Expect the unexpected with Troika’s production of Sarafina!
Chinyere Nwasike will walk out on stage in the title role of the South African musical Sarafina! next month.
She did not quite know what she was signing up for when Troika Bermuda put out a casting call.
Sarafina! is set in 1976 Soweto when students revolted against the introduction of Afrikaans “as a medium of instruction” in Black schools.
“[It] deals with the radicalisation of a young schoolgirl, Sarafina, who becomes embroiled in the riots and is tortured by the South African police,” the show’s synopsis reads.
“She inspires her classmates with her commitment to the struggle against the apartheid government. In the musical’s explosive finale, the students present a class play about the symbolic Day of Liberation they all dream of – when their hero, Nelson Mandela, is released after decades in prison.”
The Tony-nominated musical ran on Broadway for nearly three years and was later made into a Hollywood film.
“I was not familiar with Sarafina! before. I knew from watching the movie that I wanted to audition for the role,” said Ms Nwasike, who hopes to have a career in acting and music.
“It is a very big role. It's a big responsibility. I thought it would be a challenge for me as an actor, but also for myself personally. Sarafina is such a bold character and that's inspiring, I think, for many young women my age, to stand for something.
“This is such a beautiful and important part of history. It's not all the moments that are beautiful but I think the story in itself is [one that people can] benefit from learning about. And so I just want to encourage everyone to come and see this production. I think they will leave feeling inspired and changed.”
She began acting at age 15, while a student at The Berkeley Institute.
“I love the arts so I did venture off into songwriting and singing more but acting has always been a passion of mine. It's storytelling and so I think that's why I started doing writing as well because I like to tell stories.
“I’m very, very grateful to Troika for putting on this production. I've learnt so much already by being involved in this production – my skill set, learning from the directors, time management, being present at any given moment. It's taught me so much and I'm just very grateful for the experience.”
Director Nhlanhla “Lucky” Ngema said it was obvious to the entire Troika team that Ms Nwasike should play the lead role.
“We just felt the passion in her. We just knew that this was the one. And after the audition we spoke a little bit with her and she told us that one of her parents is from Nigeria and she had such a deep sense of wanting to connect with Africa.”
Audiences, he said, should come expecting to see “something they’ve never seen before”.
“This is the first time this production is being done by non-South Africans, which is a big challenge for us. But it's a good challenge because we're also learning a lot from teaching the students. Bermuda should expect fireworks, really, because the kids are so good and so dedicated,” said Mr Ngema, who performed in the original production, written by his brother Mbongeni.
“When we started the rehearsals, some of them were used to dance; they didn't know they could sing. The more we do these rehearsals we discover new talent in a lot of them. It’s very inspiring.”
Up until a few weeks ago Mr Ngema was leading rehearsals virtually, from his home in South Africa. Now in Bermuda, he is working alongside choreographer Carling Ray. Tiisetso Ngema has the incredible job of introducing the actors to a new language.
“We come from a country that has 12 official languages and we use three of the native languages in the production,” she said.
“So they had to adjust to the different sounds and the pronunciation and obviously the meaning because if you don't understand what you're saying, then you can't really express yourself clearly.”
Even songs and their meanings had to be explained, Ms Ngema added.
“There is definitely a huge improvement among the cast. Like Lucky said, people have been stretched from what they normally would do, which is a great discipline for anyone that is in the performance space because our career is not something that's guaranteed every day. You need to be able to stretch yourself in order to manoeuvre around different parts of the industry. You shouldn’t be limited to just one discipline.”
Seldon Woolridge, the founder of Troika Bermuda and the executive producer of Sarafina! said it had been wonderful watching the cast become more confident.
“Seeing them journey from when they started, that initial interaction [during] auditions, seeing them through the rehearsal process and seeing the growth that they have undertaken as part of this entire process is where the real rewards come in because you end up seeing young persons who, as Lucky said, hadn't touched vocals, who hadn't touched acting, who are now being exposed to a different element of the performing arts.”
It is what sits at the heart of Troika, a performing arts programme that was established with an aim to “educate, enlighten and entertain by producing significant theatre experiences, which are presented by a creative ensemble of young people who embody the highest professional calibre”.
“Not only are they getting exposure to the arts but they're learning some valuable life skills – time management, teamwork, personal development, presentation skills. All of those things are very transferable and are quite important as it relates to personal growth and development,” Mr Woolridge said.
“Of course, we want to entertain our local audiences and with a production such as Sarafina! it provides a great opportunity to educate the audiences and give them something that has a historical value while being entertained. We’re definitely happy as an organisation to present this opportunity to the community.”
• Sarafina! runs November 1 through 4 at 7pm at the Ruth Seaton James Centre for the Performing Arts. Tickets are available on www.troikabda.com