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New Territories

Theatre, Drama, and Performance in Post-apartheid South Africa

by Greg Homann (Volume editor) Marc Maufort (Volume editor)
Monographs 404 Pages
Series: Dramaturgies, Volume 34

Summary

South African theatre, drama, and performance is a vibrant and rapidly developing area of contemporary theatre studies. In this critical anthology of essays and interviews, some of the world’s most respected scholars and practitioners writing and working in the area of South African theatre today share their detailed examinations and insights on the complex and contradictory context of post-apartheid society. Loosely grouped into the categories of Theatre, Drama, and Performance, the essays collected here offer a sampling of work being staged, produced, and written in the country today. The contributors document, contrast, and analyse significant case studies, representing examples from site-specific performance to new South African plays, from traditional indigenous performance practice to the reimagining of Western classics. The anthology takes the year of South Africa’s first democratic election, 1994, as its departure point and includes a broad range of topics that capture the current paradigm.

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • New Territories: Exploring the Post-apartheid Stage
  • Ubizo – Voices of elok’shini: Listening Afresh to Theatre Voices from Cape Town’s Townships
  • Eastern Cape Voices in Post-apartheid Theatre
  • “After Titus:” Towards a Survey of Shakespeare on the Post-apartheid Stage
  • Claiming Western Texts for Contemporary South African Theatre: Issues of Relevance and the Dead-end Pursuit of National Identity
  • SUN: Composition, Continuum, Choreopoem. A Theatre-making Case Study in Post-apartheid South Africa
  • “The Dangerous Side of Writing:” The Post-apartheid Memory Plays of Athol Fugard
  • Zakes Mda: The Satirist
  • The (New) Playwrights of the (New) Revolution
  • Re-imagining Space and Identity: A New Generation of Post-apartheid Afrikaans Playwrights
  • Staging Miss Julie: Re-Visioning Strindberg
  • Negotiating the Post-apartheid Condition: Violence, Trauma and the Realist Aesthetic in Contemporary South African Drama
  • Reanimating the Ordinary: Walking, Talking and Performing in Johannesburg and Beyond
  • Spectacles of Participation: Performing amaXhosa Authenticity at the National Arts Festival of South Africa
  • Laws of Recall: Body, Memory and Site-Specific Performance in Contemporary South Africa
  • “My Exit Interview.” Malcolm Purkey Talks to Geoffrey Davis
  • “Moments of Discovery.” An Interview with James Ngcobo
  • “Truth is in the detail.” Craig Higginson Talks to Anne Fuchs and Geoffrey Davis
  • “Don’t start him on the funding question, ever.” Mark Fleishman and Jay Pather Talking to Geoffrey Davis and Anne Fuchs
  • Index
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Series index

← 8 | 9 → Acknowledgments

The production of this book was made possible through a number of dedicated individuals, whom the editors would wish to warmly thank at the outset. Audrey Louckx, the series’ editorial assistant, efficiently helped with house style harmonizing, and meticulously compiled the index. Alice de Patoul, P.I.E. Peter Lang’s production officer, competently steered this project towards its completion. The editors owe a debt of gratitude to Ms. Emilie Menz, P.I.E.Peter Lang’s Senior Editor, for her continuing involvement in the “Dramaturgies” series, in which she welcomed publication of this volume. Editing this book was facilitated by the financial assistance of Belgian and South African academic institutions. Greg Homann would like to acknowledge the support he received from AFDA, which generously contributed to a visit to Brussels for an extended editorial meeting. Marc Maufort would wish to thank the National Fund for Scientific Research-Belgium (FRS-FNRS) for a 2012 travel grant, enabling him to conduct research on South African drama at the University of Cape Town and Stellenbosch University. ← 9 | 10 →

← 10 | 11 → New Territories: Exploring the Post-apartheid Stage

Greg HOMANN and Marc MAUFORT

In 1997 South African theatre historian, Temple Hauptfleisch, published a study entitled Theatre & Society in South Africa: Reflections in a Fractured Mirror. This was a culmination of roughly twenty years of his scholarship. In it, his broad approach to South African theatre studies strengthened the base from which more specialized studies would follow.

