Representations of South African Theatre, performed and written

South African Theatre, like the country itself, is a highly contested terrain. 

“Who makes theatre and how, who writes about it and why; their race, their gender, who’s funded and who isn’t, definitions around community, professional/amateur, how that history is documented, written and defined” are all aspects to consider, notes Gita Pather as part of a panel on the process of writing and documenting the theatre industry.

Anton Krueger, associate professor at Rhodes University, Megan Lewis, associate professor of Theatre at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Greg Homann director, academic, actor and playwright, and Roel Twijnstra, writer, director and drama lecturer, comprised the panel. Despite these four multi-talented and invaluable members of the industry on the panel, it still fell short of representing groups still marginalised in publications.

“We all wrestle with making sure that we are representing diverse voices in academia. I know in the United States there are a handful of people who study South African theatre and [we’re] all white women,” states Lewis. “I think these things are shifting, they are just taking a very long time.”

The issue is not the lack of voices being heard, but a need to create opportunities for more people of colour to join academia. “Until the academy transforms, it is very difficult to make it transform in a book like this,” asserts Homann. “Out of the ten contributors for the book that we approached, only one ended up in the book. In the majority of incidences, [it was] because they were in such demand to be writing in other areas.”  The academy needs to engage with marginalised people.

Lewis and Krueger co-wrote the recently released, Magnet Theatre: three decades of making space. Krueger describes the book as having three main sections; concepts, collaborations and community. “We also didn’t want to…separate [and] put all the scholars first, then all the interviews. We didn’t want to have that sort of separation because Magnet Theatre themselves are very much involved with performance as research and the [research] is in the process, in the performance, the making of the staging of work.”

Writings about South African theatre are often addressed to a small elite. “The challenge [is] being able to write a piece that can speak to people who know [theatre] and also people for whom this may be their first entry point into a conversation about SA theatre,” notes Lewis.  The book is thus a useful step into the world of South African theatre.

Twijnstra co-authored Theatre Production in South Africa: Skills and Inspirations with Emma Durden.  Rather than writing about his own experiences of South African theatre, Twijnstra chose to draw on the inspirations of his students. “Slowly the history and where theatre in South Africa was unveiled itself to me,” reflects Twijnstra. “I never had the feeling I wrote the first book… it was actually the directors from here that said ‘these are the skills we are using; these are the inspirations we had.’”

The book is accessible to students according to Twijnstra.

“We didn’t want to write a book for a bookshop. We wanted to keep the cost as low as possible so we found funding from the national lottery to do that so that students are able to buy it; it costs like R100″.

Lewis’s latest book, Performing Whitely in the Postcolony, will be released in November this year.

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