The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has long appreciated music, dance, and theater. Early pioneers who trudged across the Midwestern plains of the United States paused for evenings of music and square dancing to lift their spirits. Older generations of Church members remember their own youthful experiences in Church-wide dance festivals, Gold and Green Balls, temple pageants, and roadshows, which often involved non-members as well. Most people remember these experiences with great affection.
More than 40 youth of the Johannesburg Stake continued this musical tradition on July 5 with a production that lived up to its title: “Ignite the Light.” It turned out to be an absolutely electrifying evening of drama, singing, and dance.
The audience, full of the performers' families and friends, traveled by car and bus to attend. When two busloads were running late, everyone in the assembled audience agreed it was only right to delay the opening curtain and wait for them. When everyone had arrived, they filled the cultural hall all the way to the back.
The script, written by teenager Helena Milne, utilized dialogue, singing, and dancing to convey a Gospel message. The story centers on Ryan, a recently-returned missionary (played by Craig Smith), who runs into Lebo (played by Juliet Mkhena), whom he remembers from their days in Primary. Lebo rebuffs Ryan’s friendship because her family has fallen into inactivity and she has drifted into a gang association.
The production, initiated and supported by Johannesburg Stake President Andrew De Kock, provided a variety of formats to present its story: the stage choir did an especially masterful presentation of “If You Have It, Why Not Share it?” which referred to the message of the Gospel. The dialogue was punctuated with different types of dancing, from a classical ballet solo (by Megan Snijman), through western line-dancing, to hip-hop featuring White Blood Mulamba Tshibely’s amazing break-dancing. It brought the audience to its feet.
One of the joys of an amateur production is the discovery of great talent that had been heretofore undiscovered. Such was the powerful singing voice of Khuleka Xulu, who played Pumi, a character who had made the difficult yet joyful decision to repent and return to the Church.
The production, which lasted nearly an hour, featured near-professional sound, lighting, and special effects. When the final curtain rang down, the entire cast came out for standing ovations and several curtain calls. Even the stage-hands were called forward, a group of very young boys who had just had their first work experience, on-the-job training in what goes on behind the scenes.
The performers hugged one another, congratulated each other, accepted bouquets of flowers, and took yet another bow. They even held an 'Oscar awards' get-together the evening after the performance.
An 'Oscar' went to Khuleka Xulu (who played Pumi) for her amazing singing performance. Though not a member of the Church, both she and her friend Juliet Mkhena (who played Lebo) are drama students at the University of the Witwatersrand. Juliet, who is a Church member, had persuaded Khuleka to audition. Along with her Oscar, the cast presented Khuleka with a Book of Mormon and introduced her to the missionaries. The greatest applause of all came when Khuleka graciously agreed to meet with them.