Inspired by Omphile Molusi’s uncle, who spent time in jail, Cadre is loosely based around two events of his uncle’s life as a soldier. It is also a story about becoming an activist from a very young age.
“It is a story about black power. It is the story of Africa, not just South Africa,” said Molusi. The writer and director took a break from what he enjoys most, writing and spending time with his family, to speak with me about his new show.
Molusi began writing Cadre in 2008, and it took him two years to complete a draft. Patience paid off when Chicago Shakespeare Theatre and Market Theatre of Johannesburg joined forces to produce the show’s world premiere in Chicago in February 2013.
The play shows how the same people who fought for democracy have come to betray that freedom, and how, when you can take a look at the past and the present, you are pushed to create a better future.
In 2007, Molusi was the first recipient of the Brett Goldin Royal Shakespeare Company Bursary and had the golden opportunity that “every theatre major dreams about”: he had a chance to spend a month at the Royal Shakespeare Company. He recalls his time there as a “wonderful experience that changed my life and helped me grow so much.”
Molusi mainly writes personal stories, but his background as an activist inspires his writing as well. He started writing family shows, then transitioned into personal stories that double as character studies — much like the style of his idol, William Shakespeare, with whom he shares a birthday.
Molusi started his career in theatre back in 2001 after graduating from Market Theatre in South Africa, where he studied drama. He had recently dropped out of studying electrical engineering; what pulled him into studying drama was the joy of telling stories and touching an audience through language.
He explained that he connects his love of writing with his memory of growing up in South Africa. “When an adult [tells] you something, you are not supposed to talk back,” he recalled. “I chose to respond to the adult through writing, and this created my love for writing.
“It is amazing what writing can do for as you as person individually. It is like something spiritual that no one can see except you.”
Molusi hopes that Cadre’s audiences “will receive the show with [an] open heart and empathize with the characters.” He explains that, in his native South Africa, “the show has been met with two kinds of responses: a white response and a black response.”
He hopes the show has a similar effect during its Canadian premiere at The Cultch. However, Molusi also emphasizes that he hopes audiences will chat in the lobby after the show.
My favourite piece of wisdom that Molusi shared is something that his grandmother told him, and something I personally aspire to. “‘You tell stories of people because as performers, we perform people. And when you perform people, you understand people,’” his grandmother told him. “‘When you understand people, you can respect people. And when you respect people, you learn to live in harmony. And hopefully, we live in harmony.’”
Molusi feels the same way. “Generally, that is the philosophy of my theatre.”
Cadre will be presented by Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Richard Jordan Productions Ltd., and Market Theatre of Johannesburg from February 24–March 8 at The Cultch. For more information, visit thecultch.com.