Two internationally acclaimed black actors from South Africa who said Monday they would withdraw from the Baltimore International Theater Festival were reconsidering their decision yesterday, according to a festival official.
John Kani and Winston Ntshona, who jointly won the 1974 Tony award for acting, said on a television talk show in Baltimore on Monday that they would not perform in "Waiting for Godot," a production of the Baxter State Theater Co. of Cape Town. Their announcement was made after several hours of discussion with representatives of the Coalition in Support of Liberation Struggles of Southern Africa, who have protested with pickets and letters both the inclusion of a theater from South Africa and the lack of participation by American blacks in the theater festival.
Yesterday, however, Kani and Ntshona met with members of their company and festival officals. "Whatever the Baxter does will be done as a group," said festival director Hope Quackenbush. "They will either perform with them, or they will not perform at all."
Quackenbush confirmed last night that the meeting occurred but refused to discuss what, if anything, had been decided. "We have nothing to say at this time," she said. "We are still trying to bring some reason to bear on the situation.
The production was scheduled to open today, delayed one day from its originally scheduled opening because festival officials did not realize the group never performs on June 16, the anniversary of the Soweto uprising of 1976.
The "Waiting for Godot," company includes three blacks and two whites, which is technically illegal under South Africa's apartheid system. Both Kani and Ntshona have been jailed there in the past for performing in "Sizwe Banzi Is Dead" and "The Island," the two one-act plays that won them the Tony award in 1974.
Anthony Robinson, co-chairman of the Coalition, said that including any theater group from South Africa legitimizes that government. "We have called for a severance of all ties -- political, diplomatic, economic or cultural -- with that regime," Robinson said. "We are not against the two actors; we are against inviting the Baxter Theater. We are also protesting the exclusion of the Afro-American community from the planning and implementation of this festival. After we presented the issues to them [the two actors], they could not be in opposition to such a protest."
Quackenbush said that no white theaters in Baltimore were performing at the festival either, and that the planning had been done by one person, not a committee or a community group. "We invited the best companies we could find, not countries," she said. "And we make no apology for that" Once the participants in the festival were set, she said all theatrical groups in the Baltimore community were invited to a meeting "to ask for their help and participation," but no black theater groups came to the meeting. Robinson said none was notified.
The Coalition has picketed each of the five opening nights in the festival so far with signs decrying racism at home and abroad.
"This is an artistic event, not a political one," Quackenbush said.