Praising the poet


The epitome of cool, calm and collected, there is little about Siphokazi Jonas that would indicate that she is about to stage a major production.

The exterior is, however, somewhat cracked when she says: “I put a lot of pressure on myself,” before laughing: “Too much, in fact.”

The UCT Master’s graduate, former Queenstown local and now Kenilworth resident’s production, Around the Fire, will be staged at the Artscape Theatre on Thursday March 31, as part of the theatre’s Spiritual Festival.

“When we staged the previous version of this production at The Warehouse in Wetton, I couldn’t sleep for two weeks. Afterward, I went to Los Angeles and ended up sleeping the entire two days I was there,” she laughs.

In this follow-up to her 2015 production, Wrestling with Dawn, the producer, playwright and performer, will fuse poetry, theatre and live music to bring to life the stories of four women from various backgrounds.

“The characters – 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,” reads the press release.

“The characters of Faiza, Amber and Angel are based on real-life stories of three of my friends,” she says, smilingly adding: “Although I did take some liberties.”

So is the character, Mbali, based on her, I ask?

“Mbali is parts of me,” she says. “For her character I also added some of my mom’s stories – even that of a woman I met while standing at a traffic light one day. I really just wanted to tell real people’s stories.”

The music, performed by Germaine Leonard, Keanu Harker, Zoë Modiga, Josh Prinsloo, Rosco Roman, Jason Skippers and Eden Myrrh Toohey, is, Ms Jonas says, “the fifth character”.

“Each element plays its own role,” she says.

“With traditional storytelling and praise poetry, music is a big part of how we tell stories. I wanted to use the music to make the production as seamless as possible; for it to serve as a musical score in a way, but also to push the story forward.”

As to how she went about selecting these fifth-character-portraying musicians, Ms Jonas says: “These are people I’ve seen around and have become a huge fan of. So, I thought, why not get the best people in Cape Town to work with me?”

The four months it has taken to put the 90-minute production together has seen her go from fan to family member.

“We’ve become such a family that sometimes, when we’re working together, we get so distracted… sometimes not focusing at all,” she laughs.

Is she happy with what they have so far, I ask?

“The part of me that puts pressure on myself is not really sure,” she laughs, “but, yes, I think it’s incredible. It has grown so much that even we are in awe of it.”

* Around the Fire will be staged at Artscape on Thursday March 31, at 8pm. Tickets cost from R80 to R120 and can be booked through Computicket or Artscape Dial-a-Seat at 021 421 7695.