Hauptfleisch named eight forms of South African theatre, recognising traditional practices such as cultural initiation ceremonies, storytelling around a fire, and outdoor church services alongside dramas, plays, and workshopped theatre productions. His aim was to highlight a conversation that challenged conventional ways of studying theatre and that could readdress Western notions of the canon which informed the bias that was, and still is, evident in the study of South African theatre. In the preface to the book he stated:

An area not dealt with much is that of the theatre as system – the network of related and interrelating processes involved in eventually staging a play. Yet changes in the system of theatremaking, as well as changing concepts about such a system, may actually change one’s concepts of theatre itself and more specifically about the way one views theatre history. What we really need, of course, is a comprehensive new history of theatre in South Africa, but perhaps our theoretical perspectives are still heavily loaded into what one might call colonial thinking. Or into some other (equally dated) paradigm, discourse or ideology. (vi)

It is important to acknowledge the context from which Hauptfleisch was writing. In 1997, South Africa had only been a democratic country for three years, and much of Hauptfleisch’s book was a consolidation of his scholarship written during the transition period from apartheid to a post-apartheid state.

The bias in theatre scholarship had been centered on the plays of Athol Fugard, the workshop tradition that produced the iconic protest plays of the 1980s, and the plays seen in the handful of formal, and almost ← 11 | 12 → exclusively independent, theatre venues that presented indigenous work, like The Market Theatre in Johannesburg and The Space in Cape Town. Excluded in this was the prolific community theatre work that continues to enrich South Africa, the non-English based productions that reach an audience in a far more authentic way than its English counterparts can, the popular melodrama of the townships, the didactic message plays that are a significant part of conscientising a community, and performance work that is designed to express the thoughts and feelings of a traumatised society.

The eight categories Hauptfleisch named gave him a framework from which to elaborate on his study, and, in doing so, it captured the very broad and eclectic way in which theatre has been, and still is, made in the country – theatre being defined in its most essential definition as the interaction between someone who performs and someone who watches.

To title his categories, Hauptfleisch described a binary between what he termed African performance traditions and Western theatre practice. He polarised what he called indigenous performance practices with imported performance styles and methods. He considered how long a performance practice had been in existence and he isolated the purpose of the practice as being either communal in function, as in a law court, or as being elitist, as in a theatre that requires the purchase of a ticket. The forms he offered were:

1) Indigenous, traditional communal

2) Indigenous, contemporary communal

3) Imported, Western communal

4) Indigenous, Western communal

5) Imported, Western elite

6) Indigenous, Western elite

7) Indigenous, “alternative” Western

8) Indigenous, hybrid

This new classification of South African performance work, under a different kind of limited and limiting set of forms, brought together divergent views of what constitutes theatre. It was a very inclusive, yet polarised, way to redirect some of the narrow scholarship that had gone before, and, not unlike how Richard Schechner (1985) (re)defined performance in America, or how British cultural anthropologist, Victor Turner (1988), came to understand ritual practice, it offered one lexicon for how to consider performance practice which did not conform to Western ideas of Drama, or rather, that had been, to date, difficult to assess if one used methods conventionally recognized by the academy.

← 12 | 13 → Hauptfleisch was by no means alone in this endeavor. Academics like Zakes Mda, Anne Fuchs, Njabulo Ndebele, Ian Steadman, and Loren Kruger, to name a few, had all in different ways consolidated the theoretical discourse against narrow views of theatre studies. In short, Theatre and Society came at the end of at least a decade of debate about how theatre in South Africa is documented, what is deemed legitimate theatre practice, and about who is appropriately positioned to write about it.

