The Coronavirus crisis has had a devastating effect on the performing arts the world over, with no exception to Namibian theatre, but in the words of the iconic band Queen, “the show must go on.”
Since the start of the pandemic, many theatres have been streaming theatre productions on various online platforms and even premiering shows on these platforms. Boet & Sus, from writer and director Lize Ehler’s will be the first live-streamed offering from the National Theatre of Namibia in its 2019/20 theatre season under the Premier programme.
The show, previously scheduled to premiere on 23 April 2020, was postponed after national coronavirus regulations closed theatres and prohibited public gatherings. Now, with things gradually getting back to normal, the show is back and this time with a determination and in the words of of Ehlers, the cast and crew of this production are incredibly charged and excited for how it will turn out.
“Rehearsals are tough for actors who wear masks or face shields but we are taking all necessary steps to make this work, safely,” Ehlers says.
Boet & Sus, which stars Ehlers, Adriano Visagie, Rodelio Lewis and Roberto Menneguzzo, is a multimedia theatre production that melts the commonalities and differences between “kallids” coloureds and drag queens in present Namibia. The part talkshow-part-dragshow is in Afrikaans and English and features live musc from Imms Nicolau.
“I hope the audience sees how important it is for us to embrace ‘kallid‘ and drag culture and see how important representation of minorities is,”
On the look and feel incorporated in the production, Ehlers highlights that turquoise and white have always been staple colours in the “kallid” community and that she wanted to honor that.
“I wanted to stay authentic to the story by only casting coloured actors. Adriano Visagie plays Boet aka Alaska. Rodelio Lewis plays Miss Mavis & Roberto Meneguzzo plays Gigi has Arrived. I play Sus. It is a necessary story of friendship & kinship that cuts through a community of prejudice and ignorance,” Ehlers explains.
Ehlers says she was inspired by her own life experiences, the lives of her coloured drag performer colleagues, friends and family, including Netflix’s Pose.
“It is because the queer community is so brave and creative that we see the urgency and need in telling these stories. As an ally, I see it is as a necessity to tell the stories of our ‘kallid‘ and queer communities in Namibia.”
The creative team is also made up of Marchell Linus as Choreographer, Martin Amushendje with Video Documentation support, Miss Jey Arts as Make-Up Artist and costumes by Ingo Shanyenge.
The tickets, dates and times of the show are yet to be announced. Join the online Theatre Talk on the National Theatre of Namibia’s Facebook page on 18 August 2020, at 18h00 to meet the creative team and cast, and learn more insights into the production.
These past few weeks sombre news has been on loop on the internet. For this reason, Namib Insider! is keeping up with our friends in the stage and screen industry through a series of Q&A’s titled ‘Lockdown Missive’. During this series, we will feature various performers and creators as they share their quarantine experiences and at the same time, bring a little more light on the internet.
Today we have Lize Ehlers, Founder & Director of RMB Song Night, acclaimed Musical Theatre Director for musicals Sandy Rudd’s I am John (2018), Senga Brockerhoff’s Every Woman (2019) & Jenny Kandenge’s For Coloured Girls (2019). Ehlers, an award-winning musician, is the 2019 Namibian Annual Music Awards Artist of the Year, Female Artist of the Year & Best House Song winner and this year, she is also a nominee for Artist of the Decade. She is a blue-economist that works in various fields of the Namibian creative industry, including acting.
When the first lockdown was announced in March, what was your initial reaction?
I immediately thought of my artists that are booked weekly at Avani & Maerua Mall and how this will devastate their income. I then started panicking about my own income and how it will affect my family. Subsequently, all of us have been stripped of our income due to Covid-19.
What really bums you out about the current state of events?
The fact that there is no social security for artists in Namibia and that we live from gig to gig. I have completely depleted my private savings and have started to ask for donations for my weekly live online stream shows that take place Monday to Friday from 19:30 till 20:00 on Facebook @lizeehlers. I see it as a passion project and I am providing creative relief during this pandemic. If people liked a show and they feel they want to donate, they are free to do so.
Productivity wise, what have you been up to?
I have been reflecting on how much I have had to work to stay alive. I have realized that without an active role on stage or as an agent getting work for my RMB Song Night- & independent singers I have no livelihood. I have also been writing proposals to get RMB Song Night online and have reached out to various entities to make online productions a reality with financial benefits. I used to call myself a ‘digital dinosaur’, but this pandemic has been the steepest learning curve of my life.
It’s probably hard but how have you been trying to keep a positive mental attitude during these trying times?
