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A South African show starring Fall 2017 Voyagers
Michael Williams, the second Interport Lecturer of the Fall 2017 Voyage, came onboard with something special planned: a performance, for students and by students, that reflected life in South Africa.
The only hitch was putting a show together in less than a week, since Williams— an award-winning author, director, educator, and current Managing Director of Cape Town Opera— has spent his time onboard the MV World Odyssey working, as he put it, “flat out.”
“I attended about five to six lectures every day, lecturing on a whole range of subjects, parachuting into classes about globalization, medicine in South Africa, history, economics, a whole range of lectures. I sort of come in to frame the thought, or add something to it,” said Williams during a brief down moment. “That’s really I think the role of a Interport Lecturer, that they bring a degree of authenticity, a degree of local knowledge and context, and it aids the professors that have prepared for the whole world, the whole voyage.”
In between popping in and out of classes, Williams and a group of voyagers have been rehearsing nonstop to put on a performance for the rest of the shipboard community. The selected pieces are pulled from Williams’ long career as a writer, director, and producer of musical theatre, as well as his knowledge of the history of South Africa and how artists have made sense of the young country’s history.
The day before the MV World Odyssey arrived in Cape Town, voyagers performed extracts from four musicals, three by Williams himself: Orphans of Qumbu, about the elections of 1994; a music whodunit titled Who Killed Jimmy Valentine?; two numbers from Mandela Trilogy; and two numbers from the iconic musical by David Kramer, District Six, about the forced removal of Cape Town inhabitants during the apartheid era.
Williams chose the extractions specifically because he believes they reveal something about Fall 2017’s third port.
“I think that each of them speaks to something interesting about South Africa and about Cape Town,” Williams said. “The Mandela Trilogy extract is obvious. Who Killed Jimmy Valentine? gets into gangsterism in Cape Town; Orphans of Qumbu, the moment of transformation in South Africa from the old South Africa to the new. And District 6 is a very fond recollection of a time that was forever changed and destroyed by the apartheid system.”
A musical performance may be a different way of learning about a country’s history, but after sailing four full voyages as a professor, and now three times as an Interport Lecturer, Williams has a firm grasp on how to open minds to new ways of learning about new places.
“It’s new people, it’s a new ship, and yet the program is so ingrained in that fundamental belief in experiential learning, which of the past 20, 30 years has been what Semester at Sea has been all about,” Williams said. “Get young people out of their comfort zones, out of their closed mentality that doesn’t always look beyond its borders, and into places that will surprise, shock, disgust, repel, excite. All of that is about growing up and learning that we’re part of the greater world.”