BY BILLY SUTER
TODAY’S joyous curtain-down on Curtain Up!, the latest annual stage musical from Durban’s newly revitalised Young Performers Project (YPP), saw a standing ovation from a near-capacity audience, before the presentation of what will now be an annual presentation of awards for outstanding achievement among cast members.
It was also announcement that YPP’s main sponsor, Go Durban! (EThekwini Municipality), will sponsor this valuable project for the next three years, allowing for more talented KwaZulu-Natal high school pupils to be groomed in the art of musical theatre by theatre professionals.
At the end of this afternoon’s performance, the cast remained on stage and each Curtain Up! performer was presented with a Young Performers Participation Certificate by the Johannesburg-based director of Curtain Up!, Jaco van Rensburg.
These certificates will be recognised by most schools and help many of the teenagers get their colours for drama, according to Linda van der Veen, who was a founder of the youth project in 2001 and is now its current production manager.
Curtain Up!, a revue showcasing classic and new musical theatre songs, centred on a group of youths who stumble upon an old theatre, was a revival and updating of the first of the annual Durban youth musicals. That was staged in 2001 and directed by the late Themi Venturas.
Many subsequent YPP productions were directed by Venturas, an integral part of the YPP family over the years, and yesterday the first of what will now be annual awards were introduced in his name.
The six Themi Venturas Recognition Awards presented on stage yesterday were judged by the show’s production team. Next year will see the introduction of trophies and will see the awards judges including members of the media.
Two of the six awards this year went to versatile Leah Mari, a 17-year-old Crawford College student who has featured in five YPP musicals. She said a few words in honour of Venturas, whom, she fondly recalled, encouraged her to “find your light”.
Mari – the daughter of Durban musician George Mari and UKZN lecturer in jazz studies, Debbie Mari – took the awards for best female performer (fellow nominees were Keryn Scott and Marianthe Panas) and was also named as best overall actor (fellow nominees were Lesedi Goge and Alex van Schalkwyk).
Nominees for best male performer were Lesedi Goge, Sihle Manonyane and Alex van Schalkwyk. The award went to Alex van Schalkwyk.
Best Dancer nominees were Jaime Bowring, Grace McIlroy and Julia Sutton. Grace McIlroy, the daughter of Durban actors Lisa Bobbert and Aaron McIlroy, took the award.
Best Singer nominees were Keely Crocker, Marianthe Panas and Anele Nojiyeza. Marianthe Panas, who is soon to feature in the new KickstArt production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company, took the award.
Benjamin Rodriguez, Skhulile Gwala and Nelisiwe Zimba were nominated for the award for most improved performer. It went to Skhulile Gwala.
YPP musicals always feature a fully professional production and creative team. This year the two professional actors in the show were Mthokozisi Zulu and Sbongiseni Shezi.
Previous YPP productions were Curtain Up, One Voice, Grease; Oliver, Fiddler on the Roof, The Wiz, Annie, School of Rock SA, Big River, Hairspray, Seussical, Legally Blonde, Can You Feel It, Footloose (staged twice), Soldiers in the City and Buddy Holly.
The project originated 18 years ago when Linda van der Veen had a dream to help talented youth get a taste of the world of musical theatre, and help them decide if this was a possible career choice for them.
“The Young Performers Project’s goal is to groom talented high school youth in the art of musical theatre, under the guidance of professional directors, musical directors, vocal director and choreographers, whilst promoting cross cultural friendships, strong interpersonal skills and developing a talent pool of young performers for the future of arts and culture in South Africa,” she says.
“Only through a personal experience in a professional environment can talented youth learn about commitment, disciple and achievement that will carry them through to adulthood with a sense of pride and accomplishment,” added Van der Veen, who is the MD of Durban production company, Snazzi Solutions.
The Young Performers Project has also been re-branded and revitalised with one of the key focus areas being about collaboration and working closely with all local schools and singing, drama and dancing academies.