MI(SA), performed at the 2019 Woordfees, is an ambitious piece of theatre. It is a musical tryptic containing three masses: the Missa Luba (a Latin Mass set to traditional song forms from the Democratic Republic of Congo), the Misa Criolla (one of the first non-Latin masses) and the MI(SA) itself, a new South African mass written by the Afrikaans poet Antjie Krog and set to music by Antoni Schonken. The production involves numerous members of the Cape Town Opera, six dancers, two choreographers and one Amanda Strydom.
But that is not what marks this production as special or important. Likewise, the use of South African Sign Language (SASL) and the inclusion of two SASL interpreters on stage during this scientific mass for the universe, is significant, but not defining.
What makes this production unique, is that it is the first time SASL and SASL interpreters have been involved in the co-creation of a piece of theatre from the first day of rehearsals. (To put this in context: SASL as home language was included in the matric exams for the very first time in 2018.) “The functional use of SASL and the way it was integrated into the production right from the start is a first for the Cape,” says Marsanne Neethling.
Marsanne is a Language Centre interpreter who has extensive experience in interpreting for the Deaf in a wide variety of settings – including classrooms and theatres. According to her, a lack of exposure to creative events such as these means that many Deaf people are neither proud of their culture nor of SASL. She acknowledges that her participation in MI(SA) has an “awareness component”.
By having the cast learn SASL and use it while they sing, and by developing more poetic signs and more poetic styles of delivery, three things are happening. Firstly, mainstream cultural spaces are being made accessible to the Deaf community. Secondly, SASL is being enriched in precisely the same way that any language is broadened by poetry. Thirdly, the mainstream audience is suddenly exposed to SASL in a high-culture setting, increasing awareness of SASL and the Deaf community.
Missed MI(SA) at the Woordfees? It’s on show at the Suidooster Festival in Cape Town on 28 April if you’d still like to share in this experience.
Interpreters from the Language Centre were on duty at 11 current affairs discussions during the recent Woordfees. If you’d like to ensure that all voices are heard in any meeting, discussion or set of proceedings you are arranging, contact Nanette van der Berg to have trained, experienced professional interpreters at the ready.