Short, Sharp & Snappy 1 and 2

Southern African plays for high schools

Compiled by: Robin Malan and Colleen Moroukian

Publisher: Junkets Publisher

ISBN: 978-0-9869875-9-5

There are few people as well known in the worlds of South African publishing and literature as Robin Malan.

Now wearing his Junkets Publisher hat, he and cocompiler Colleen Moroukian put out a call in 2010 for short plays suitable for performance or rehearsed reading in high schools, and for students aged 13-19. Fifty-seven plays were submitted, and the standard was so high that Malan and Moroukian decided there was material easily good enough for two volumes. Junkets Publisher published the two simultaneously as Short, Sharp & Snappy 1 and Short, Sharp & Snappy 2.

Diverse people, places and premises

Says Malan: “The playwrights range from experienced writers for the stage to those for whom this is their first play. In age they range from 16-77, and they come from a wide variety of places in southern Africa – Kwekwe, Simon’s Town, Olievenhoutbosch and Schoenmakerskop. The plays concern a wide variety of themes and issues, including bullying in schools, life in small South African towns, unwanted babies, slavery, traditional African folk tales, dysfunctional families, love, sexual harassment in the workplace, HIV/Aids education, caring for children with disabilities, transport and the supernatural.”

A launch to remember

Junkets Publisher launched the collection on World Aids Day, 1 December 2011. Malan’s description of the event confirms it as one of the most enjoyable, memorable and important literary events of recent times. “The weather: Western-Cape-summer superb. The venue: the Distell Foundation Oude Libertas Art Gallery-and- Auditorium just outside Stellenbosch. “Over 70 people made it into the balmy countryside to celebrate these two new books, including 11 Short, Sharp & Snappy playwrights: Rob K Baum, Margaret Clough, M Cassiem D’arcy, Suenel Holloway, André Lemmer, Peter Krummeck, Barry Morgan, Renée Muller, Jonathan Khumbulani Nkala, Caitlin Spring and David Stein.

“Gaby Claassens, drama teacher at Abbott’s College, was there with two drama students, Angella Silindu and Lotlhe Motsisi. Daphne Zwane, head of English at Chris Hani High School, was accompanied by Lwando Mbetha, the student who played the title role in Darlington Sibanda’s very imaginative and successful production of Macbeth. Also present as guests were, among others, writer Sindiwe Magona, actor and director Bo Petersen, filmmaker Liza Key, writer Ros Haden, television director Tamara Semevsky and teen-novelist Anne Schlebusch.”

A touching address and moving performance

Malan was particularly touched by the address given by distinguished theatre personality Janice Honeyman. “She recalled first seeing Moroukian and me in the Theatre for Youth production of the Mexican play Seraphina in 1959 when she was a young girl. As a school student, she attended the first of the Winter Schools of Drama that we ran for Theatre for Youth in 1964. When I was artistic director of PACT Playwork theatrein- education company in the mid-1970s, I invited Honeyman to be my assistant director. So, the connections linking the three of us have endured for 52 years.”

Jonathan Khumbulani Nkala, a young playwright whose play Faith in Love appears in volume 1 and whose The Bicycle Thief appears in volume 2, also participated in the launch event; performing his poem ‘Xavier’s lament’, which deals with the Aids-related death of a young six-year-old neighbour in Zimbabwe. “His performance of his own work was poignant and powerful,” recalls Malan.

Young actors give ‘voice’ to Short, Sharp & Snappy play

Finally, The Lost Voices, a group of young actors from New Crossroads and Philippi, presented extracts from Monti Jola’s play The New Struggle, which appears in volume two of the Short, Sharp & Snappy collections. “This extraordinary piece of theatre exploded in a powerful indictment of the thoughtless sexual behaviour of some young people and the failure of our education system to teach our young people to think and to feel properly. People were stunned and amazed and exhilarated by the skill and the commitment of this young theatre group, comprised of present and recent school students, who achieved success with their presentation of The New Struggle during the Zabalaza Festival at the Baxter Theatre in 2011,” enthuses Malan.

“The point of the play,” says author Monti Jola, an experienced writer and director of community theatre, “is that the political struggle may be over, but we now have to mobilise the youth to fight this new struggle, the scourge of this disease. The play shows young people coming to terms with these things inside their own schools.”

Short, Sharp & Snappy very sassy

The New Struggle is certainly one of the most accessible pieces in the Short, Sharp & Snappy series, because of its numerous potential dramatic applications and subject matter. Too many theatre-in-education ‘HIV/Aids plays’ fail because they take the didactic element too far. In a clever and wittily realised twist, in this instance, however, playwrights and cast deliberately embroil the audience/reader in both an actual classroom and a ‘playwithin- a-play’, where fast-paced dialogue separates out myth from fact. As an added bonus, the shocking denouement pays tribute to a particularly South African tradition; – anti-apartheid ‘struggle’ theatre.

Another stand-out script in these unique compilations is Cry Sis! Identity (No Wonder bra), created by Suenel Holloway and students at the McGregor Waldorf School. Billed as satirical revue, and born out of preparation for a final matric drama examination, it will satisfy any teenager’s desire to shock and any adult’s desire for a mature, searing exploration of identity in the ‘new’ South Africa.

Malan is right to describe every play in the two-volume compilation as “raw, gritty, even uncomfortable”; perfect material for everyone involved in drama, theatre arts and performing arts in high schools, universities, teacher-training institutions and libraries. Short enough for school-based experimental theatrical production, yet long enough to give young directors and actors valuable experience, they are the kind of plays drama teachers and their students – always on the lookout for fresh, boundary-pushing works to use in class, and for examination purposes – have been waiting for. Says Malan: “Soon after despatch of the first orders, teachers contacted us, saying things like: ‘Got the plays and started reading already – they are wonderful!’, and ‘Our copies arrived this morning – the pupils are already selecting’.”

Short, Sharp & Snappy 1 and 2 are already causing a stir. The New Struggle was screened on national television, the University of Johannesburg selected from the compilations for a recent season of its popular S.A. Shorts, and more than one school reports using them for annual play festivals. Best you get with the programme.

Category: Winter 2012

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