Identity parade on the stage

A quiet storm is brewing on the horizon in the early moments of the play A Boy Who Walked Into The World.

The gentle veneer of uncertainty that accompanies the early exchanges involving Lucky Simelane (Lezane Hans) prefaces the disaster that inevitably ensues when questions of identity come to a head. Years ago, when Happy Sindane was confronted with questions surrounding his own identity and his origins, he lashed out claiming that he was kidnapped by a black family.

In his confusion he still knew for certain that life for blacks was, at that time, calamitous and he sought refuge on the other side of the fence. He hoped that his pale skin would be enough to save him from his torrid existence and gain him the privileges that come with being white.

A Boy Who Walked Into The World is loosely based on Happy Sindane’s life, but it is a work of fiction. The core of this work, directed by Motlatji Ditodi and brought to life by a young cast from the University of Johannesburg Soweto Campus is the confusion that arises when society makes very personal questions about identity ever more complex. As young artists who are facing their own challenges with identity, these actors are finding that the work hits very close to home.

“Growing up, I was raised by my Xhosa mother and without my Ndebele dad, which meant that I was never really taught how to be a Ndebele man,” says Thokozani Hlakuva, 20.

PROCESS. 'A Boy Who Walked Into The World' also deals with love and societal pressures.

PROCESS. ‘A Boy Who Walked Into The World’ also deals with love and societal pressures.

“As a result, I looked at certain situations from a female perspective because that is how I was raised. This play deals very much with identity, not only as a man, but culturally and racially as well.”

Ditodi had to harness the personal and other anxieties of her cast in order to weave together this narrative into a complex but coherent whole.

“Each and every one of these students have been so bright, insightful and generous with their personal stories,” Ditodi says.

“A play like this – with the theme of identity – really resonates with them and the more we rehearse and dissect and understand what the story is really about, the more personal it becomes.”

The story resonates very differently with individual cast members, who all seem to carry their own views on the theme.

“It is very bad not knowing who you are and where you stand in life,” says Patrick Mgwathi, 20.

“You have to know where you come from.”

FOCUSED. Alexandria Mandewo enjoys moving from character to character in the play. Pictures: Nigel Sibanda

FOCUSED. Alexandria Mandewo enjoys moving from character to character in the play. Pictures: Nigel Sibanda

Sandile Ntuli, 21, advocates for a world that is not defined by race but unity.

“We are at a place where people will identify each other as South Africans instead of saying that they are black or white, Zulu or Sotho. The world is changing and we must change along with it.”

Ditodi is established as an actor – stage and television – but is now finding herself as a director.

A Boy Who Walked Into The World will run at the National Arts Festival on Tuesday July 8 and Thursday July 10 at the Rehearsal

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