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In-depth Interview With Jenny Kandenge On Her Adaptation Of ‘For Coloured Girls’

The groundbreaking choreopoem will show from 28-30 November at NTN's Auditorium.

Three weeks into the rehearsal process of her production of Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf, Director Jenny Kandenge describes the rehearsal process as a fun experience that feels like a sisterhood.

With a play that incorporates acting, dance and music, Kandenge admits rehearsals can become draining, but she’s positive the audience will come out different after the production,  “different in a good way.”

For this adaptation of Shange’s first and much-acclaimed work, Kandenge, who has directed 6 plays so far, wants audiences to come with an open mind and to forget all they think they know about For Colored Girls and be prepared to be blown away.

Here, the best director winner talks about bringing Shange’s work, which is currently having a revival in the US, to the Namibian stage.

Tell us about your first time reading the script Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf.
I was like wow… so this is what For Colored girls really is about. It is completely different from the film and I was blown away. I decided then and there that Namibians had to see the original piece.

Apart from being written in the early ’70s, this work is being revived in the US right now. As a female director yourself, why was it important for you to tell this powerful work of Shange to a Namibian audience and what was it that made you choose this piece to work with?
It is such an honour to be able to stage Shange’s work, she was a phenomenal woman. For Coloured Girls is still relevant right now, the issues that the women in the choreopoem talks about things still happening to this day, which is sad because it shows that since the 70s things haven’t changed much for women. I was always drawn to the script after I saw the movie and since 2014 I’ve been wanting to stage it but I never felt ready. But with all the violence against women happening right now I felt it is my duty as a theatremaker to tell stories like this. We are going to be echoing what is happening in our world right now.

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Jenny Kandenge (Image: NTN/Facebook)

This piece was adapted into a film by Tyler Perry and has staged numerous times on international stages, have you seen a production of it before? How does it influence your directorial choices for this production?
I have seen the film, but I always did some research and when I found out that it is based on a theatre production I found a clip of the original play and again I was blown away. I feel that I have a duty to stay true to what Shange wanted to say with For Colored Girls,- which is something very different from the film.

You are well-know for your thriller-themed theatrical work that explores the darker, more manic sides of the human race and this work is more layered around black feminism and the piece is a choreopoem, overall. Is this something new for you?
Directing a choreopoem is something completely new for me, but I am having so much fun with it and so is the creative team and actresses. It is a good challenge for them. People might know me for my thriller works but this isn’t my first production focused on black feminism and activism, Daddy’s Girls was actually inspired by For Colored Girls and I took some of the themes from it and placed it in my script.

Shange’s writing style is idiosyncratic and she often uses vernacular language, unique structure, and unorthodox punctuation to emphasize syncopation. What are some of the adaptions you are integrating, in the form of language and dramatization that will make it appealing and understandable to the Namibian audience? Or are you leaving the script as is?
Shange’s style of writing is so beautiful that I could not see me changing it. I had to change a few things here and there because the original is based in the US but the changes I made didn’t change the message and feel of the script. Shange wrote the script so that her grandmother would understand, she said she wanted to write the way coloured girls speak and with respect for her, I have left it as is. However, there are no accents- all the actresses are keeping their natural voices and tones.

You are working with Lize Ehlers as musical director and Nikhita Winkler as the Choreographer, how is it like working with them to create this new vision of work?
It is the best feeling ever, we even have an all-female band and they are amazing. Lize and Nikhita are brilliant at what they do. As a choreopoem the elements of music, dance are so essential in making the piece come alive and having people who know what they are doing, who understand the play, helps a lot. It’s like we’re all cooking and everyone is adding something in the pot to make this lovely meal. I can truly say that I wouldn’t have been able to stage this production without their collaboration.

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Let’s talk about your cast. You were specifically looking for diverse women of colour with strong vocal and speech abilities. Why is this important and who are the cast members?
I wanted the women to be a rainbow themselves, different ages, races, and looks. The actresses are telling stories of different women all over the world, diversity was very important for me and of course strong vocal and speech abilities because some of the pieces are long and I had to look at how they can keep the attention of the audience with their voice.

Cast

Lady in Orange is played by Odile Gertze
Lady in Green is played by Counney Kemp
Lady in Yellow is played by Diana Master
Lady in Red is played by Christell Nassauw
Lady in Brown is played by Rencha Murere
Lady in Purple is played by Jeanne-Danae Januarie
Lady in Blue is played by Xaverie M

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow Is Enuf opens on 28 November and runs until 30 November 2019, at the National Theatre of Namibia’s Auditorium at 20h00 on all evenings. General tickets are at N$100 and N$80 for senior citizens and students. Tickets available at Computicket.