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By Mardene van Schalkwyk

After being cancelled in 2020 and then limited to an online platform last year, what was previously known as Toneelfees re-emerged from the ashes of the pandemic as Palesa Theatre Festival. This cultural institution is an amateur theatre competition hosted by KuKo (the Student Representative Council’s arts and culture division) that invites student communities to write, direct, cast, stage and produce an entire 20-minute-long stage production internally. The renamed festival debuted on Monday 2 May at the Drostdy Theatre. 

Moniq Gouws, a BAHons (Drama and Theatre Studies) student specialising in creative writing, is the KuKo executive committee’s project manager for the 2022 Palesa Theatre Festival. “I do think that one can make the argument that [the festival] lost a lot of momentum because it was cancelled [in 2020] and because it was strictly online last year. This year, we sort of rebranded because we were aware of the momentum that was lost,” said Gouws. 

According to Gouws, palesa is a Sotho word that means “flower” and is meant to symbolise the metaphorical blooming of the festival. Talking about the name’s link to the theme of this year’s competition, she said, “It’s about finding your place here in Stellenbosch. When you arrive as a newcomer, when you come back from [COVID-19], when you come back from holiday—where is your place in Stellenbosch?”

The beauty of an amateur drama competition is that it offers an opportunity for any student to explore their theatrical side, regardless of their acting experience or field of study. Bella Pretorius, who is a second-year BA (Social Work) student and a cast member of the joint production by Huis Visser Men’s Residence and Nemesia Women’s Residence, is one such student. 

“I’m not really a drama person, so the acting was a new experience for me. It was so much fun to get to know the other cast members and our band while pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I was a first-year in 2021, so I was never really part of pre-COVID campus life,” she said. 

Huis Visser and Nemesia (affectionately referred to as ‘Vimesia’ within the communities) stood out as they stepped into the world of stage activism with their musical retelling of the homelessness crisis and the everyday battles fought by the homeless community in Stellenbosch. 

“The script was amazing and all the music was written specifically for the production,” said Pretorius.

The production also boasts a skilful band and well-trained cast, including John Graayenstein, a third-year BA (Drama and Theatre Studies) student. Graayenstein is a local musician with two singles out on YouTube. 

On Tuesday 3 May, the judges announced that the PSOs and residences that will be advancing to the final round of the competition are: Pieke Private Student Organisation (PSO) and Simonsberg Men’s Residence, Lydia Women’s Residence, Olympus PSO and Metanoia Residence, Harmonie Women’s Residence and Monica Women’s Residence, Aurora PSO, and Huis Visser and Nemesia. The finals will take place on Saturday 7 May at 17:00 at the Drostdy Theatre. Tickets are available at KuKo’s Instagram bio (@kukosr). 

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