Man of many masks returns

Aldo Brincat is returning to Durban, his hometown, with a new solo show. This is after an absence of almost two decades.

BILLY SUTER chats to ALDO BRINCAT, a versatile theatre practitioner and, more recently, remarkable visual artist, who has accomplished a lot since leaving Durban, his hometown, where his stage performances were well-received in the ’80s and ’90s. Now based in Cape Town and doing a Masters in visual art at the University of Stellenbosch, following extensive work abroad, Aldo is to perform a new solo show at Durban’s Rhumbelow Theatre in Cunningham Road, Umbilo, soon. The Moon Looks Delicious From Here, written by Brincat and directed by Sjaka Septembir, is a 70-minute production highlighting magic, mime and physical performance in a fascinating, partially autobiographical story exploring immigrant family dynamics. It is to be staged at the Rhumbelow Theatre at 7.30pm on Friday, February 24, and 2pm on Sunday, February 26. Book at Computicket or by mailing roland@stansell@za.net 

IN A NUTSHELL, WHAT IS “THE MOON LOOKS DELICIOUS FROM HERE” ABOUT AND WHAT CAN AUDIENCES EXPECT? 

This production is a semi- autobiographical look at heritage (foreign) and identity and how that comes together in a first generation citizen – in my case, my South African-ness. I play a selection of characters from my life and key moments in the development of my identity.

At face-value, audiences can expect an evening of good physical theatre and fantastical story-telling. I bit deeper in, audiences will be challenged to examine their ancestry and the decisions that led them to migrate to or within South Africa. 

There are no props or sets. Theatre in South Africa is still recovering (slowly), both for production houses and for audiences. One can expect a flurry of one-man shows in the near future as audience confidence (and theatre culture) return. 

I HEARD THE NEW STAGE WORK EVOLVED FROM DISCUSSION, IN DURBAN, ABOUT A FAMILY HEIRLOOM?

Not quite. I had a solo exhibition in Cape Town in 2021 and two old Durban actor friends, Ashley Dowds and Rajesh Gopi, attended the launch. My exhibition was about memory and commemoration and it got us talking.

We realised we were all first-generation South Africans. We shared our family heritage and the struggles or journeys our forefathers and foremothers took to get here.

We decided to write short monologues including themes of voyage, heritage, and a family heirloom we have to this day. My monologue not only surfaced effortlessly, but it easily morphed into a 70-minute, one-man show without an interval. 

THE PRODUCTION TOURED RECENTLY. PLEASE ELABORATE ON WHERE AND WHEN – AND HOW MANY PLACES HAS IT VISITED TO DATE? I ALSO HEAR A CAPE TOWN SEASON, AND OTHERS, MAY BE SCHEDULED?

To date, my show has had only two performances, both of which were sold out and were warmly received by audiences. It was the second performance, at The Breytenbach Arts Centre in Wellington, that the fire caught.

There was a standing ovation. I think Covid-19 was well and truly over, and it was the early days of people being allowed to go back into theatres without restrictions.

While in KwaZulu-Natal, I will be performing in Pietermaritzburg, at St Annes, and I will be offering a free Masterclass in Physical Theatre, Mime and Maskwork at my old school, Brettonwood High.

After Durban, I have a season at Theatre Arts in Cape Town and. hopefully. one in Johannesburg’s new Linden Theatre. 

THE WORK IS SET IN DURBAN BUT THE STORY IS UNIVERSAL IN ITS THEME. TELL US MORE…. 

Absolutely! My childhood days were spent in Davenport Road (now Helen Joseph Road) in Glenwood, where most of the action is set. But if you are not from these parts, its ok; the referencing is minimal. I did this deliberately as the show will travel nationally.

What is central to the piece is the growing intersectionality of Migrancy, Identity and Heritage. I know that no matter your history, you will identify with the show on a deeper level. 

HOW HAVE AUDIENCES RECEIVED THE WORK – AND WHAT DO YOU MOST ENJOY ABOUT HAVING CREATED IT AND PERFORMING IT? 

Audiences really like it, which was a huge motivation for me to develop and tour the piece. I love doing the show, even though there are many personal moments that are tough for me to share with an audience

Mostly, I feel great gratitude and joy to have not only a new show after working mostly with community theatre for the last 15 years, but also that it’s such a truly special show, at a special time in my life. 

WHAT PERFORMANCE WORK DID YOU DO BEFORE THIS NEW SOLO SHOW?

The last time I worked in a theatre was in Gaborone, Botswana. I wrote a play called The Night Michael Jackson Saved My Life, about a small Motswana boy, obsessed with MJ, back in the day when MJ was first making it big.