In Rediscovery of the Ordinary: Essays on South African Literature and Culture, published in 1991, a selection of Njabulo Ndebele’s critical essays that were written in the 1980s were grouped together. Here Ndebele’s thoughts capture that slightly earlier period of transition from an oppressive State slowly moving towards democracy. Most significantly, he articulated the stagnant and shackled way in which artists, and writers in particular, had come to imagine the country and their role under apartheid. In considering the dominance of protest forms of art, he said:

The writer, as a result, has tended to plunge into the task of writing without fully grappling with the theoretical demands of that task in all its dimensions. Armed with notions of artistic commitment still constrained by outmoded protest-bound perceptions of the role of art and of what constitutes political relevance in art, he set about reproducing a dead-end. Consequently, the limited range of exploriable experience characteristic of writing under the protest ethos has continued to plague much of South African writing. (65)

Ndebele in essence challenged both artists and academics to (re)discover ways of thinking about the new South Africa – what is valorised, what is marginalised, and how is an oppressive mindset self-limiting in a post-apartheid setting. His belief was that “the greatest challenge of the South African revolution is in the search for ways of thinking, ways of perception, that will help to break down the closed epistemological structures of South African oppression” (63).

In The Drama of South Africa: Plays, Pageants and Publics since 1910 (1999), Loren Kruger offered a study of performance work that, as the title of her book indicates, covers a spectrum from plays to social gatherings, including an analysis of the inauguration of Nelson Mandela as South Africa’s first democratic president. Ian Steadman’s “‘When You See an African…’: Race, Nationalism and Theatre Reconsidered” published in 1999 in South African Theatre As/And Intervention (edited by Marcia Blumberg and Dennis Walder) and David Coplan’s landmark study in 1985, In Township Tonight! Three Centuries of South African Black City Music and Theatre, are further examples of other key publications that have taken a broad look at an area of study that had been, and many would ← 13 | 14 → argue, still is, not representative of the full gamut of theatre, drama, and performance being made in the country.

Despite the efforts of these pioneering scholars, the new territories of the post-apartheid stage still invite detailed examination. Following in the wake of previous studies, this book offers a sampling of work being staged, produced, and written in post-apartheid South Africa. The essays that follow are loosely grouped into the categories of theatre, drama, and performance. The cluster of essays dealing with drama is placed within the overarching framework of the opening theatre and the closing performance sections, in an attempt not to over-privilege textual studies. Needless to mention, the aim of this critical anthology is not to be fully inclusive of the kinds of theatre being made in contemporary South Africa. Nonetheless, the contributors document and analyse a broad range of significant case studies, representing examples from all eight forms of theatre that Hauptfleisch named in 1997.

No categorisation is entirely adequate to define work that is made within as contradictory and eclectic a context as South Africa, and in a country where the root of any given influence is unclear. Drama, as a category, is the most easily defined term. In this book, essays that use playwrights’ written texts as their point of analysis have been grouped under this heading. Succinctly put, these are essays that compare and/or contrast plays written by playwrights.

The performance essays are more anthropological in tone, and range from studies of communal dance practices that have found their way into formal theatre environments, to site specific and found space productions that marry conventional performer/audience relations with less controlled dynamics. The projects and productions considered in this section extend their meaning through the environment within which the work is performed. Here the physical space that holds the performance is an important part of the significance of the work itself.

Theatre as a term is then used both as an umbrella heading to capture a collective idea of any seeing space with an identifiable performer being watched by an audience, and in a more limiting way as a term that defines what we have popularly come to know simply as theatre – a performance activity that takes place in a space dedicated solely to the practice of presenting performance-based work. In this sense the term theatre is the most all-encompassing, whereas the term drama very specifically labels the work of playwrights who have written plays where characters are in conflict with each other, and arguably, with an arrangement of Aristotle’s Poetics at its source.

Before embarking on this exploration of the post-apartheid stage, some historical context is necessary. South Africa’s formalized racial ← 14 | 15 → oppression known as apartheid was legally terminated in 1991 but it is generally accepted that its end was a fait accompli with the announcement by President F. W. De Klerk on 2 February 1990 that all banned parties would be unconditionally unbanned and that Nelson Mandela would be released from prison after twenty-seven years as a political prisoner. For South African theatre this marked the start of what I have clumsily called elsewhere the pre-post-apartheid period,1 perhaps more aptly called the “honeymoon phase.”

