Women claim their ground at the Olive Tree in Joburg theatre festival


Just when you thought the cultural calendar in Joburg was calming down, November brings the 5th Women’s International Theatre Festival. Running from November 4, the event offers a fresh feast of theatre and performance, with 13 plays, two dance pieces, daily film screenings and an evening of music – all work that celebrates women in theatre.

Away from the usual cultural hubs such as Newtown and Maboneng, the Olive Tree Theatre in Alex is an oasis of cultural incubation.

Director and curator, Ntshieng Mokgoro, a former Standard Bank Young Artist for Drama has created a space where artists of all stages of their professional careers can present work in an atmosphere of mutual support.

“Female theatre-makers in South Africa needed a space, and opportunities, where they could try out new work, and Alex needed a space for theatre, so we managed to secure the second floor of the Yarona Mall, where we have been growing from strength to strength,” says Ntshieng.

“It’s not about excluding anybody, or complaining about issues. Rather, it’s about celebrating us, and some of the incredible talented female artists in the country who don’t necessarily always get exposure.

“This is the 5th year of the women’s festival and it is growing. A lot of emerging directors have gone on to make successful work which has launched their careers.”

This year, emerging directors are paired with mentoring directors – there are representatives from Botswana, Namibia and Botswana.

Acclaimed academic and theatre-maker Refiloe Lepere will conduct a writing workshop, and Zinzi Mhlongo a directing workshop.

The festival also provides space for theatre-makers to engage in debate and shared problem solving with a panel discussion on 7th November entitled Claiming our Ground, Sustaining Our Futures: Women, Leadership and Theatre.

This year’s crop of emerging directors include Binnie Christie, an enthusiastic young theatre-maker from Wits, presenting She Said, She Said, a modern-day absurd play with dark comedy, witty banter and innovative staging. The play “will appeal to any woman who’s ever had to stop herself from snooping through her boyfriend’s things.”

Nomvuyo Hlophe, an MTech student in Drama at Tshwane University of Technology presents Paradise Falls, while Palesa Matabane, an MA student in Drama and Film Studies at the University of Pretoria, presents Senohe, a play that questions the life of the abused icon, Khono Mantsopa, the prophetess born in 1795.

Dineo Matebese, a trained filmmaker who has recently fallen in love with theatre, presents The Boy – a play about a night-shifter who trawls the sometimes violent, always drug-infested streets of the capital city exchanging his services of the night for money.  Deciding he has had enough of being taken advantage of by the local pimp, he plans to leave the city.

Donna Steel, versatile performer, director and graduate of UKZN Howard College Campus, presents Femme Fatale, which she describes as a sinful blend of comedy and horror about women driven to harm those they love.

Zimbabwean actress, director and writer Privillage Mutendera will be presenting What Makes a Woman?. She has been nominated three times for an outstanding best actress of the National Arts Merit Awards (NAMA) in Zimbabwe.  She has also directed and written plays performed at SADC Women in Theatre and Dance Festival 2010.

Neelo Lentebanye, who presents Birthright, is a writer, director and actor hailing from Botswana. She describes this platform as exactly what she needs to get a head start towards her upcoming directing career.

“I found out about the Women’s Theatre Festival when I visited South Africa to see a show recently and I was overwhelmed and excited about the role of women in arts as this space showed me that we are making it. My story speaks to women and undoubtedly myself and all the other women across the regions in Africa,” Lentebanye said.

The emerging directors have been paired with experienced professionals, Philisiwe Twijnstra, Megan Godsell, Tamara Guhrs, Momo Matsunyane, and Sonia Radebe.

Momo, who has an Honours Degree in Dramatic Arts, Film and Television in 2011 from Wits, is motivated by the power of the arts for her generation.

“I am inspired by past Afrikan leaders who were executed because of what they stood for, they have taught me that silence and passivity doesn’t serve anyone and that it’s my responsibility to have a voice and to exercise it, ” she explains.

Her play Penny explores some of the challenges faced by actors in trying to navigate the fickle business of show and some of the repercussions of mixing business with pleasure.

Tamara Guhrs presents The Three Witches, created “in a process of collaborative conjuring” with Khutjo Green, Mwenya Kabwe and Tshego Khutsoane. The piece explores ideas about feminine power, mystical lineage and the bonds of magical kinship.

Sonia Radebe, who presents Broken Chants, believes in using the body to tell stories and, through them, to create dialogue and greater inter-connectedness in society. Radebe hails from White City, was introduced to dance by the Arco Dance Theatre in Soweto and joined Moving into Dance Mophatong in 2001.

Her career has been punctuated by a number of accolades, most notably being acknowledged in 2007 by the Gauteng MEC for Arts and Culture as the Dance Umbrella’s most outstanding female dancer in contemporary style and in 2011 being awarded the Gauteng Dance Manyano best female dancer of the decade award. She also won the 2015 Naledi Theatre Award for best choreographer.

Megan Godsell’s play Talking to Water, forms part of her MA Performance in Participatory Theatre at Wits School of Dramatic Art. The work asks what is water? What does it do? What do you remember about it?

Namibian theatre maker and performer Nelago Shilongoh is a theatre maker and performer with an Afrocentric approach to her work. KUKU is an expression of the memories and lessons learnt, an inquiry into life, along with the love and guidance of a Grandmother.

Thandi Dorcas Ramashe, a Market Theatre Laboratory graduate whose work – Un-discover Me, will be showing for the first time, says that the festival provides the perfect platform for new and developing artists like herself.

Finally, SA Dutch collaboration Abafazi will takes audiences on a musical extravaganza to close the festival on Sunday, November 13.

For those wishing to make an outing of this occasion, group packages are available for R350 per person which include transport, a tour of Alex heritage sites, a light meal and a show.

For more information, contact Ntshieng Mokgoro on 011 048 6152 and visit the Facebook page and website for updates. The schedule is attached.


The festival runs from November 4 to 13 at the Olive Tree Theatre, 2nd Floor Yarona Mall, Corner 3rd Street & Watt Avenue, Wynberg. All tickets R60.

For more information go to:

You can also follow @womenstheatrefestival and @olivetreetheatr using the hashtags #WTF #OTT #Womenstheatre




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