World Theatre Day 2024: Klara van Rooyen responds

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World Theatre Day was celebrated on 27 March. Klara van Rooyen, one of the participants of the LitNet STAND theatre review writing workshop, talks to Naomi Meyer about the significance of the day.

World Theatre Day was celebrated recently. What does this mean to you? What do you think it means to the people you know (and to other South Africans)?

It is often said that South Africa does not have a theatre-going culture, so the day is a good tool to remind the public that theatre exists. I say this partly in jest, because performance and storytelling are part of our country’s cultural core and we are natural audience members (if we break away from stereotypical ideas of “theatre”). Today is an opportunity to remind people of the variety of theatre that exists (especially in South Africa), the importance of the art form, and to challenge our notions of what theatre is and can be.

It makes me think about theatres in a physical sense, like physical theatres and set designs and how these spaces are haunting memory machines. I think I might honour the day by assembling (or rather, playing with) a paper toy theatre I recently bought of illustrator Edward Gorey’s award-winning set design for Dracula (the theatre production). 

What is the meaning of live theatre in this modern world? Why even bother with theatre? It is so expensive, why not simply spend money on other things? Is theatre important at all?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and I keep returning to the idea that theatre is actually imperative for the modern world. It is one of the few public spaces we have left where something truly transcendental and authentic is happening – a place that allows for mystery, strangeness, and dreaming. The modern (specifically Western) world is very big on realism, reason, and materialism. We forget that these are new ideas, and I think they’ve turned quite stale. Humans have always been drawn to the transcendental, and transcending is inherent to theatre, don’t you think?

Theatre allows us to explore new ideas and worlds, gives us tools to digest and understand the world, and helps us imagine and experience different ways of being. It offers a doorway to transcendence.

Also, with machine learning and AI encroaching on the arts, theatre is a nice antidote. Since performance is inherently authentic, analogue and immediate, it offers a nice reprieve from an increasingly digitized world. For now, at least ...

What do you think about the position of South African theatre? Anything you want to say about productions created, about festivals, anything you’d like to write about regarding this topic?

As a big puppetry nerd I have been excited to see an increase in the use of puppetry in “serious” local theatre productions at recent festivals. I love to see the general public’s response to it – they are amazed, as though they’ve been starved of something they did not know they were craving. Drawing back to the idea that theatre offers a doorway to transcendence: Transcendence is at the heart of puppetry. I often steal world-renowned puppeteer Basil Twist’s phrase that puppetry is an "elemental ancient magic". In a country like South Africa, where resources and support for theatre are scant, puppetry offers a universe of possibilities that can reignite our theatre scene. Puppetry can transcend language and cultural barriers, conveying rich and complex worlds while challenging preconceived boundaries. I am super-excited about the presence of the giant puppet Nana at this year’s Suidoosterfees. 

Also read:

LitNet | STAND theatre review workshop: Klara van Rooyen's review of Droomkraan-kronieke (final version)

World Theatre Day 2024: Paul Kammies responds

World Theatre Day 2024: Jeani Heyns responds

World Theatre Day 2024: Jane Mpholo responds

World Theatre Day 2024: Ignus Rademeyer responds

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