Bielefeld and Johannesburg meet to create ground-breaking musical theatre

Love, politics, technology and individual destinies cross international boundaries in this innovative collaboration between Johannesburg´s Windybrow Theatre and Bielefeld´s Musiktheater Jugendclub. „At Your Doostep“, conceived by German stage director and librettist Robert Lehmeier, was developed through collaborative youth workshops in South Africa and Germany, with music composed by Matthew MacFarlane (South Africa) and Marc L. Vogler (Switzerland). Interactive video technology facilitated simultaneous live performances in both hemispheres.

A week-long writing workshop held in Hillbrow in December 2021 formed the basis of the text, and in February 2022 two weekend workshops held at the Windybrow Theatre developed material further towards opera creation, workshopping and discussing texts developed from the December workshops. In March of 2023 a further workshop at the Windybrow Theatre was held to fine-tune material. In parallel to the Johannesburg workshops, over two years (2021-2023), a series of workshops held at the MUTH youth theatre workshops of the Theatre Bielefeld also contributed to the creation and development of the text.

The two composers, coached by Australian collaborative composition expert Cathy Milliken, collaborated on musical content.

Post-performance question and answer sessions, with live-stream video links, were facilitated in both Bielefeld and Johannesburg, promoting intercontinental dialogue and cultural exchange between young people.

Presented between 29 March and 27 April, 2023, „At Your Doorstep“ tells the stories of four characters – a young brother and sister in Johannesburg´s turbulent inner city Hillbrow, and a mother and daughter in Bielefeld, Germany. The brother and sister, refugees from a war-torn country in the North, have crossed many borders to arrive in Hillbrow; the young German woman struggles with crippling anxiety and with her overprotective mother´s racism. As the performance progresses, an online relationship between the brother and the German daughter ignites, and the four protagonists seek common ground.

Seven performances each in Hillbrow and Bielefeld met with enthusiastic audience responses and rave reviews.

The cast of four singers – July Zuma and Nokuthula Magubane (South Africa) and Mayan Goldenfeld and Nohad Becker (Germany) was accompanied by a live chamber orchestra of four musicians (Johannesburg)/ six musicians (Bielefeld). A combination of live streaming with pre-recorded sound, tape, and live performance enabled both sides of the story to be performed simultaneously.

„At Your Doorstep“ explores the fears, hopes, and expectations of young people on both continents, the challenges of coming together via social media, and what happens when you leave the safety of the internet „bubble“ and the virtual becomes real.

This project is the third part and conclusion of the chamber opera series „First Contact“, which the Bielefeld Theatre realised with the support of the New Path profile funding from the NRW Cultural Secreatriat and the State of North Rhine-Westphalia, and was a continuation of the Hillbrow Theatre and Windybrow Arts Centre´s ongoing education programmes, under the umbrella of the Market Theatre Foundation.