James Ngcobo Takes the Stage as Artistic Director of the Joburg Theater

South African veteran actor outlines his purpose and dreams for theater as head of artistic production
BY Suzy Bernstein
Pic supplied: Market Theatre

On chatting to James Ngcobo who has stepped into the role of Artistic Director for the Joburg Theatre as of the 1 July 2022, Ngcobo says, “We gallop towards the grave chasing things.”

 

And gallop he does, looking forward always, stopping only to bring others on board, with all that he envisages and bring to this role.

 

Ngcobo acknowledges the expanded terrain, which includes a larger staff component. He finds this prospect both exciting and daunting. Whilst intending to enter the space with humility, curiosity, and respect, he sees himself as a collaborative leader. He is a firm believer in teamwork, and he advocates that in the same way a piece of theatre can be workshopped, so can this mindset be segued into the office space.

 

Pic supplied: Market Theatre

Ngcobo aims to curate work that speaks to the tapestry and the landscape inherent in South Africa that must be told, and he plans to cater for everybody.

 

“I’ve always been fascinated by the complete metamorphosis of this country. From 1994, this country has changed. I see us creating new South African work that comes from all communities that deals with where we’re at now as well as stories that look back to how the yesteryear affects the now and the aspirations of what’s to come – a diasporic way of looking at theatre”.

 

Ngcobo brings a clear understanding of the demographics of South Africa and the different constituencies that are on the periphery of the three theatres that he will be programming for. Clearly understanding that what he curates for Roodepoort theatre will have a completely different palate to what he would stage at the Soweto theatre, he looks forward to introducing work that can be staged at all three theatres –The Joburg Theatre, The Roodepoort Theatre and The Soweto Theatre – that he now manages. Ngcobo says, “We are not silos. We have very urgent needs about curating that we have to do. We can find work that can have conversations with all those constituents.” 

 

Pic supplied: Joburg Theatre

He stresses that as the newly appointed Artistic Director there will be no clean sweep of what already exists. It will be about the additions rather than the subtractions. He has a strong vision of what he wants to do and looks forward to commissioning new works, whilst remembering that theatre is a business that must be financially viable.

 

One certain attribute that will be a part of Ngcobo’s journey is his absolute passion for mentorship. Ngcobo says “In life, there is much we want to achieve, and some achievements are not so immediate. I have started to do it with young people that I’ve mentored. With humility a good mentor always has a lot to learn from the mentee.”

 

Ngcobo’s unbridled passion for acting is one of the many skills he will carry with him on this journey. He recently won his fourth SAFTA award for Best Supporting Actor.

 

Pic supplied: Market Theatre

As well as celebrating South African novels and writers thereby bringing page to stage, with a new writing program that he will initiate, Ngcobo looks forward to continuing with his legacy of staging work that exhibits the prowess of writing from the continent. “That challenge excites me. I believe that one of the things that an Artistic Director does is to gently persuade audiences to watch things that might be unfamiliar territory. It’s symbolic of what we want to get right as a society.”

 

It seems certain that Joburg Theatre’s audiences have much to anticipate as Ngcobo demonstrates his vision, as he bolts into the future.

 

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