By BRUCE DENNILL
The Stageworx Performing Arts School in Johannesburg runs its programmes on a wonderfully edifying platform, focusing on developing all aspects (skills, confidence, character and more) of their students, who can sign up for part- and full-time courses depending on what outcomes they want to achieve. The school’s full-time “101” course is for students considering careers as performing artists, and the Here I Am showcase at Montecasino’s Teatro – a venue in which most South African performers would love to have a chance to take the stage – is the graduating class of 2020’s chance to present their talents in front of an audience (socially distanced and wearing masks).
Each performer gets their own 10-minute slot, and is tasked with filling that time with their own mini-programme, highlighting their particular areas of expertise – singing, songwriting, acting, dancing, choreography, scriptwriting – through original work and interpretations of existing material. Between these slots, the programme includes video presentations of other activities the class had taken part in during the year and other aspects of the Stageworx offering, as well as award presentations in various categories.
This makes for a varied and entertaining evening, with soloists supported by their classmates (and teachers), who make up dance troupes and supporting casts. It’s interesting to note, for a group of youngsters who have spent a year together, just how singular each performer is, with each chapter of the showcase reflecting the character, concerns and perhaps insecurities of each student. On that latter count, one of the major takeaways from the evening is the importance and value of the support these young talents receive at the school – there are hints of stories like Fame and Glee, sure, but the goal here is to give these students the tools to handle all kinds of challenges (including shaping perspectives that allow for the creation of unique work), not only to try and give them the edge in auditions.
This, ultimately, feels like the more important outcome, but as a showcase in a professional venue, the quality of the graduate’s performances must be noted. For the most part – and keeping in mind that the 101 course is only a single year (with students having the option to stick around and refine their craft further in successive years) – there is still some work to do for most of the performers before they begin to threaten more established talents in the local industry. There are standouts though, with singer Jamie having a sublime voice, and all-rounders Refentse and Micah combining strong, rich voices with great movement and writing skills to match their considerable stage presence.
For the graduating class, Here I Am is an unforgettable milestone. For the audience, it is a chance to return to a much-loved space and to enjoy early exposure to potential future stars (Stageworx alumni Jessica Driver and Yahto Kraft both return to perform solos, reminding all assembled of what is possible). And for Stageworx and the full team involved in the school, it is an excellent advertisement for the importance of believing in young artists and the significance of what their creativity might yield.