The first democratic elections were held in 1994 and in the years leading up to this and the first few years of democracy that followed, theatres saw little in the way of quality new Drama. Mandela’s Rainbow Nation vision and rhetoric drove a strong patriotic agenda, creating a rich sense of pride in the country but a dull climate for theatre – as we know, drama is reliant on conflict and not celebration. Alternatively, as Ndebele preempted, it was a time when seasoned theatre-makers perpetuated the protest mode (63). Sadly though, neither rehashes of protest work, nor congratulatory performances made for long-lasting or memorable works of art. So for about a decade in the honeymoon setting there was almost no theatre, drama, or performance work of any great influence.

In April 1996 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) had it first hearings. South African society would hear testimonies from victims, heroes, and perpetrators of political motivated violence, with perpetrators being granted amnesty for their crimes if they were believed to have fully disclosed the details of their heinous acts committed in the name of apartheid. For two years this act of communal performance through storytelling was the theatre of the day.

The testimonies were framed as truth telling with witnesses tasked to tell the truth of apartheid. Truth, in its purest definition, promises irrefutable fact, but in reality, is unstable, inconsistent and malleable. In some ways the mere act of articulating memory is an act of deconstructing the truth. The result is an exercise in reinvention rather than in detailing a factual account of events – as we retell a story that has been told many times the choice of a new word may affect the accuracy or ‘truth’ of the event. To allow for this, the TRC went so far as to define four different types of truth that could be recognised by this legal process – Forensic Truth, Personal Truth, Communal Truth, and Restorative Truth.2 The TRC hearings and the overall process very vividly raised a plethora of questions about reconciliation, trauma, violence, accountability, and ← 15 | 16 → justice, and issues of how we remember, and forget. It is these motifs that now dominate the post-apartheid stage. Ultimately it led to a reconstitution of how South Africans think about their country and their individual and communal identities.3

The discourse that the TRC entrenched into the South African psyche has arguably become the most significant single contributor to the themes evident in contemporary indigenous drama, theatre, and performance, to the point that TRC related performance is abundant enough that it could be considered a legitimate post-apartheid genre of theatre.

It was only once the honeymoon period was over and the painful TRC process had been concluded that South African theatre fully emerged into a post-apartheid stage. Of course the issues of the past are the fingerprints of South African society today, and by association, are the thematic interests at the heart of contemporary theatre, drama, and performance in the country, as the essays gathered in this collection indicate.

The contributors to this anthology, be they academics or theatre practitioners, explore the post-apartheid stage, through the use of methodologies ranging from textual analysis to performance studies. The first section, devoted to theatre, opens with Gay Morris’s “Ubizo – Voices of elokshini: Listening Afresh to Theatre Voices from Cape Town’s Townships.” In this essay, Morris seeks to shed light on recent theatre making in townships, a hitherto largely undocumented topic. She illustrates her point with examples drawn from such theatrical events as The Magnet Theatre Community Intervention Showcase (2005), a festival of plays by Kayelistsha residents. These works, she points out, are the result of collective, often improvised and unscripted creation. She further analyses these works from the perspective of practice theorist’s Pierre Bourdieu. She describes their distinctive aesthetics, which combines storytelling and patterning, i.e. forms of “repetition, symmetrical arrangement, balance and order” (47). These works explore the political implications of the ordinary in contemporary life, thus lending their authors “social agency” (51). Veronica Baxter’s “Eastern Cape Voices in Post-apartheid Theatre,” likewise focuses on aspects of contemporary South African theatre practice. Baxter examines shows that enact the fraught colonial legacy of violence in the Eastern Cape region, notably in its long history of shipwrecks, which led to confrontations between indigenous people and Europeans. In the first part of her essay, she concentrates mainly on Andrew and Janet Buckland’s work, which is rooted in the history of the Eastern Cape region (Makana, Kiss My Boot, and Breed). In the second part of her essay, Baxter discusses plays by ← 16 | 17 → Mandla Mbothwe, which explore Xhosa spirituality, Isivuno Sama Phupha, Ingcwabe Lendola lise cankwe indlela, Inxeba Nomphilisi as well as Mendi: Did We Dance. In short, Baxter states, “The work of the three practitioners […] evokes the history and spirits of the Eastern Cape, in seeking to redress gaps in our historical and contemporary understanding of how the region is still riven by its history of colonial wars, the fracturing of social groups and families, the settlement of land” (70). This fraught legacy is further explored in Anton Krueger’essay on amaXhosa authenticity and performance in the third section of the book.

