Live theatre online: Leading-edge Mommy mommy at The National Arts Festival 2021

What: Mommy mommy at on the Fringe at The National Arts Festival 2021 Live stream: July 14, 2021 VOD: Video-on-demand – from July 17. All shows on Fringe are available 72 hours after release date, until July 31, 2021 Direct booking link: Tickets: R75 Performers: Thamsanqa Majela and Tebogo Gxubane Music: Mondli Mavundla    

How does one create performance online, which resonates with a sense of the immediacy of live theatre? Creatives at The National Arts Festival 2021 are finding pioneering ways of igniting online as a vital medium.  I was gobsmacked, watching Mommy mommy, performed at The Guy Butler Theatre at Makhanda on July 14, 2021– without an audience-in-attendance – and streamed in tandem with the performance in Makhanda– on The National Arts Festival website. Mommy mommy, goes beyond staged film recording, by embracing technology as a vigorous medium to create a multi layered experience- visually and aurally.

As with all shows on the Fringe and Mommy mommy is on the Fringe – recordings are available – 72 hours after the live stream. The VOD of Mommy mommy, goes out on July 17. This theatre production takes live stream to another realm.  Often one sees a theatre piece online and one goes – “wow- interesting – but I want to see it on stage, in a theatre.” Watching Mommy mommy and there is no sense, for me, of this being a proxy, a temporary likeness of a theatre show. The streamed production is in itself, a powerful piece of theatre. I realise that intention is important to consider at this time, with the pandemic on the boil. Many artists are presenting their work online as essentially filmed staged recordings. The idea is that we watch now and at some point in the future, we will be able to see the show in a theatre and it will be enhanced by the live experience. Mommy mommy live stream, plays out very much as a stand-alone production.

This is my story. Last night, July 14, 2021, I sat down to watch Mommy mommy. I was viewing from Cape Town, winter, cold. Everyone was/is on edge over the protests and unrest in the country, especially in KZN. I sat down and clicked into Mommy mommy. My attention span was/is not great. Of course, it isn’t. It is difficult to focus, at this time. I clicked in and I heard the refrains of “twinkle, twinkle, little star…” clinking out on what sounds like a piano. Then I saw a performer moving to the melody of twinkle twinkle and I was transfixed. The blurb says: ”This multidisciplinary theatre dance work [which] tells a tale of manhood, sexuality, abuse and authority. It is an exploration of surrealism; the effects of dark-fantasy and its effects on the real-world.”  The piece hovers between fairy-tale and nightmare- the mommy who is there to protect but who does not do that and is in denial. Mommy mommy: Say the words. It is a howl for our mommy take care of us; to keep us safe; to love us.  In Mommy mommy, the safe harbour of belonging has been shattered. Balloons pop. There is danger and smoke and “a boy” tries to process the push and pull of love, hate, attachment and detachment and try and formulate his own identity- gender, belonging, self-hood. It is heart-breaking to watch and extraordinarily beautiful – with stirring dance by Thamsanqa Majelaand Tebogo Gxubane and breathtaking music by Mondli Mavundla.

This visceral incarnation of Mommy mommy at the NAF, was made possible with the use of live video mixers with multiple cameras. What I saw last night, with these production values is something I would associate with a pre-recorded art film, assembled from a live show. That live show would have been edited and mixed in a studio and then screened as video on demand. However, Mommy mommy was mixed live and went out live- patching in layers of image, sound and movement. Ryan Bruton from the NAF team, says: “The work was live mixed by Jaco Hall on a Black Magic Atem Mini Pro. It’s like a lighting desk but for video…” This technology is not new. We see looping of images and sounds at concerts and music events. There is often a DJ, sitting in a box, pulling in from different screens. We are there in the venue and we see the looping on monitors. However, I have not seen this done with a dance theatre piece, in an online stream; in the moment. The video and sound choreographing of Mommy mommy is precise. It is not random looping. Each frame has been considered in relation to the narrative/dance/music. It has all been put together live as an experience which conjures up a sense of “being there”, present in the venue, not simply being a passive viewer. Those that dismiss online as a medium for theatre, may want to re-think that paradigm. Mommy mommy is leading-edge theatre, presented online, which is charged with the vooma of live theatre–created live -online.  Extraordinary.

Mommy mommy streamed live on the Fringe at The National Arts Festival 2021, July 14. The performers are Thamsanqa Majela and Tebogo Gxubane. Music: Mondli Mavundla. In this pic: Tebogo Gxubane .Photo: Mark Wessels.

*Featured image from Mommy mommy, by Mark Wessels. Supplied.