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​A different kind of Bond was at the Market Theatre, which is staging The Brothers Size, a play born of the African diaspora.
WHEN the time came for American Tim Bond to make a career choice, he did not follow in the footsteps of his British namesake, superspy and master martini drinker, James Bond. His decision was no less exciting, though, and he brings the same amount of panache to his role as artistic director of the renowned Syracuse Stage in New York as the spy does to fighting off the bad guys.

Tim BondTim Bond: Proud to be at the Market TheatreBond – Tim Bond, that is – joined the theatrical and artistic community of Joburg for a networking breakfast at the Market Theatre on 11 May to talk about his visiting production, The Brothers Size, as well as what it is like to work in contemporary US theatre. He was welcomed by a diverse group of actors, directors, writers, set designers and producers, all keen to exchange knowledge about the industry.

“I feel privileged to be at the Market Theatre,” he said. “I have a great interest in South Africa and political theatre, in things that change people’s lives.

“I felt I was in a dream when I woke up. Coming to Africa is a big thing for African-Americans; we see it as coming back to the homeland,” he explained. “From the dismemberment of our past, it serves as a remembering of ourselves by piecing back together our roots.”

This fits in with Bond’s role as a director, particularly in terms of The Brothers Size, which starts at the Market Theatre on 14 June. “My purpose as a director is to create connections for people across gender, race and sexual orientation lines. I hope The Brothers Size does that in South Africa, so that people can see similarities and not just differences,” he said.

Written by contemporary American playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, The Brothers Size is a tale of ritual, brotherly love and the desire to belong. The main characters – brothers Ogun and Oshoosi Size and their friend Elegba – are named after Yoruba deities. Yoruba is a West African ethnic group, mostly living in Nigeria, and mythology and rituals associated with their culture are explored in the play.

“The play lends itself to the lack of use of props and a strong audience connection,” Bond said. “There are truths in classic plays that transcend race and gender, and it is the same in The Brothers Size.”

Portraying issues of cultural rituals, being released from prison and what it means to be a brother are not simple, but it was important to Bond that while adding his own interpretation to the original storyline, the core aspects of the play captured by McCraney be preserved. McCraney attended a dress rehearsal of Bond’s production and was impressed by his version of it.

“He was moved by our approach to the play and was very happy with the way we ritualised it.”

The Brothers SizeBond is hoping South African audiences will feel the same. While it uncovers and looks at social issues such as the fact that three out of four African-American men in Washington DC will go through the prison system, it does not hit audiences over the head with this kind of information. “It is a play that talks about that image, but it is not an issue play; it is a family play,” he said.

“I am proud to be here at the Market and present The Brothers Size to South African audiences.”

As well as giving a teaser about what to expect in his upcoming production, Bond also described the challenges and opportunities of working in contemporary American theatre. “I am one of two artistic directors in the USA who are African-American,” he said. “I am not proud of it, but that is the way it is.”

There was also a real struggle in commercial theatre in the USA, he explained, as all stages including the major ones like those on Broadway were presenting far fewer productions than in the past. “State funding has been decimated by the far right and there is a struggle for funding.”

This has led to a need for innovation to keep audiences interested in going to the theatre. “We are trying to re-engage audiences on a number of levels,” he said. “We are not pandering to the masses, but engaging them through dialogue.”

The Brothers Size is one such play that engaged the audience through dialogue, Bond believes. It will run from 14 June to 1 July at the Market, and tickets range from R75 to R150. Shows from Tuesday to Saturday are at 8.15pm and Sunday shows are at 3.15pm. Children under the age of 14 may not watch as it contains strong language and adult content.

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