Tackling the legacy of European classics, Chris Thurman offers an account of productions of Shakespeare in democratic South Africa, taking as a departing point the Market Theatre 1995 production of Titus Andronicus. Through a variety of examples, Thurman points to the difficulty of translating the Shakespearean template in a contemporary South African setting. Well-intentioned productions have too often led to a reductive, indeed essentialising view of South Africa, as was the case with the 2009 Baxter Theatre/Royal Shakespeare Company production of The Tempest. This version, in which Anthony Sher starred as Prospero versus John Kani as Caliban, reinscribed European stereotypes about the irrational character of Africa. By contrast, recent student productions have favored a more localised reinterpretation of Shakespeare. For example, the 2013 Julius Caesar Project, developed by Sarah Roberts, incorporated translations of some lines into African languages, while refusing to homogenise the South African experience. Echoing the issues of Thurman’s essay, Greg Homann’s “Claiming Western Texts for Contemporary South African Theatre” uses a recontextualisation of Waiting for Godot by Lara Foot, a reworking of Julius Caesar by Yael Farber, and his own reworking of Oedipus at Colonus as case studies to examine questions of relevance and issues of post-apartheid identity politics. He details the complexity and flawed pursuit to define a National Identity in the country and asks, what is relevance “in a country grappling with divergent value systems, and why is the pursuit of relevance such a consuming goal for the South African theatre maker” (106)?

As a conclusion to the section devoted to theatre, Mwenya B. Kabwe’s essay on performing an African American play in South Africa lends a transnational perspective to the book. It deals with the South African implications of Kabwe’s own production of Adrienne Kennedy’s Sun. In this experimental staging of the American playwright’s Afro-surrealist playlet, Kabwe sought to show the interaction between different African diasporas, in a way that emphasises the connection between the global North and the global South. In doing so, Kabwe concludes, “the multi-vocality of theatre and performance in particular presents ever-evolving ← 17 | 18 → opportunity for the continual re-invention of post-apartheid South Africa” (143).

The second part of this anthology offers a substantial discussion of the contemporary dramatic output of both established and emerging playwrights. As Brian Crow reminds us, Athol Fugard had already garnered international reputation during the apartheid era, particularly with such committed protest plays as Sizwe Bansi is Dead, which he co-wrote with John Kani and Winston Ntshona. By contrast, Fugard’s post-apartheid works often lack this sense of urgency, as they focus too exclusively on autobiographical material. Plays such as Valley Song, Sorrows and Rejoicings, Victory and The Blue Iris are framed as memory plays lacking dramatic impact. The Train Driver, Crow notes, is a noteworthy exception to this pattern: “[…] the dramatic motor here is anger – and apparently increasing frustration and despair – at the failure of the ANC in government to provide even a minimal improvement in the lives of the majority of South Africans” (150). In his essay on Zakes Mda, who is arguably as famous a figure as Athol Fugard, Patrick Ebewo identifies political satire as the thrust of the playwright’s artistry. Ebewo focuses on Mda’s plays dealing with social issues in contemporary Lesotho, such as The Hill, The Road, The Nun’s Romantic Story, and The Mother of All Eating. Ebewo further concentrates on several plays taking place in South Africa, such as You Fool and Our Lady of Benoni. In these works, Mda dramatises the failure of the promises held up by the advent of democracy. Using satire to urge social transformation, Mda thus “acts both as the consciousness and the conscience of the politically dominant class to which he belongs” (180.).

