Mail & Guardian

Cleaning up

31 Jul 1998 00:00 | Staff Reporter

Matthew Krouse : FNB Vita Awards

The FNB Vita Theatre Awards are well into their present money-saving cycle of holding regional ceremonies only. Gone for now are the national finals, including the big night when the industry gangs up for its most comforting moment of self-celebration.

It was with some optimism that FNB's Grant Dunnington announced, at the Johannesburg awards ceremony this week, that the national finals would return in the new millennium.

Patrons, press and practitioners, who attended the Gauteng regionals at the Market Theatre, didn't exactly heave a sigh of relief when the announcement was made. Probably because in this tough city, that dominates the nation's culture, nothing can placate the theatre community any more. Not after the success of Shopping and Fucking, at any rate.

In a moment that can only be likened to the swoop of Titanic at this year's Oscars, Shopping took every major Gauteng award. These included best lighting, most promising new actor, best supporting actor, best leading actor, best leading actress, best director and, consequently, best production.

The nominations and adulations came so fast and furiously that the whole evening was reduced to an exercise in a million ways to say the word, "Fucking".

In announcing the nominations for best director, actress Jennifer Steyn decided she would add to the flavour of the moment by repeating the word another 10 times. That was just before the play's director, Yael Farber, in receiving her award, attempted to break down and cry.

The whole affair must have left the creators of the internationally acclaimed Ubu and the Truth Commission, that won nothing at all, wondering what had gone wrong. In one year they'd gone from Vita champions to disappointed nominees.

But their poor performance shouldn't be attributed to a decline in standards. The Vita judges - nice authorities that they are - simply decided to give some other people a chance.

And so the "Shoppers and Fuckers" were chosen to be the token newcomers, over and above other recent arrivals, like Obed Baloyi who created Ga-Mchangani, Thulani Didi who created Hola Majita and Sello Maake KaNcube who recently turned his talents to direction with Koze Kuze Bash.

Taking the imbalance into account, one begins to suspect this year's very white list of panellists. But the overriding success of this one show is probably owing to the numberof bums that Shopping put in its seats, causing the judges to be blinded, and thus blinkered.

At any rate, the Market Theatre must be smiling now, since its productions won nine out of the 15 categories, including the prestigious best original script that went to Brett Bailey for Imumbo Jumbo.

In other categories, the comedy and musical awards were evenly dished out to the productions of Sinderella, Defending the Caveman and Robin's A Cruise-Ou, giving other theatres at least some cause to celebrate.

But the celebration was offset by a tinge of sadness at the absence of Johannesburg's late senior critic Raeford Daniel, as well as a sense of shock at the untimely death of Matsemela Manaka.

After all the song and dance, just before actor Robert Whitehead handed out his section of the awards, he most appropriately announced: "Now let's get this over with, so that we can get to the foyer and start the bitching."

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