It was all glitter, colourful floats, costumes on mannequins and giant puppets at the Cape Town Carnival workshop, where a behind-the-scenes preview of the event was hosted on Thursday February 28.
The workers at the warehouse, situated in Maitland, were piecing together the last bits, which will bring to life this year’s theme, VUKA UKHANYE: Arise and Shine!
The carnival, will take place on the Fan Walk in Green Point, on Saturday March 16.
The parade will include floats from various communities, as well as the showstoppers – a monster, to represent conquering your fears, and a giant illuminated marionette called Vukani, among dancers and performers in brightly coloured costumes.
The creative director of the Cape Town Carnival, Brad Baard, said this year’s theme has given the team a chance to explore different concepts.
“VUKA UKHANYE: Arise and Shine! tells us that we are the ones we have been waiting for. We cannot wait on government or others – we have to take responsibility for our own lives and environments.
“The culture of our city is unique and vital. It’s in how people treat each other, how we show up, respect and regard each other, how we interact, how we see each other. It’s part of the fabric of our society. This spirit or character comes through in this year’s theme of waking up to our personal power and to our collective power.”
With more than 2 200 performers in the show, Gillian Florence and her team of 15 designers and seamstresses have been working to produce bright, bold costumes for everyone taking part.
The costume department is filled with brightly coloured fabric and sequins, beaded necklaces laid out on another table, and a mannequin dressed in an African-themed dress with a dramatic neckline.
Ms Florence, from Green Point, has been part of the team for three years, and describes the experience as “magical”.
She said while the costumes have to be innovative every year, they also repurpose as much as they can to remain sustainable.
Among the challenges of costume-making is the restrained budget, and making the headgear and backpacks safe, strong and pretty.
“The headgear and the backpacks are the boldest pieces, and because they are usually the biggest attraction of the costume, we have to make them so that they don’t fall off while the person is moving, and the backpacks need to be made comfortable and safe.”
Lead dancer Nonkoliseko Somagu of Woodstock, who has been part of the carnival for seven years, will dance on the float as a sunflower this year. She said the most exciting part about the behind-the-scenes work is seeing your ideas come to life on carnival day.
“Whether it is a float or a costume, ideas you thought were silly, it will still make it into the carnival.”
She said the best part of the costuming is the make-up. “The costumes are amazing too, but the make-up brings it together. You feel like you own the part you are playing.”
The make-up is done by Raine Tauber of Durbanville, who creates a look for at least 60 lead performers and dancers. “We want to make sure that we are creating a character and that the person is embodying that. The make up is always costume dependant. This year we are going with neon colours and golden looks to represent the sunrise.
Ms Tauber has been part of the carnival for five years, and says that doing make-up for this event is very different to her usual runway make-up she does professionally.
“Runway make-up is primarily to bring the designer’s look to life, whereas with the carnival make-up, every part of the costume is important to bring the look to life.”
Another important part of making the carnival come to life is the lighting, said Paul Grose. “The lights highlight all of the work from the other departments, so this is what brings it all together.”
He said the lighting is always a challenge, as they have to build it in the workshop, take it apart and then set it up at the venue. “Each float has a generator to keep the lights working during the parade, so it has to be done safely, but also secure, because once you send the float out, you can’t fix anything that goes wrong with the lights.”
Mr Grose said he was still trying to figure out how to light up the giant marionette puppet, Vukani.
Vukani is one of the showstoppers, and while it is still a wire frame, the team is excited to see the finished project, said Angela MacPherson, from the floats department.
Ms MacPherson, from Muizenberg, has been part of the carnival for seven years, and describes the experience as enlightening.
She said this year was particularly challenging as they had to learn how to put Vukani together.
“Our team are always looking for ways to try new things. This year, we learnt how to make a giant puppet move, and about the joints. Our building crew literally became puppeteers.”
She said the team has been working on 12 floats and the community will also bring some. “The community is involved on various levels. We include them in the workshops and they also spend some time at the workshop. There are also dance groups from the communities who participate in the event, and this year we have more than usual, so there is more involvement than ever.”
Jay Douwes, CEO of the Cape Town Carnival, said the theme is taken to heart by all involved, with every team member giving their utmost to develop both personally and as part of the group.
“Job creation and skills development are key priorities for us at the carnival, we’ve seen incredible developmental growth within the team and their efforts at the Maitland workshop are truly amazing.”
The first Cape Town Carnival was hosted in Long Street in 2010 and drew around 11 000 spectators. Last year, about 54 000 people watched the show, and organisers look forward to even more attending this year.
Now entering its 10th year, the Cape Town Carnival has proven an economic boon for the city as well.
It was calculated that the direct contribution to the city’s GDP from the 2018 event alone at R58.5 million.
“It’s incredible to see the voyage from the creative workshops where the concept is developed to the final creations,” said Professor Rachel Jafta, chairperson of the Cape Town Carnival Trust.