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The notion of transformation as a theatrical technique and style comes in various forms and transformation scenes have been a fundamental part of theatre for as long as the art form has existed. Indeed basic storytelling often involves multiple characters and various transformations by the narrator.

General meanings

Besides the more theoretical/philosophical notion of the performer "transforming" him/herself into a character and the idea of the (magical seeming) "transformation of the set", the term generally refers more specifically to the physical changes in the performer (i.e. by means of movement, voice, posture, make-up, costume, etc.). In this sense it was probably originally found in comments on revue styles of theatre, notably so-called transformation pieces, referring to the fact that there is a constant and quick change of costume and character by the performers in the piece. The use of transformation is also often found in farces and comedies, as well as one-person shows. Also referred to as quick change performances or later as multiple role performances.

The concept takes on various forms and the term regularly occurs in phrases such as transformation scene, transformation act, transformation play, transformation performer, transformation role, and so on.

Occurrence in South Africa

19th century peformers

Mr St George,

Notable South African examples of this style are the South African productions of:

20th century South African adaptations

Louis de Vriendt and his wife Mignon Sorel in the early 1900's, who, when they performed Die Niksnuts ("Worthless Man") for example, each enacted eight characters, utilizing a strong mimetic style of characterization based on the commedia del'arte. (Referred to as "transformasie aktes" by André Huguenet.)

The basic principle was later adapted simplified and very effectively employed for the "poor theatre" of the cultural struggle years, e.g. in the satirical work of such performers as Mbongeni Ngema and Percy Mtwa (e.g. in Woza Albert!), Pieter-Dirk Uys, Nicholas Ellenbogen and the stand-up comedy of people like Mark Banks.

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