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RUBBISH AND SQUAWK (article first published : 2004-01-25)

This last decade will probably go down in history as South Africa’s most dynamic era. To celebrate this Ellis & Bheki are touring Boy Called Rubbish and Squawk. Created ten years ago these two shows deal with fundamental issues with great humour and fun and still stand as their most popular pieces.

Ellis and Bheki have played in more than 10 countries round the world and prior to a six-week tour of Canadian children’s festivals in May, they are now offering Boy Called Rubbish and Squawk to schools in KZN and Gauteng.

Boy Called Rubbish features a handful of props, all of which could probably be found on a rubbish dump. The actors tell the story of a little boy called Rubbish who grows up in adverse circumstances in a squatter camp, short of food and tormented by a drunken father and a demanding mother. However, he discovers a very special friend who gives him great courage and moral support. His friend is always very close to him - in his pocket, in fact, and he encourages Rubbish to new heights and achievements so that he eventually becomes the hero of the local community. Boy Called Rubbish is a truly South African legend of a child on a journey from degradation and deprivation to the discovery of his real worth. It is told with a great deal of comedy, fun, caring and amazing physical theatre. Ellis and Bheki are masters of the art of entertaining while delivering a profound and universal message.

Squawk – Amazwi Omoya (the words of the wind) was created just after South Africa had its first democratically elected government in 1994. But the story includes the period of turmoil leading up to those historic elections. There was much fear around at that time. Some white people were building underground bunkers and stocking up on tinned food, fearing that the passing of the old order would plunge the country into anarchy. Of course, it never did. Other groups of people, sensing that the new order would bring fresh opportunity, were keen to grab their share and so felt it necessary to intimidate other groups into voting for them. Members of the extreme right wing - some of whom were in the government about to be voted out of office - organised sinister militant groups that murdered many people and tried to create distrust and fear in the population.

This was the atmosphere in which Squawk was created. To transcend the obvious limitations of creating a political play and to avoid finger pointing, Ellis and Bheki chose to create a theatre parable. They situated the action in "the land of the birds" and all the characters are birds.

Using the imagination of the audience, a broken umbrella, a stick, a bit of cloth, the actors conjure from the air an ostrich, two conniving crows, a vain peacock, a drunk duck, a chicken, hadedas. The elders of the bird community decide to hold a Peace Song Competition to foster community spirit and co-operation. Alas! It is not as easy as they may have wished. Each bird has its own ideas and, come hell or high water (and they both do!), there is no agreement. A madcap adventure unfolds!!!

Boy Called Rubbish and Squawk each run for 50 minutes and can be perform at schools. The performance can be followed up with an interactive workshop session where the learners can have fun in discovering Ellis and Bheki’s unique style of theatre of the imagination.

Either piece can be presented in the evening as a school fund raiser or as a community get together, which gives parents the opportunity to experience this exciting theatre genre alongside their children. As part of the presentation Ellis & Bheki will fire the imagination of the parents and the children with a 20 minute discussion on the arts and creativity, touching on their own personal experiences around the world. Study guides are available on both pieces.

The shows are available in KZN until February and then again from March 22 to May 10. It will move to Gauteng from February 28 to March 20. Contact Sue Clarence on 082 882 9869; 031 261 6677 or e-mail: clarence@icon.co.za




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