South African theatre : New directions symposium, France 2013

CALL FOR PAPERS : Symposium “New Directions in South African Theatre Today: Circulation, Evolutions, Adaptations” 6th, 7th, and 8th June 2013, Laboratoire CAS (Cultures anglo-saxonnes, EA 801) Université de Toulouse 2 Le Mirail, France

This symposium aims to study the evolutions, adaptations, and new directions taken in South African theatre today, almost twenty years after the demise of apartheid. The notion of “circulation” could be used as an overarching concept in this analysis, in keeping with the general theme elected for the CAS research programme for the next four years. Circulation can be envisaged as the circulation of ideas, of cultural artefacts and general knowledge, between the members of a given society, or between various cultures and countries. In the latter instance, it is part of a web of cultural relations which can involve relations of soft power, as defined by Joseph Nye in his book Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics (2000). This notion could usefully be put to the test while analyzing this specific artistic and literary mode of expression which indeed involves live performances before an audience, often the publication of the play in a written or visual form (books, recordings), and more and more often the participation of the audience themselves to the performance of the play.

Theatre is thus a mode which has often been favoured by artists to voice ideas, at times of a rather political nature (Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona are the most obvious names which spring to mind), or by governments to further educational or social
programmes (one might think of Sarafina).

A study of South African drama today could thus also include a cultural and political aspect, as its practices involve questions of education or processes of nation-building which can be realized for the duration of a play, or again issues of memory and the celebration of history. One might think here of the many plays performed at the Grahamstown National Arts festival at the time of the third general elections in South Africa, which also marked the tenth anniversary of the new nation, which celebrated the figure of Nelson Mandela. The closing scene of one play thus had a child, a symbol of the future, carry to the front of the stage and raise before the audience an enlarged version of Mandela’s autobiography, of which excerpts had been previously staged and which had stood on a lectern for the whole duration of the play, in a gesture reminiscent of religious celebrations, for the upliftment of the audience. Alternatively, one might think of how the South African heritage is celebrated in a gesture which seeks to open onto the universal in a play like Little Foot by Craig Higginson which premiered at the 2012 Festival and seeks to probe some of the issues raised by discoveries made on the site of the “Cradle of Humankind” and contemporary concerns.

These questions actually lead us back to a further analysis of the form which such processes take, and shed a new light on the question of the circulation of ideas, and of performance and theatre. What distinguishes the performance of an educational play and other forms of educational programmes? Do such ideological, political or social agendas have any impact on the conception of shows and plays, maybe as well on the layout of theatres themselves (to favour a greater physical closeness with the audience, for instance), or the technical means included in the play (props, videos, etc.)? And what about the use of mime on the stage in a country which boasts eleven official languages, or the fact that physical theatre is so prevalent and inventive in South Africa?

On the other hand, theatre is also a mode of expression which can be used to give people a voice in a country’s current debates. One thinks here of theatre by the people, for instance the programmes that the novelist, playwright and social activist Zakes Mda has set up over the past years in particular in underprivileged rural areas. Amateur theatre or theatrical workshops are used once again to raise people’s awareness of such issues as AIDS or sexual abuse, but they may also serve to give the opportunity to people to express themselves and voice their own concerns, for instance when they take part in the creation of such plays or even by the mere possibility which is given to them to step on the stage as on some kind of platform. One might think here of the multifaceted aspects of Sindiwe Magona’s activities, of the moving one-hander Purdah by Ismail Mahomed, or of the work of the group Bakachi, for instance with their play Weemen. What impact does the involvement of such amateur players has on local communities, and does it help local concerns to be heard in wider spheres? To what extent does it influence the conception playwrights have of their art?

The field covered by this symposium is thus wide and varied, and should offer fascinating and unique dialogues between researchers, teachers, students and performers. This seems in keeping with the vitality of contemporary South African theatre, which keeps interrogating its past better to question and build its present, and offers multiple possibilities of dialogue between disciplines as between cultures themselves, as when Strindberg’s Miss Julie meets South African farm workers, or J.M. Coetzee’s novels are adapted to the stage by Hungarian or Russian playwrights.

This symposium thus plans to gather academics and performers for presentations on the situation of contemporary South African theatre, as well as round-tables and workshops which shall be open to students as well as to a wider audience. Studies on South African theatre are still too few, in France as in the rest of the world, and it is hoped that this unique gathering will not only lead the way to a renewal of research on South African drama but also shed light on new performance practices and engage in a new and hopefully lasting dialogue between academics and practitioners.

Proposals for presentations (500 words maximum) together with a brief CV should be sent before December 15, 2012 to both organizers (Emeline Jouve <> AND Mathilde Rogez <>). The language for the symposium will be English.

In partnership with Rhodes University Drama Department (South Africa) and the Festival Afriqu’à Muret

Keynote speaker: Anne Fuchs
Guest speakers: Craig Higginson, Mike van Graan, Mannie Manim

Scientific committee: Philippe Birgy, Christiane Fioupou, Aurélie
Guillain, Nathalie Rivère de Carles, Mathilde Rogez

Suggested Books

These are three testimonial plays from South Africa by the hugely influential and highly acclaimed young playwright Yael Farber.

Going beyond the parameters of conventional literary drama, these seven new plays express life issues in post-apartheid South Africa

Categories: AFRICA, South Africa | Tags:

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