Drama for Life is thrilled to welcome the brilliant and accomplished Leila Henriques to our team! Leila is a valuable addition to our programme as lecturer, researcher and director. She joins us fresh from her recent triumph at the Naledi Theatre Awards, where the Market Theatre Laboratory-produced musical Hani: The Legacy, which she directed, won the best ensemble award.
As an actress, Leila was also among this year’s nominees in the category best performance in a solo production, for her portrayal of famed South African art patron Florence Phillips in Myer Taub’s play Florence, directed by Greg Homann.
Hani, which also won a Standard Bank Gold Ovation Award at the 2017 National Arts Festival in Makhanda (Grahamstown), tells the story of the late Chris Hani’s life through the contemporary music forms of hip-hop, rap and ballad.
A dynamic young cast of of Market Lab students – joined by Leila as director, Linda Tshabalala as assistant director and Teresa Phuti Mojela as choreographer – crafted this highly acclaimed production that grapples with the significance of Hani’s loss to South Africa and explores how his legacy can be honoured.
Leila relates how this extraordinary piece of theatre was conceived: “We told the story through the lens of youth – searching for Hani’s message and what it means to the youth now. We researched Chris Hani’s life through newspaper articles, the Hani biography and the internet,” she says.
“Using Hani’s life’s timeline, a rehearsal process took place, creating the arc of the play and finding the appropriate song form to express it in. Everything in the play is based on truth. Song, dance pieces and scenes were created through improvisation, but there was no fabrication or poetic licence. The cast were very strict in honouring the truth.”
Hani: The Legacy has evolved to remain fresh and relevant since it was first performed in 2016, and continues to resonate with audiences wherever it is staged. Leila hopes that it will continue to have legs and that more people around the country will have the opportunity to see it.
“It proves what anyone – any group, student or otherwise – can achieve if they take risks and work like crazy and don’t stop,” she says.
Leila is no stranger to Drama for Life, having taught here in the past, directed 144 for the DFL honours students and completed her Master of Arts degree with us in 2014. This experience, she says, “set my life on a new course and allowed me to understand the knowledge that my experience had given me and to find a space to hone it”.
It is an honour and a privilege to have this multi-talented creative powerhouse joining us on a full-time basis. She brings to our programme many years of experience and innovation in the performing arts, having training at Wits and the Oxford School of Drama before spending a two-year residency at the Tabard Theatre in London and then joining the Loft Theatre Company in Durban on her return to South Africa.
Acting highlights over the years include Silent Movie, directed by Barney Simon, and Womb Tide, directed by Lara Foot – and, more recently, The Curse of the Starving Class by Sam Shepard, directed by Sylvaine Strike. In addition to Hani, she has directed productions such as Yerma, Road, Red Shoes and Midwinter (all for Wits) and The List for the Baxter Theatre.
Her love affair with the life and work of the late Barney Simon continued when, together with Irene Stephanou, she wrote the book The World in an Orange – Exploring the work of Barney Simon, published by Jacana, which was shortlisted for the Alan Paton award.
Welcome on board, Leila! We hope you enjoy your time with DFL.