I have been praying daily and meditating, for myself and for others. I have been working on my music daily for my live online show on Facebook every weeknight at 19:30 till 20:00. This includes rehearsing all my 6 albums, singles, writing new songs and using this state of mind as inspiration for new material. My colleague & friend Tulimela Shityuwete was inspired by my house song Soul Style to create a #soulstylechallenge and together with dancer Odile Gertze, they choreographed the challenge. It premiered Wednesday 22 April on Facebook. Every Namibian is asked to join the challenge and do the moves. It is to encourage inclusion, it talks about how we all are going through this pandemic together and how we can celebrate being Namibian.
With the arts temporarily shut down, how would you advise people to continue to support the arts industry?
I think the only tangible support would be for people who are able to donate encourage artists to do online painting sessions, live dance classes, live performances, and then the viewers can enjoy, interact in realtime and donate to say thank you afterwards. Artists should not be shy to make donation posters with their details on, because, at the end of the day, we are still providing a service, we are still offering something emotional and beautiful and not just asking for handouts.
During the lockdown, have you discovered anything that you’d like to recommend to Namib Insider!’ readers?
I have discovered ‘A Colours Show’ on YouTube and I am obsessed.
My favourite artist at the moment on the show is Mayra Andrade. Song Nighter Shiruka introduced me to her music in 2019. But this show performance is so passionate and with the times. I would love to see an African or Namibian version of ‘A Colors Show’. Then I have been binging on Jane The Virgin on Netflix – it is so great! It talks fundamentally about family & honour and it reminds me so much of my family and it gives me inspiration and many laughs during this uncertain time.
Looking to the future, what are you looking forward to most when all of this is over?
I am looking forward to an auditorium full of people and singing my heart out with my band and all the right digital support for a live broadcast to those who cannot physically attend the shows. This will be our only way forward. I also cannot wait for Boet & Sus to actually happen at the National Theatre of Namibia.
Lastly, since being silly once in a while doesn’t hurt, a penguin walks through your door right now wearing a sombrero. What does he say and why is he here?
He says: “Ola – Lize, got any nice lyrics for my new climate change song?” and we both start laughing and then we have tequila and start crying, because like Cardi B said: “Sh*t is getting real!”
Song Night is one of the longest-running live music shows in Namibia and it is thanks to the varied acts the bi-monthly show has been offering since its debut in April 2011.
Song Night and its offering have grown over the years. On Wednesday, 4 December, the final Song Night for 2019 was held at the Franco-Namibian Cultural Centre (FNCC) in Windhoek. On that morning, Song Night’s Lighting and Sound Technician, Karl Ehlers had to prepare the show after spending 10 hours on a plane from Berlin and Founder and Director Lize Ehlers says such dedication is the substance that makes Song Night work every time.
The show saw 2019 Song Night Ambassador, Treza Cooper ending her reign with two performances, including her very own Afro-Pop single, Déjà Vu. Keeping to Song Night’s tranquil vibes, Treza performed the song alongside award-winning vocalist, Bradley Anthony. Host Adriano Visagie introduced Zikii as Song Night’s 2020 Ambassador, Zikii, presenting a promising 2020, performed her Kanangui & Ii Mindu Wange.
2019 Song Night Ambassador, Treza. (Images: Martin Amushendje)
2020 Song Night Ambassador, Zikii and her vocalists. (Images: Martin Amushendje)
Supported by backing vocals, the night saw performances by Nena + Dee (Jingle Bell Rock), Arthur (South of the River & Happy), Scharlarco (That’s What I Like), Asheeqa (Hamba Nawe), Nadine (Falling & Deeper), Shiruka (Afeto), Radostina + Dee (Life & Superman), BNT (Adrenaline & Swilili) and Dolar (Party Tonight & Karolina).
“We will keep Song Night alive and kicking till we shapeshift it into a festival that is supported by tourists who want to come and experience Namibia in the form of a proudly Namibian music festival.” – Lize Ehlers
Reflecting on the Song Night experience, Lize talks about 2019, the ups and downs of putting on a show like this and the future of Song Night:
When you first started Song Night and looking at the growth and influence the show has earned over the years, would 2011 Lize imagine the show growing the way it has?
I had really high hopes for Song Night because it was created from a need. There was no space or platform for new singers to express their voices. Spoken Word was there for poets. Free Your Mind was there for comedians. But singers didn’t have a place. I created that place with a feeling and vision of growing voices into their potential, with the support of professionals. To me, this has always been about inclusion, mentorship and opportunity. I am over the moon at the response and the support, especially by our professional band.
