I am Lara, an award-winning playwright, writer and director. I was born and grew up in Pretoria, but in 2005 relocated from Johannesburg to Cape Town with my family to take up the position of Resident Director and Dramaturg at the Baxter Theatre. In January 2010, I was appointed CEO and Director of the Baxter.
I completed my BA (Hons) degree at Wits University in 1989 and in 2007 I attained my master’s degree at the University of Cape Town. I have directed over 40 professional productions, 29 of which have been new South African plays. I also founded the Barney Simon Young Directors and Writers Festivals and have been integral in the development of more than 35 new South African plays. My passion is the development of new indigenous work, young writers and directors.
My idea worth spreading to present at TEDxCapeTown 2012 is the value of theatre to promote honesty, telling stories to re-write the plot of our lives.
When I was a small child, five or six, my hippie parents used to take us to the drive-in cinema on most nights. Double feature. When the movies were age -restricted, I used sit on the floor on the passenger side, and hide under my mother’s caftan while my father greeted the ticket seller.
I’d watch movie after movie. If the movies had sad or bad endings, I’d rewind the movie in my head and rewrite it from that point, to give it a better or happier climax. When we got home. I’d not go to sleep until I had finished my movie frame by frame. I’d go to school the next morning in a dwaal, but satisfied. I had re-written a narrative, a biography, I had changed the fate of some characters life.
Years later in 1984 I was 17 , registered to study law and had, believe it not never been to the theatre. I was a good Pretoria girl, prefect at girls high, from an eccentric family in the suburbs of the white Pretoria, during the time of censorship and apartheid.
I sat in the market theatre, I saw a play called Born in the RSA, and it changed my narrative, altered my fate, gave me a new biography,
This is an extract from the play…………….. (Actor performance, Thami Mbongo)
You see I was one of those little white girls, I didn’t have a nanny to shine my shoes, but I was still one of those little girls, oblivious, innocent….care free.
Suddenly the curtains rose on my vision, I could see. I knew where I lived, I understood where I was from, I witnessed the truth, I was part of a community, which existed in that auditorium in that place at that time.
Just as we are now, here at TEDx, a community all sharing a story. Speakers and listeners.
I looked at what the performers were doing on the stage, and I decided there and then, that whatever they were doing, I wanted to do it.
At that time I believed to do what they were doing meant that I should be an actress. Later I realized that I was a lousy actress and I started to direct, to make stories, write biographies, back to the time when I was a child, trying to create the perfect story.
I realize now of course that searching for this perfect story, is to some extent, driven by a need to put things right, make things better, a type of co-dependency, - as long as the world is full of imperfection, I will be needed. It’s my job to, similar to the actors in Born in the RSA, tell the truth, to enlighten, to change perceptions.
I sometimes question whether this is altruistic or egocentric? Either way it drives itself in energy of dichotomy and an obsession with juxtaposition.
In dark there must be light. Engage with the darkness of our country and you will be entitled to the light. Everywhere I look for contrasts, I’ve alwa been moved by the possibility of changing perceptions especially my own.
In 2001 our newspapers were bombarded with a story of a nine - month old infant baby Tshepang who was allegedly raped by six men. At the time my daughter was nine months old and when hearing the story it was as if my skin fell off. Like the devil spat at me, I could not get the images out of my head. How could there be so much dark in the world?
I started to research the project and I began work on a play which ultimately would endeavor to understand the scourge of child rape in our country. Somewhere there had to be a different narrative, a possible cause, some coming together and healing. The play drew from a number of incidents and real live characters that I had met in my life. One such story, which invoked a climatic section in the play, began with an unexpected meeting with an ambulance driver.
I was staying in Irene at the time and my domestic worker, Wendy, had a flat in our garden. Her daughter Quinnie was six months pregnant and began to experience labour pains. I called the ambulance and went inside to get more blankets and pillows. A few minutes later I heard the ambulance arriving, and saw a tall white, pimply young man get out, I had a sudden flash back to a memory of when I was about eight years old.
We were on our way to the movies, ( as usual) and my mother crashed into a delivery man on a scooter. He lay on the tar unconscious. When the ambulance arrived, they would not take the man. It was a white ambulance and he was black. My mother screamed and swore and threatened all the plagues of Egypt onto this burly Afrikaans ambulance driver, but he would not budge. We had to wait for the black ambulance.
As I ran back to the flat I passed the ambulance in our drive-way, I was ready for a fight. Ready to threaten this young white man with death if he did not immediately take Quinnie to the hospital. I walked into the room, the man was kneeling on the floor, beside him was a tiny bundle, a perfect web – like creature, a little premature boy. The driver was trying by all means to resuscitate the baby who was not breathing. Desperately he massaged the babies’ chest, applied the oxygen mask, cleared the babies throat, minutes went by and he became more desperate. When it was clear the baby was dead. He put his head on the babies chest and he bagan to cry……a big heave of a sob.
My perceptions were wrong, his empathy was palpable, I gazed on as a witness, a type of audience. Later I used this narrative in my play Tshepang, we also made a short animated film, here is a small snippet……………..
( Video) – 3,5 min
At first when we presented Tshepang as a play, no one came, no one would engage, but the theatre, like the Market theatre in 1885 for Born in the RSA, provides a safe haven. A place to listen, to experience, to heal, to be enlightened.
The theatre brings people together from every culture, age, race, religion and provides an opportunity for us fellow beings to experience something together, to see each other in the wondrous light of humanity.
In the end, the play ran for on and off for ten years and we still do the occasional presentation.
It was my attempt to find some healing for our community and some sense of a future for our children. Because that is what theatre does, it gives us the opportunity to change the narrative, to alter our biographies.