The play followed this small boy as he evaded his abusive father who would return home from the mines in South Africa. The boy would find solace in the music of MJ while his father became more and more disillusioned and crushed by the stranglehold of apartheid on the region.

I loved writing and directing it. What a magical idea… Michael Jackson and his reach onto the lives and imagination of children across the world. 

WHEN LAST DID YOU PERFORM IN DURBAN? 

The last show I was in before leaving was Rajesh Gopie’s Coolie Odyssey at the Playhouse Drama Theatre.. I played a range of characters and made various puppets for the show. I felt it was a great production to be a part of and a great way to say goodbye to Durban. 

YOU RELOCATED TO GABORONE, BOTSWANA, IN 2006 TO TEACH THEATRE STUDIES AND THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE AT TWO INDEPENDENT PRIVATE SCHOOLS – AND WERE THERE 11 YEARS. WHAT SPURRED THAT MOVE? 

I was offered a job I simply could not refuse, at a salary I could not refuse! It was a no-brainer.

I had promised myself that I would only serve a single, two-year contract. Ha! I did four years, resigned and went backpacking through Mexico and the US for a year. When I returned to Botswana to buy a car, I got offered another, similar, job and I stayed another seven years!

I have only fond and powerful memories of my time in Gaborone. Botswana will always be very dear to me. 

WHAT WERE SOME HIGHLIGHTS OF YOUR TIME IN GABORONE – AND WHAT DO YOU MOST MISS ABOUT IT AND TEACHING? 

My community theatre projects are what I will miss the most – and some of my students and teaching colleagues. My community projects were large and epic. They had great support from the arts community; even from the then-Minister of Education and Skills Development, who became a personal friend. I loved teaching but I got burnt out towards the end. 

IN 2018, YOU REPATRIATED TO SOUTH AFRICA – WHAT WAS THE REASON FOR THAT MOVE? 

It became increasingly difficult for private schools to recruit foreign teachers. I felt the writing was on the wall and I decided to be more productive about the next phase of my life.

I wanted to repatriate but I wasn’t sure where. In the end, I decided to move to Cape Town, which is where my two grown-up children reside. 

Aldo Brincat’s 70-minute new work is semi-autobiographical.

YOU HAVE SINCE COMPLETED (WITH DISTINCTION) A DEGREE IN FINE ART AT UCT’S MICHAELIS SCHOOL OF FINE ART. WHAT PROMPTED THAT NEW DIRECTION? AND WHAT HAVE BEEN THE CHALLENGES AND/OR REWARDS? 

Ha! Yes! Well, I think my life’s journey has been towards embracing ALL the arts. I was a ballet dancer in my younger and more agile days, a playwright, a circus performer, a mask-maker, etc. Visual Arts (or beauty) became my religion and, quite honestly, my salvation. I find great meaning in art. And this is reflecting now, even in this piece of theatre that I wrote. 

I UNDERSTAND THAT YOUR NEW SOLO SHOW FORMS PART OF YOUR VISUAL ARTS MASTERS THESIS?

Indeed. My thesis is on Memory and Monuments… how memory is shaped into monuments. The new play is an exploration of memory and, in parts, fabrication – all converted into a script spoken and performed.

This process and thing (the script and the performance) are now not only an archive of migration and identity, but the script itself becomes a commemorative marker to my heritage and those before me.

I shall be performing this production as part of my final thesis, alongside a solo exhibition, in September. 

WHAT STYLE/S OF ART DO YOU FAVOUR… AND TELL ME ABOUT SOME OF YOUR SUCCESSFUL EXHIBITIONS OF LATE. 

I am being labelled a conceptual artist as my art is more about the realisation of ideas, in non-traditional art techniques. So my solo exhibitions tend to be a mix of photography, drawings, installations and, now, performance pieces.

I am very happy about having landed a residency in India last year. I was selected as Artist in Residence for the month of November. It was a huge honour and I had a remarkable time there. 

WHAT OTHER NEWS WITH REGARDS TO PLANS FOR FUTURE SHOWS AND OR EXHIBITIONS? 

I intend to tour this production for the next two years.

My season in Durban is essentially my premiere as I have roped in a talented director, Sjaka Septembir, to reconfigure my show.

I have two group exhibitions planned for this year as well as two solo exhibitions, all in Cape Town.

LET’S CALL BACK THE PAST – WHAT DO YOU MOST MISS ABOUT DURBAN AND ITS THEATRE COMMUNITY? 

I miss it all! Durban is, and always was, unique in the country – a very strong, thriving theatre culture which starts at school and permeates through our tertiary institutions. Most of the best actors on South African television hail from Durban.

The Durban theatre community appears as tight-knit as it was when I left 18 years ago. This is invaluable! 

WHERE AND WHEN WERE YOU BORN AND SCHOOLED?

