Magic is the word you hear all the time when you are with Sagila Drama Group. Acting is magic, people are magic, everything is magic.
When we met the people from Sagila, it was late afternoon, in Marabastad, Pretoria. Everyone was scared but excited. They were off to act at Eersterus, just outside Pretoria. So we went with them.
AFRICA COMES TO EERSTERUS
Soon after we got to the hall in Eersterus, the air was full of the sound of African drums. Sagila was dancing the good, old dances of long ago. There was the feel of Africa in the hall. And magic everywhere.
After a few minutes the music stopped and the dancers went off the stage. Everyone was dead quiet. Then the people started clapping and shouting for more. Sagila came on the stage again and did one last dance. But still people were not satisfied. They could not get enough of Sagila.
HOME TO PRETORIA
“Sagila started about six months ago,” Jake Chika told us the next day. “I was working in Johannesburg. But I had no place to stay. So I decided to come back home to Pretoria.
“When I got here many people used to ask me, ‘Hey, Bra Jake, why aren’t you acting anymore? Why don’t you start something here? So I thought about it. I had often done drama workshops with young people in Pretoria. I knew that people could act but they had nowhere to go.”
SAGILA — THE ASSEGAAI
“I thought, ‘It is time to start something here in Pretoria.’ So I got together with an old friend of mine from the theatre, Themba ka Nyati. And together we started Sagila.
“We told people what we were doing. Soon we had young, hopeful people coming to our offices. They all wanted to act, or dance or make music. And they all needed a place to do it.
“We decided to call ourselves Sagila. Sagila means an assegai. It is a sign of protection. We hope to protect actors from people who rob them. A lot of actors get robbed, you know. Actors often get very little money for acting in films — but producers always make lots of money from films.”
“When we do a play, Themba and I work on the words,” Jake told us. “Then we show the play to the actors and to Lulu Tsheole. Lulu tells the actors how to move. Then they start to practise. Sometimes they find acting difficult. And then I tell them, ‘You must let the magic inside you come out.'”
Lulu told us about teaching people to move on the stage, and how to dance. “In our last play we did a lot of dancing,” said Lulu. “When we started, people were very stiff. Also, they were not fit. We practised every day for two weeks before they could do the dance well.
“We fought a lot. People said they could not dance. I told them they could dance but they had to work hard. In the end they were dancing like they have danced all their lives.”
“We have a problem finding places to put on our plays,” said Jake. “When we take our plays to the township, not very many people come. People are not used to drama. And if we do our plays in town, we have to pay a lot of money for the halls.
“We do not have any money. We only get money when we put on a play. Then we share all the money we get among the actors. So we all struggle.
“Often at the end of the month, there is no money for wages. It is difficult to live like this. But Sagila is our baby. And we must suffer to make Sagila successful.”
THE ACTORS OF SAGILA TALK
Today, Sagila has about 150 actors and dancers. Most people work for Sagila part-time. But there are fifteen people who are full-time. These people act or dance for a living. When the actors and dancers of Sagila speak about their group, you see happiness in their faces. “I think that Sagila is magic,”said one young actor, shyly.
BETWEEN HEAVEN AND HELL
“When I act I feel like I am in heaven,” said Jerry Letswalo, one of the actors. “But before I go on stage, I am so scared, I feel like I am in hell. Acting is important. People often don’t understand talking but when they see you on stage, they understand.”
When the members of Sagila talk, they talk from their hearts — like Freddy Phiri. Freddy said, “Sagila brings people who can do different things together. Sagila teaches people to know themselves. I joined Sagila because I wanted to learn to sing but now I am a dancer too.”
As long as Sagila carry on acting and as long as people carry on clapping for them, Sagila will give us their magic. There is nothing to hold them back. We wish them luck to make more and more magic in the future.