FROM JUNE 16 through June 23, the Baxter State Theater Company of Cape Town, South Africa, will present a production of "Waiting for Godot" as part of the Baltimore International Theater Festival. The Coalition in Support of Liberation Struggles of Southern Africa is protesting this multi-racial production of the 20th-century classic by holding a counterfestival.
Some background on the Baxter State Theater Company:
The Baxter is associated with the University of Cape Town, South Africa. In the midst of that apartheid state, it is fully integrated. "Waiting for Godot" stars John Kani and Winston Ntshona. These two black actors from South Africa won the Tony award in 1974 for their performances on Broadway in the one-act plays "Sizwe Banzi Is Dead" and "The Island." For performing these same plays in South Africa they were imprisoned.
Earlier this season, the Baxter production was presented without incident at the Long Wharf Theater in New Haven, Conn., according to Long Wharf artistic director Arvin Brown. Brown added, "I truly believe that John and Winston are two of the greatest actors in the world." The only controversy about the production, he said, is related to "the personal way in which they [the actors] see it. It relates to their lives."
Some background on the coalition:
The coaltition represents some 20 groups, including the Henry McNeil Turner Society of the Bethel A.M.E. Church, according to Robinson. In a telephone conversation, Robinson, the society's president, said he was "very much" aware of Kani and Ntshona's backgrounds -- their honors and the price they paid for them. Then he explained that after "talking with liberation movements" -- specifically the African National Congress -- he believed the protest should continue. Manke Kolo, Baltimore representative of the ANC., is co-chair of the coalition.
The African National Congress is "the liberation movement of South Africa, recognized by the U.N. General Assembly," according to David Ndaba, a representative of the group in New York. The ANC has observer status at the United Nations. Ndaba adds that the ANC has "always been behind" Kani and Ntshona but in this regard feels they are representing the "illegitimate" government of South Africa.
Robinson pointed out that, since his imprisonment, Kani had appeared in a film called "The Wild Geese," which Robinson first termed "pro-apartheid" and then softened to "middle ground." Finally, he added that the two actors "are not South Africans. They are citizens of a 'tibal homeland.'"
Hope Quackenbush, festival orgainizer, said, "The point is, the " Baltimore International Theater Festival did not invite 'countries.' We invited world companies. The Baxter happens to be from [South] Africa. We are paying for their appearance. The government of South Africa had nothing to do with them."
As of Thursday, counterfestival events include: an apperance by jazz trumpeter Hugh Masekela on June 6 at the Little Theater of Morgan State University. A series of plays by Salailo Moredi June 15-16. An African Dance Festival on June 17 and performances by the Morgan Players of Morgan State University. Most festival events will be held on the Morgan State Campus, according to Robinson.