Song Night has served as a career booster for numerous musicians. What are your personal highlights from your 9 years on the show?
Every singer that takes the stage with us has their own idea of what they want at that specific time in their lives. We applaud every single person that has used this platform to elevate their sound. I am so happy that singers like ‘Die Ongesluipte Diamant Van Die Suide’, Chris B, (2018 Ambassador), Priscilla The Namibian Dessert Queen & Bradley The Falsetto King (2016 Co-Ambassadors), have been creating non-stop and have been taking the industry by storm. Frans Marti our 2017 Ambassador, just released his latest amazing single called Whomst Are You and he is pursuing his musical career with the support of guitarist, Tad. Another highlight includes Miss H from the Fate of Miss H, who is hands down one of the most incredible Namibian musicians, and she also found her feet on the Song Night stage, years ago. I cannot mention everyone, but Song Night is very proud of it’s 2019 and 2020 Ambassadors, Treza and Zikizee, for respectively putting themselves out there and for moulding their sound authentically.
Song Night is one of the very few well-curated music platforms Namibia has to offer and the show has been consistent if not, in a sense, transcendent, how do you do it? What is the recipe?
The recipe is passion, truth and rehearsal. I communicate with each singer, explaining the process and expectations. We talk about the importance of working on your craft and believing in yourself. Song Night has never promised fame. It promises experience on stage with the support of professionals. And this is why it works. We focus on the work, not the shine. But of course, now with the support of a vocal trainer namely Emily Dangwa from ED Music Academy & Stylist Martina Pieper from Styled by Martina, Makeup by Miss Jey Arts, Wardrobe by House of Poulton and Nails by Fantastic Sam – the shine is also part of it! We also thank our MC Adriano Visagie who took over the ropes from our previous hosts Mercedez Von Cloete and Tulimelila Shityuwete. Without HEC supporting with rehearsal space and equipment we would not be where we are. We are very grateful for our team.
Dollar performing at Song Night.
Radostina on stage with Ims Nicolau
Was there ever a moment where you felt the road for Song Night should come to an end, if there was, what has kept you motivated to continue?
There have been many moments when I wanted to give up. But then I just changed the formula; instead of ending it, I made it more plausible. It is a lot of hard work. It is a lot of financial and time investment. But when someone hits the right notes, when someones feel like themselves for the first time on stage – it is the best thing to witness and experience. My passion is to see people make it in life. I cannot explain it. But it gives me incredible joy, peace and excitement. That is why I keep doing it. With the support of my amazing family and team, we will keep Song Night alive and kicking till we shapeshift it into a festival that is supported by tourists who want to come and experience Namibia in the form of a proudly Namibian music festival.
Song Night has concluded for 2019, can you reflect on the highs and lows for the show throughout the year?
The highs include having hit after hit shows at our mother venue Warehouse Theatre Windhoek. The lowest low was the Warehouse Theatre closing down, and we had to move. But we found our new home at FNCC. Other highs include Song Nighters releasing hit singles like our 2019 Ambassador Treza, who is in the top 50 singles on DONLU with Dejavu. The music is always a highlight, giving us new hope in our everyday lives. Song Night sees Alvara launching her debut self-penned album, FIN, at the May Identity Concert as one of the top highlights of 2019! We have had to push through very personal painful realities and the show still went on, so we see Song Night as a highlight in itself.
Song Night has recently been renamed as RMB Song Night. What lies ahead for the show in 2020?
Our main sponsor is Rand Merchant Bank (RMB), without their support, Song Night would not be able to afford a professional band, professional host, venue and photographer. We owe our success story to RMB and therefore we renamed Song Night to RMB Song Night for as long as they are our main sponsor. We look forward to their continued support and we thank RMB profusely. Our other loyal support includes 99FM who just joined hands with Energy 100 FM – to spread the word of RMB Song Night even further. This is a highly anticipated media partner collaboration. With our new venue FNCC, we hope to pull an audience of culture seekers from across Windhoek. We salute our team and will be challenging singers to create more original songs for the show.
Before we go, as an artist and mentor, have there been any difficult lessons learned in 2019?
Never Give Up! It might seem difficult and painful to be on an endless path of personal investment not only into our own journeys but the journeys of others but creating positive legacies is what we must stay focused on. Let’s continue to build and mould and mentor the next person. Namibia is in a breakthrough time and we must be the examples.