Professor Andrew Buckland has often been described as a doyen of South African theatre. This may be a hackneyed phrase- but when you look back on his varied and rich career of over 30 years, the magnitude of his contribution to the performing arts is immutable.
Headed by renowned theatre critic Adrienne Sichel, the Standard Bank Ovation Awards team has awarded a Standing Ovation to Prof Buckland for his life-long commitment to the arts. In his typically self-deprecating way, he says: “I struggle to have a response, apart from being honoured and appreciating that people have made the gesture but I can’t help thinking it’s because I’m old… or, as one fellow Ubom! cast member joked: It’s because you’re old and still kiff!”
Now, while taking a much-deserved sabbatical after three years as Drama HOD, there is much in store for the future. His first port of call will be returning to the performance aesthetic of his earlier solo shows such Feedback and The Ugly Noo-Noo. Now that he has the time “to seriously play” he is looking forward to creating a new work for the Baxter Theatre programme, with Janet his wife and fellow director, who always plays an integral part in the creative process with her astute and invaluable input.“I have the luxury of being given time to research,” he says. “The work I’m doing requires a demanding daily regime of physical training and structured creative output. I am fortunate to work with colleagues who can assist me in putting my work into practice, which will hopefully result in significant research output during my sabbatical.”
Buckland starred in two productions at this year’s National Arts Festival: the Ovation-award winning Crazy in Love and the comic Eastern Cape Western Hoss. Both were directed by Rob Murray, who was the resident director at Ubom! this year and has now taken a post of part time lecturer at the department while completing his PhD. The two share similar passions- clowning, mime and visual theatre and puppetry, all of which feature strongly in both productions. Sharing fruitful and satisfying collaborations with Ubom! East Cape Theatre Company since its inception in 2003, he has written plays, directed and performed work with a cast of young performers who consistently bring new ideas to the table. “With the age difference between us, you quickly find the truth of what serves the story, because people change so fast, you have to learn fast too.”
Sadly Ubom! has only received funding up until the end of the year, after which the company will be closing its doors. The Makana Drama Development Festival will be going forward as planned in November. Prof Buckland laments that the biggest loss is how Ubom! brought theatre to the people of the Eastern Cape. “The structure of workshops, performances and theatre development gave audiences a fresh experience of theatre and a love of performance as a resource,” he said.
He complements both Murray and Liezl de Kock, his fellow performer in Crazy in Love, describing the process of how she developed a character for her Master’s performance which later became the bittersweet Ginny in the play. “Liesl’s clown is impossibly optimistic and innocent, seeking and finding joy wherever she can. It was wonderful to see her then be able to plumb another area as sometimes a character becomes a comfort zone, protecting yourself from uncomfortable or painful situations. This is definitely what I do, deflect a situation by making it funny, finding the comedy in the situation.”
“My career is a long list of bolts of good fortune ‒ I’ve been incredibly lucky with the people I have worked with,” the list of which includes acclaimed directors Lara Foot and Lionel Newton and colleagues Gary Gordon, Reza de Wet and Jane Osborne. When asked who bolstered his work in its early stages he shares the story of a Polish percussionist, Maciek Schejbal whom he met in 1987 at the Market Theatre. Schejbal wanted to become a jazz drummer so he would diligently get up every morning and practice two uninterrupted hours of bass drum. From him he learned the necessity of daily practice, despite having been newly trained as a mime at the time. “He taught me to think about performance, when you face a mirror, or stand up in room full of people, what do you do with your body?”
He also recalls how he put together a solo show for a late night slot for the Market Theatre, which is how his break out one-man show The Ugly Noo-Noo, about a park town prawn, was born. Buckland’s unique style of visual comedy and satire has paved the way for physical comedians such as Rob van Vuuren (who also trained at Rhodes) and many more. “This was a turning point for me; a way of seeing myself that was relevant to the act of performing. I had never felt that kind of reaction from an audience before, that rare kind of belly laughter…”
Buckland took up the post of lecturer at Rhodes in 1992, after which he was employed as Associate Professor, where he has been instrumental in the initiation of new undergraduate, Honours and Masters courses, particularly in the area of contemporary performance. He has received numerous awards including two Naledi awards, a Fleur du Cap Award for the best new indigenous script (1989) for The Ugly Noo Noo and the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Drama in 1989. In 2008, he performed the Sergeant Pepper character in the production The Beatles: Love with the prestigious Cirque du Soleil.
First published on http://www.ru.ac.za as well as Grocott’s Mail in 2010.