Protest no laughing matter for Bay actors
A usually humorous and flamboyant show turned dark when protesting students brought Port Elizabeth comics Gino Fabbri and Ian von Memerty’s Common and Class to a halt, holding the cast and patrons hostage at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre.
UKZN campuses have been shut down for more than a week, with students protesting over several grievances relating to registration and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).
The protests affected the duo’s show after 8pm on Friday, with students calling for it to be stopped immediately.
“We were aware that there was no [educational] activity going on in the campus due to the protests, but there was security letting people in and out of the campus, so we didn’t expect our show to be affected,” Von Memerty said.
He said the protesters had arrived towards the end of the first act of the show.
“We were on stage when our backstage guys let us know there was a situation outside and we would have to stop the show and ask everyone to stay put.”
He said the protesters had been singing struggle songs, dancing and occasionally banging on the theatre doors.
“We had to take the audience to our dressing rooms backstage for safety and switch the lights off in the theatre.”
The diverse audience of about 150 included a quadriplegic in a wheelchair and several senior citizens on crutches.
Although Fabbri found slight humour in some of the audience members’ reactions upon seeing them backstage at a show for the first time, he said it was a nerve-wracking experience, especially considerThe ing the recent violent protest in which 20-year-old student Mlungisi Madonsela was shot dead at the Durban University of Technology.
“I was worried that our cars could get damaged outside or if the [protesters] came in . . . As the performer you feel very responsible for the safety of your audience, so it was a very scary situation at the time but we cracked a few jokes to make everyone as comfortable as possible,” Fabbri said.
He said fortunately there had been an off-duty policeman in the audience who took charge of the situation inside and alerted his colleagues, while campus security handled the protest outside.
situation was resolved and the audience was escorted out unharmed two hours later.
The students were reportedly on their way to the vicechancellor’s residence near the theatre when they learnt of the show taking place inside the theatre and disrupted it.
“The protest had nothing to do with us but we are living in a country where these things happen and we just have to deal with it at times,” Fabbri said.
“The only comparable thing I could think of at the time was when I was in a jazz band in the ’80s and the comrades were toy-toying and wouldn’t allow us into the hall, and that was a long time ago.”
Von Memerty said he had never experienced anything similar in his career.
“This came out of nowhere – at 8.15pm there was absolutely nothing happening and by 8.25pm we had to stop the show.
“My great relief is that nobody was hurt and nothing was damaged, so in the big scheme of things where people are being shot every day, this didn’t get that far.
“It’s just very frustrating that these students in their anger are prepared to damage their own institutions.
“I understand they have legitimate concerns but I don’t see how this helps.”
The duo have booked alternative venues to hold the remaining KZN shows.