abridged versions of the Shakespeare play of their choice, approximately thirty to forty minutes in duration, and year after year innovative interpretations have continued to astound audiences. Staging a Shakespeare play is a challenge and from start to finish the SSFSA provides guidance and resources, assisting with scripts, acting tips and directing and there are a number of educational programs that exist to benefit educators, emerging learner-directors and casts. "The SSFSA is an ideal way for young people to explore their dramatic potential in a fun, developmental way and in a non-competitive environment", said Stuart-Linger. The SSFSA is managed holistically and aside from the on-stage aspect the focus is also on the promotion of life skills with a spotlight on literacy, classic literature and the performing arts.
The Shakespeare Schools Festival its at Artscape until April 24th, followed by a limited season at The Masque Theatre in Muizenberg from May 6-8, with all shows beginning at 7pm and tickets R50 at both venues available through Computicket and 0861.9158000. For more info visit www.ssfsa.co.za.