The Multi-Talented Siphokazi Jonas is about to return to Artscape with her hit show ‘Around The Fire’. i was fortunate enough to be given the chance to ask her a couple of questions about the production but first let me allow her to set the scene:
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‘Following the success of her Wrestling With Dawn production, in late 2015, and 2016’s sold-out masterpiece, Around The Fire, the much-applauded producer, playwright, performer and UCT Masters graduate, Siphokazi Jonas, is rekindling Around The Fire.
Not one to rest on her laurels, Jonas has unpacked, rebuilt and infused the original 90-minute stage production for its Artscape Arena reveal from 7 to 11 August 2018.
Staying true to the original South African script, the entirely accessible and adapted narrative unfolds within a unique fusion of theatre, poetry and live music.
Four women, all from very different backgrounds, Mbali, Faiza, Amber and Angel, find themselves sharing a makeshift fire on a rainy Cape Town evening. Brought together by unexpected circumstances, the four form a bond as fierce and fleeting as the fire. Mbali, the homeless guardian of the fire, and Eastern Cape ‘refugee’, liberates the stories that brought them together in an effort to understand her newfound place in a city that renders her invisible. Jonas weaves all four characters together through dialogue and poetry with a live band playing an integral ‘fifth character’ in innovative modes of storytelling.’
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# Thank you so much for giving us some of your valuable time. You created ‘Around the Fire’ in 2016 and you are about to bring it back for another run. Is this the very same play that audiences were introduced to four years ago, or did you give it a bit of a makeover in any way?
Siphokazi Jonas: I actually wrote the show in 2015 so this is a third version. There have been some major changes such as a new band and the use of indigenous instruments. The core of the story remains the same, but I have developed the script and it feels as if the characters themselves have grown. We also have new costumes and a very interesting set!
# This is a one-woman multi-character play but it includes a band who have been described as the ‘fifth character’ of the piece. Firstly can you share some of the process that takes you from a blank page to a four-woman play and secondly can you give us a bit of insight as to the part the band played in the creative process: described by some as a sort of ‘fifth character’ did they have much input as you were putting ‘Around the Fire’ together or did you simply create the whole thing yourself and tell them what to do?
Siphokazi Jonas: The process for this was somewhat simple in that I interviewed three women in real life and then created a fourth fictional character. The stories of the three women gave me a lot to work with and my job was really to draw out the share human experiences and to create a relationship between the four characters.
The fifth character has to do with using music as a voice in the story. It is integral to the telling of the story as it is completely live and we do not have any backtracks. So, although the musicians are not involved in the writing of the script, they create soundscapes, and bring the story to life through sound. Jason Skippers and I composed the basic melodies and lyrics for most of the songs but through rehearsal, the band has helped build the music into a character.
# ‘Around the Fire’ tells the story of four women from very different backgrounds – Mbali, Faiza, Amber and Angel – who are brought together by unexpected circumstances. Was there ever the temptation to find three other talented women to perform this alongside you, or was it always going to be a one woman, four roles kind of story?
Siphokazi Jonas: It was always envisioned as a one-woman show as it was less dialogical in nature and rather structured around monologues and poetry. I think that if it were played by four actors it would be very different and interesting challenge!
# i read that ‘Around the Fire’ follows on from your three one-woman shows “Poetry Under the Stars”, “Wrestling with Dawn” and “Conspiracy Theory” – do you see this as a continuation of themes and story from the previous shows or does it live more as a standalone?
Siphokazi Jonas: The play does stand alone as it is my first professional play and all the others were poetry shows. But the concerns and themes are shared as they are about the place women make for themselves in the world and how we create community, how we deal with trauma and make joy for ourselves.
# What is your hope for an audience member at the end of an evening as they return home after watching ‘Around the Fire’? What message or feeling or experience are you hoping they will leave the production with?
Siphokazi Jonas: The show is quite heavy in nature because of the seriousness of the subject matter. However, my hope is that people will feel empowered to have conversations, and ask questions of others and of themselves, and to claim space. For some my hope is that it will help catalyse a journey towards healing. This show is a conversation starter.
# In 2016 you performed at one of the largest poetry slam events in the world, in Los Angeles, California. Was there a marked difference between performing your work overseas and back home?
Siphokazi Jonas: I think that the South African audience have an intrinsic understanding of certain cultural references and popular culture so the response can be slightly different as we understand each other. But as I was in an audience which shared both faith and a love for spoken word, it was not t0o hard to get the necessary connection.
# What can we expect next from Siphokazi Jonas, after “Around the Fire” has finished its run?
Siphokazi Jonas: Hopefully, I will get some rest! But Festival season is approaching so I will be doing some events in Gauteng as well as the Open Book Festival, Music Exchange, and The Justice Conference in Cape Town.
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“Around The Fire was always intended as a catalyst to start a conversation,” Jonas points out. “Our 2016 performance did that very successfully, so capitalising and weaving audience feedback and reactions in, as well as our current and future reality, is what audiences new and returning will experience. Breaking down barriers, of all kinds, Around The Fire is very much a part of helping fuel that movement through the arts.”
With so few spaces where we can allow ourselves to be vulnerable, yet safe, Around The Fire is exactly that. With guards down and within a safe communal space, audiences will share a unique experience filled with music performed entirely on indigenous instruments too. “A localised sound performed authentically adds to a more holistic experience,” Jonas adds. “If audiences leave the auditorium with mixed emotions and a will to take the journey of healing we can all benefit from, then Around The Fire will have done its job in spreading the warmth the fire ignited.”
Around The Fire’s weeklong run forms part of the Women’s Month festivities happening across The Mother City.
There are also two school performances scheduled for 8 and 10 August at 11am.
Tickets are available at Computicket – show runs from 7 to 11 August.
Do not miss out on this opportunity to support local theatre and be blown away by the talent of Siphokazi as she weaves her gifts together in what is going to i’m sure be yet another masterful performance.