Coming face to face with Ubuntu
There are days when Mbulelo Grootboom doesn’t want to perform in Ubuntu (The Cape Town Project).
“Sometimes I say I’m not going to do another Ubuntu — but, when I think about it, I have to do it again,” the South African actor said.
There’s a reason why the play’s co-creator always returns to it.
The play’s theme is universal.
“I might come from South Africa, another part of the world, but there is something similar that we connect together,” he said of the play that opens at Western Canada Theatre on Thursday, March 29.
Directed by its co-creator, Daryl Cloran — also WCT’s artistic director — Ubuntu tells two generational tales that overlap.
The play’s theme is implied in its name — ubuntu is a South African word that refers to the belief humanity is all linked together.
The essence of the plot is the story of a man and woman haunted by ghosts of their pasts and drawn together — but it is so much more.
“This is such a special piece,” said Stacie Steadman, who co-stars in the production.
“It’s about how we’re connected.
“It’s really a love story about people and about family.”
The genesis of Ubuntu occurred in 2004, when Cloran travelled to South Africa with the goal of working with actors there.
By 2005, Cloran was back with actors to work with Baxter Theatre Centre to create the production.
In 2009, Ubuntu had its world premiere in Toronto — and Steadman was in line to see it.
“It’s not often, as a new play, that you get to see it before you’re in it,” she said, “but I had heard great things about it from my friend Michelle Monteith [one of the original cast members].
“To be in it now, I’m really proud of it,” Steadman said.
“It is so powerful, such a special piece.”
For Grootboom, the fact the cast is both black and white is relevant, but only in the way that “it shows us how to embrace our differences because that’s what makes us who we are.
“The bottom line is we are all human beings.”
Both actors know the play isn’t as readily accessible as some works but, they see it as having mass appeal because of the universality of the message.
They’re realistic about the challenge their artistic community faces, “when it’s so easy to just stay at home and watch TV,” Steadman said.
Grootboom expected that reaction when Ubuntu was performed in his home country, largely because much theatre focused on the country’s political history or sport.
South African theatre has often been used to deep debates going on social change, Grootboom said.
“So, after it was over, people were coming out and saying, ‘Whew, that felt good because it wasn’t about racism but about how we’re all connected’.
“It’s a refreshing play. You can read between the lines and make up your own mind.”
Grootboom said his goal has always been to keep his character light “until we reach that moment . . .”
“Don’t ruin it,” she admonished him.
“Let people find out.”
This is the first time either has performed with WCT.
Steadman said she’s delighted not only because of the opportunity but because the theatrical community in Vancouver is dealing with the repercussions of the closing of the Vancouver Playhouse.
Many people are losing their jobs and some productions, like Bard on the Beach — which has depended on the Playhouse craft department for sets — are scrambling.
WCT is providing “a bit of a safe haven,” she said.
WCT is “a place where artists from all over Canada can come and it is very special.”
Steadman also had praise for Cloran, saying Kamloops is lucky to have him.
Cloran was hired in the summer of 2010 after then-artistic director Jeremy Tow died.
“He has such amazing vision,” Steadman said of Cloran.
“It was sad for Toronto when he and Holly [Cloran’s actor wife] decided to leave and come to Kamloops.”
Ubuntu continues at Sagebrush Theatre until April 7.
Tickets are available at the Kamloops Live Box Office, 1025 Lorne St., 250-374-5483, kamloopslive.ca.