In contrast to Crow’s and Ebewo’s chapters, the following essays deal with distinctly new voices in a post-apartheid context. In “The (New) Playwrights of the (New) Revolution,” Zingi Mkefa introduces a broad selection of playwrights whose talent came to the fore between 1994 and 2003. A full section of this essay is devoted to Mpumelelo Paul Grootboom, whose works (Relativity: “Township Stories,” Welcome to Rocksburg, Foreplay and Interracial) offer a unique perspective on South African township life. A subsequent division reviews contemporary works made after 2003 by such playwrights as Craig Higginson, Kobus Moolman, Neil Coppen, Nicholas Spagnoletti, Louis Viljoen, Mpho Osei-Tutu and Amy Jephta. In the course of his survey, Mkefa notes that “the further away from 1994 South Africa progresses, the less overt race relations as a theme becomes in stage narratives, and the more subtextual it becomes” (198.) Mkefa concludes that these writers regard class inequality as one of the central woes of democratic South Africa. Devoted to contemporary Afrikaans drama, Petrus Du Preez’s contribution examines the work of new generation playwrights Saartjie Botha and Malan Steyn. The latter ← 18 | 19 → follow in the wake of canonical Afrikaner artists such as Reza de Wet, Pieter Fourie, Deon Opperman, and Charles Fourie. In Saad and Johnny is nie dood nie, Botha and Malan illustrate the throes of negotiating Afrikaner identity in the new South Africa. Returning to the Anglophone stage, Marcia Blumberg’s essay offers a detailed examination of a recent play by Yael Farber, Mies Julie, which was presented at the 2012 National Arts Festival in Grahamstown prior to an extensive international tour. Yael Farber is an internationally acclaimed South African theatre practitioner based in Canada who started her career with testimonial plays written in the wake of the TRC hearings. Also prominent in her oeuvre are her revisions of the classics, which she reworked into a South African setting. Mies Julie, a play clearly indebted to Strindberg’s 1888 masterpiece, provides a case in point of this intertextual aesthetic. Farber’s play, Blumberg convincingly argues, departs from the Strindberg original to highlight the racial tensions inherent in the post-apartheid predicament. In Farber’s play, Julie belongs to the Afrikaner establishment, while John is a Xhosa farm “boy.” Violent sexual scenes alternate with moments foregrounding the Xhosa ancestor world. Farber further intensifies racial conflicts by casting John’s mother, Christine, as Julie’s nanny: this suggests the profound kinship between Afrikaner and African communities. Thus, this play powerfully enacts the intricacies of race/class/gender relationships in post-apartheid South Africa. As the concluding essay in the drama section, Marc Maufort’s contribution examines how the trauma of apartheid is aesthetically enacted in works by Mike Van Graan (Brothers in Blood), Lara Foot (Karoo Moose), and Craig Higginson (Dream of the Dog). Drawing from the theories of trauma studies specialist Cathy Caruth, Maufort traces how these playwrights evolve a literary language that “defies” and “claims” understanding of the consequences of the traumatic experience of apartheid. While Van Gran uses a dramatic language based on the Brechtian mode of the theatre of ideas, Lara Foot blends African storytelling and magic realism. Craig Higginson offers perhaps an even more complex version of magic realism in his dramatisation of the legacy of apartheid violence. All in all, the contributions collected in the second part of this anthology shed new light on the powerful dramatic forms currently being developed in South Africa.

Details

Pages
404
ISBN (PDF)
9783035265231
ISBN (ePUB)
9783035298772
ISBN (MOBI)
9783035298765
ISBN (Softcover)
9782875742537
Language
English
Publication date
2015 (April)
Published
Bruxelles, Bern, Berlin, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 404 pp., 35 ill.

Biographical notes

Greg Homann (Volume editor) Marc Maufort (Volume editor)

Greg Homann is an independent academic, theatre director, and writer. He is the co-editor of the Methuen Drama Guide to Contemporary South African Theatre (2015) as well the editor of At This Stage: Plays from Post-Apartheid South Africa (2009). Homann worked in The Wits School of Arts in Johannesburg as well as at AFDA, The South African School of Motion Picture Medium and Live Performance, Johannesburg. He was the Standard Bank Young Artist Winner for Theatre in 2014. Marc Maufort is Professor of English, American and postcolonial literatures at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (Belgium). Maufort has written and (co-)edited several books on O’Neill as well as postcolonial and multi-ethnic drama, including Transgressive Itineraries. Postcolonial Hybridizations of Dramatic Realism (2003), and Labyrinth of Hybridities. Avatars of O’Neillian Realism in Multi-ethnic American Drama (1972–2003) (2010).

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