Following the popularity of last year’s Directors and Directing symposium, GIPCA acknowledges the need for the existence of such a forum as an annual event: a space for theorists, practitioners and students of the theatre to come together and talk about key issues facing those who work in or watch or write about the theatre. This year, the focus is on Playwrights and Writing for the Theatre.
Playwrights, directors, critics and actors will converge from various parts of the country to address some of the key features of these debates. The symposium goes behind the scenes and gets to the core of theatrical performance: the presence (or absence) of the written text. The scarcity of playwrights writing for the stage is legend in contemporary South African theatre, in stark contrast to the perception of the potential for innumerable stories waiting to be told. In a country of multiple experiences, is there room for the singular voice of the playwright? On the other hand, is this making way for an indulgence of multiple voices as opposed to the authority and craft of the singular playwright? Athol Fugard recently said, ”The truth is that the new South Africa needs committed playwrights who are prepared to bear witness to what is going on every bit as urgently as the old ones did”.
Directors and Directing: Playwrights will include theatre visits, performances, play readings and informal talks, but primarily will comprise a symposium with a variety of panels. Addresses will be made by acclaimed playwrights and directors: esteemed writer Dr Sindiwe Magona, the Baxter Theatre’s Lara Foot, the provocative and always topical Mike van Graan, Malcolm Purkey from the Market Theatre and highly respected director James Ngcobo. Theatre visits, which form an integral part of the conference, include Alexandre Marine’s adaptation of JM Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians at the Baxter Theatre Centre, Emerging Theatre Director Thando Doni’s Utopia at Theatre Arts Admin Collective, Magnet Theatre Director Mark Fleishman’s Kragbox at Artscape, and playreadings by Megan Furniss and Louis Viljoen.
The conference comprises several themed panels in which writers and directors discuss their different approaches to shaping performance with and without text. Is the rise of genres such as visual performance and workshop theatre a threat to the written text or do they challenge the playwright’s innovation and craft? Inside the darkened theatre, one may well ask: Whose text trumps whose? Writer, director, designer, producer, audience or critic?
Writers who will be talking about their work include Juliet Jenkin (The Boy Who Fell From The Roof); Nicholas Spagnoletti (London Road), Genna Gardini and UCT’s Sabata Sesiu. A panel based on the relationship between writers and directors includes, Sanjin Muftic and Amy Jephta, while Jacqueline Dommisse talks about her role in directing the work of Peter Hayes. Preceded by an innovative “performed paper” by rising stars Kim Kerfoot and Jason Potgieter, a special panel devoted to ideas around adaptations, ownership and collaborative writing will feature writers Ingrid Wylde and Karen Jeynes, and Dr Peter Churu from the University of Zimbabwe.
A crucial shift in the symposium proceedings considers the move towards alternate texts. UCT’s Head of Drama and Magnet Theatre Director, Professor Mark Fleishman, and acclaimed theatre innovators Brett Bailey and Mandla Mbothwe, lead this discussion. This will be preceded by a special visit to the final rehearsal of Brett Bailey’s superbly evocative medEia before its extensive European tour. The discussions will culminate in a panel of innovative theatre makers that talk to new trends of theatre making and text, followed by Richard Antrobus’ critically acclaimed Stilted, performed with Tristan Jacobs.
Tickets will be available through Computicket. Please note that tickets are sold under two venues – the Baxter Theatre Centre (Friday 24 August) and Hiddingh Hall (Saturday 25 and Sunday 26 August). Three day passes are sold as ‘Related Packages’ by Computicket.
Additional notes: In his opening speech, chair for the Naledi Awards, Dali Tambo proclaimed that “Literature is the cornerstone of narrative theatre and every cultural renaissance or theatrical renaissance in history has begun with an explosion of literary zeal. South African playwrights are the Griots of our age”, thereby returning the gaze once more on the playwright and it follows, the scarcity of the play text in contemporary South African theatre.
Even further, several recent provocations have heralded a new wave of ideas around the historic and contemporary role of the playwright. Zakes Mda’s swipe at what he saw as opportunistic social engineering referred to a period when political plays were uppermost in South African theatrical production “Theatre for Resistance was highly exportable, and it became the ambition of most playwrights to have a play at the Market, and then of course in Europe and America. Writers wrote purely for export, and designed their plays in a manner which they thought would be acceptable to overseas audiences.”
Athol Fugard recently threw another gauntlet when he said, ”The truth is that the new South Africa needs committed playwrights who are prepared to bear witness to what is going on every bit as urgently as the old ones did,” an area of concern that Mda later added his voice to. Fugard added, “With so many young playwrights, the true craft of writing for living voices is not what it used to be. They write for attention spans of 10 minutes between adverts.” In response, an anonymous blogger shot back “ I suppose young playwrights aren’t sure how to be overtly political. Most people under 30 I know have taken drugs so they’re hardly going to be condemning drug abuse outright. ..The trouble is – we grew up with the dark side of the left (even if no one talks about it) but we still think political equals ideal – so it’s easier to comment on pop culture than launch into a radical polemic.”