Average read time: 5 minutes.

Dusk, written by Mark Scheepers, is a new play, a one-act drama set in Limpopo, running from  6 – 29 August at the Market Theatre. It follows the story of Tessa (Michelle Douglas), an actress who has given up her career to focus on her family and their farm. Disaster occurs when her son Chris comes home from university, turning Tessa’s carefully planned life upside down and sending her into a state of paranoia and mental imbalance after a tragedy occurs.

In this delicate space, she is visited by KG (Loyiso MacDonald), who grew up on the farm and was a childhood friend of Chris’. His engagement with Tessa – he is determined to find out what happened to his friend – brings up issues both societal and personal as the pair work their way towards forgiveness.

The play is directed by actress and playwright Palesa Mazamisa, winner of 2019 Naledi Theatre Awards for both her script for satirical piece Shoes & Flashing and her work as Best Supporting Actor in the same play. ASA sat down with Palesa to ask her a few questions.

Dusk has had the dates of its stage run shifted a couple of times already thanks to changing pandemic lockdown regulations. How difficult was that for the cast and crew?

“We were still supposed to do another week of rehearsals,” says Palesa, recalling receiving the news of the opening being postponed. “It was important time, too. We’d just looked into some big changes, and we hadn’t moved into the theatre yet, where we needed to cue the lighting and all the rest. It’s been disruptive, and it takes a while to re-develop the actors’ body memory (what movements come with which lines). But, I’m lucky to be working with great actors, so we’ll be fine.”

Dusk. Michelle Douglas and Loyiso Macdonald written by Mark Scheepers
Palesa Mazamisa (centre) works through the script with her cast Michelle Douglas (left) and Loyiso MacDonald (right).

It’s an odd situation having extra time that might allow for a directorial vision to be changed and updated when that wasn’t expected to be the case. Did you adapt or update your thinking?

“It did change slightly,” says Palesa, adding, “it allowed me to read again and to rethink some of the work we had done. In a way, it has helped. Well – I hope what I’ve re-thought is an improvement! Sometimes, it’s good to have a pause, as in rehearsals, you think in the moment. I think in our current mindset, the issues in the play will become more tangible. Give people more pause to think about our society, where we are and where we’re going. Mark has infused these two characters with a great deal of humanity in dealing with what they’re going through.”

In the play, Tessa is an actress who must look elsewhere for work. This hits very close to home for a cast and crew sharing the same struggles. Did that affect the emotional space when exploring the script?

“I think so, yes,” Palesa says. “As we were reading and discussing things, we kept having debates. Issues kept coming up. We realised that at first, it was all about, ‘What’s going to happen to the arts? There’s no venues!’ Now it’s moved to people realising they need arts and human contact. And that they need to experience art in a communal space. The pandemic has highlighted how much we need that. The mental health aspect has a lot to do with not being able to be together.”

As a writer who directs, or the other way around, was there a need to juggle personal storytelling strengths with those that a playwright has included in their script, but from their perspective?

“It’s been interesting to go through a process I’ve already been through from the other side,” notes Palesa. “But I think that as a writer, it’s important to know that once a script is done, it is no longer yours. It belongs to everyone. That said, I was sensitive to Mark as a writer. We’ve been careful to keep the integrity of the play in place, even as we’ve changed small details. In working with the text, we’ve tried to help the message come out as beautifully as possible.

It’s interesting, though. A play evolves the more you rehearse. Something that makes perfect sense on paper sometimes doesn’t work on stage. At least, with all the delays, I still had the opportunity to work with Mark on those things, to figure out what was best for everyone. I think wearing both hats is making me sharper in terms of seeing how things translate from page to stage and improving my own writing.”

Beyond this production, how are you staying sane under lockdown?

“I’m watching a lot of Netflix,” she laughs. “But part of that is research. I’m trying to see what kind of TV really works and what audiences connect with, as I’m developing another concept for that platform. I also read a lot, and I’m always writing. And I’ve been able to do some mentoring for some young writers, which is good. We need new voices coming through.”

Dusk is on at The Market Theatre from 6th– 29th August

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Words  |  Bruce Dennill @brucedennill
Editor  |  Nikki Temkin @NikkiTemkin
Images  |  Suzy Bernstein