I was raised on the border of Umbilo and Glenwood. I went to Penzance Primary School and Brettonwood High School.

WHAT MEMORIES OF BEING A MEMBER OF THE INNOVATIVE PLAYHOUSE LOFT THEATRE COMPANY IN THE 1980S? 

I was accepted into the Loft on the strength of my work as an actor in high school. I was fortunate in that. The Loft was groundbreaking at a time when our country was imploding.

Productions like Kwamanzi and Maid in South Africa ran alongside Hamlet and Private Lives! Those were heady days and they served me as my university. I knew I was super-privileged. My time in The Loft set me up for life! 

YOU STARTED OUT AS AN ENTERTAINER PERFORMING MAGIC TRICKS, FOLLOWING IN YOUR DAD’S FOOTSTEPS. TELL US MORE.

This is precisely what my play, The Moon Looks Delicious From Here, is all about. My father was an immigrant from Egypt, with Maltese influence, while my mother was from Mauritius, with French and Creole influence. They met in Durban.

My father adored sleight-of-hand magic and was quite famous back in the ’70s and early ’80s. I tried to follow in his footsteps but I wanted more theatre – magic was too restrictive.

 I will never be a great or good magician (too much anxiety), so I made peace with that a long time ago. But I love performing the odd card trick whenever there are kids present. 

WHAT FOND RECOLLECTIONS, OR NOT, OF PARIS AND STUDYING ‘THEATRE MAKING’AND ‘ TRUE CLOWN’ UNDER LEGENDARY JACQUES LE COQ? 

My fondest memory of studying at Jacques Le Coq must be Mr Le Coq himself. He was a true master, and very affirming of my work and my potential. He regularly invited me to join him for a cup of coffee and a chat.

Back then, I had just left The Loft and I was on a personal transition from believing I was a classical act-OR, to realising I was a born clown. A dark clown.

Mr Le Coq led me deftly into that fuller realisation. He believed I had a unique talent. Sadly, my studies were cut short due to a personal tragedy.

I then relocated to Sweden to take up a position as ballet and mime artist for a company in Laxā.

YOU TOURED RUSSIA, EUROPE AND SCANDINAVIA WITH THAT COMPANY. WHAT MEMORIES/REWARDS OF THAT? 

The company was international in its make-up, with dancers, performers and administrators from all over the world. It was government-funded and it did remarkable original work. A unique blend of mime, classical Russian ballet and physical theatre (I guess, a bit like how we understand Cirque du Solei today

We travelled a lot. But it was difficult for me as there were still sanctions against South Africa at the time.

I remember being denied entry into Norway, while the rest of the company was allowed to proceed. And once, in Sweden, I was heckled by an audience member for being a South African…. a small price to pay compared to what the majority of South Africans were experiencing for decades. 

I MOST RECALL YOUR WORK FROM THE 1990S, WHEN YOU RETURNED TO DURBAN, ESTABLISHED BRINCAT PRODUCTIONS AND APPEARED IN SUCH SUCCESSES AS “KING KONG”,“THE HOUSE HUSBAND”,“LEOPARD SKIN”,“MORON THAN OFF’AND “BLACKS LIKE ME”. WERE THOSE SPECIAL DAYS FOR YOU – AND IF SO, WHY? 

They were my best days! I think, at the time, I was the only Durban playwright that had an original play opening in two different cities on the same night – Leopard Skin was opening at the (now-defunct) Kwasuka Theatre, while Blacks Like Me was opening at the Kalk Bay Theatre in the Cape, both on the same night.

I have many favourite plays from those days and they encompassed particular actors and directors – each like the chapter of a good book. They were truly glory days for me, and doing the odd Shakespeare in between was a personal treat. 

WHAT WOULD YOU RATE AS THREE OF THE BIGGEST HIGHLIGHTS OF YOUR CAREER TO DATE?

Easy! 1) My first (and only) Vita Award for The House Husband. 2) The longevity of my play, The Emancipation of Arney. 3) Blacks Like Me being optioned for filming rights by Kudu Films.

Each of those developments catapulted me to the next, better incarnation of myself and my work. 

WHAT WORDS BEST DESCRIBE YOUR STRENGTHS? AND WHAT BEST DESCRIBE YOUR WEAKNESSES? 

When it comes to the arts, I am told I am passionate, prolific and energetic. I am also told that I’m egotistical, a terrible perfectionist and that I can be a dictator. 

WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD? ANY NEW PATHS PLANNED. 

I want to graduate well at the end of this year. I realise I have more to offer, just when I thought I was going to settle down. I realise I really don’t know what the future holds.

I never imagined I would have a beautiful new play touring the country, at this point in my life. 


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