South African Womxn Writers – Day 20: The Playwrights

Since I’m by no means an expert in plays or playwrights, I reached out to some writer friends for tips on SA womxn playwrights to look out for. Here are a few suggestions.

Koleka Putuma – No Easter Sunday for Queers

NO EASTER SUNDAY FOR QUEERS follows the hate crime murderlove story of Napo and Mimi. The lovers, through the spirit, subconscious,Easter Sunday sermon, return on the anniversary of their wedding death crucifixion to make the church pastor perpetrator Father reconcile reckon with the present and the past and a sacrifice crucifixion he must account for. The alter is a cross and the subconscious a court room where the dead seek justice for a an act sin committed by their perpetrators. The antagonist protagonists cannot any more tell the past from the present and scripture from the truth. Every year, through the visitations on Easter Sunday the pastor and his church is made to remember.

No Easter Sunday for Queers as described via Koleka’s Putuma’s website ISBN: 9780639918822

Watch an interview about the play, below.

Amy Jeptha – All Who Pass

Image via IOL

District 6, Cape Town, 1974. The inner-city neighbourhood is being forcibly cleared by the apartheid regime. 2013, a daughter returns to claim her inheritance and exorcise the ghosts of what took place there. A journey to a landscape of memories past and present.

All Who Pass as described by Amy Jeptha via her website

Amy Louise Wilson – Another Kind of Dying

The story is about a young man from a small town in the Eastern Cape who moves to Johannesburg to try to come to terms with his father’s death and is confronted with a new world in an urban setting, having never lived in a big city before. This is a common theme that has come up again and again over the years in South African literature: what does it mean for someone to move from a rural to an urban setting? This is what I am trying to explore with this play. It’s a play about identity, about what patriarchy dictates, about how masculinity is constructed in South Africa. It’s a play about a man who is able to find himself and find joy because he is in a new environment.

Amy Louise Wilson as interviewed on We Can Change Our World

Watch a conversation with Amy Louise Wilson, below.

Buhle Ngaba – Swan Song

There is an ancient belief that swans burst into song with their final breath. Set in a tiny box flat in Johannesburg, Swan Song is a coming of age tale, tracing the journey of a young Tswana woman from Taung born with a winged scapula, a symbol that mirrors a constant struggle for belonging, of home. Swan Song wrestles with the metaphors of grief and love, mapping the way in which they physically manifest and become intertwined with life. The film draws the audience into her nest, an intimate space where they witness her grappling to tie together past and present, working through her memories as if enduring physical labour, en pointe. As she descends into her final moments; she pivots from the crippling vulnerability that loving demands, to the brazen fearlessness of having loved at all. 

Swan Song as described by Buhle Ngaba on her website

Watch a preview, below.

Jennie Reznek – I Turned Away and She Was Gone

Three incarnations of women: a mother, a daughter and an old crone. A haunting of past, present and future selves. Drawing loosely on the Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone, this poetic text explores the process of individuation, the inevitability of a young girl’s journey into the shadow and into the unknown, of the bonds that connect mothers and children to each other, of loss and the dense beautiful soaring life that we are all traveling through.

I Turned Away and She Was Gone as described via the African Books Collective. ISBN: 9781928215707

Qondiswa James – A Howl In Makhanda

Shortlisted for the CASA Award for woman-identified playwrights 2018, A Howl in Makhanda is a semi-autobiographical work about two black and two white South African teenagers at an elite all girls boarding school who break the rules and how the disciplinary board deals with each of them differently. Xoli, Bawdy, Sam and Karla are a group of grade 11 girls who attend the Diocesan School for Girls (DSG), Makhanda. DSG has recently built a wall around itself with an electric fence to keep the outside out and the inside in. The girls roil and suffocate inside. The play explores the following themes: high school pregnancy, racism and sexism, peer pressure, religion, family, loyalty, freedom and identity. Using passages from Sylvia Plath, Kurt Cobain and Allen Ginsberg, the play archives the struggle and resistance of the girl-child and brings visibility especially to the racialised issues of young black girlhoods by interrogating the undesirability – or the inherent delinquency or criminality – of the black femme body.

Qondiswa James – A Howl in Makhanda, as detailed via the National Arts Festival

Watch an interview with Qondiswa, below.

The Fall – Collaborative Piece

The Fall is a play collaboratively written by the original cast as a reaction to and reflection on the South African student protests in 2015 and part of 2016. The #RhodesMustFall and subsequent student-led movements in South Africa alerted the country and the world to the latent ongoing issues brought about by colonialism and apartheid in South Africa. Students were also protesting about the lack of change in the way black Africans were educated and treated at South African universities more than two decades after the end of white-minority rule. They were also angry about fee increases, which disproportionately affected black students, in a country of continued extreme income inequality.  The Fall details the experiences of seven students within this movement and how they deal with their traumas, while still moving towards activism for a free decolonised education. This powerful ensemble piece goes to the heart of how race, class, gender, power and history’s voices intersect. It premiered at the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town, toured to other venues in South Africa and to the Edinburgh Festival and the Royal Court Theatre, London. It was awarded The Stage Cast Award and a Scotsman Fringe First award in Edinburgh, and was described in The Stage as:”a truly ensemble production which has both teeth and heart. And one which stands for student revolt around the world and down the ages.”

Description of The Fall via Blackwells Books ISBN: 9781786823625

Mwenya Kabwe – Afrocartography

“This is a story of migratory proportions and the travels take place in the timeless, surreal space of dreams. The Traveler and her other selves (The Afropolitan, The Afrosettler and The Mapmaker) forge new paths, re-visit engrained routes and imagine a world where contradiction, uncertainty and complexity are the norm. It is an invitation to visit an in-between realm of existence where dreaming, waking, memory and imagination overlap. The heightened text and stylized movement speak of travel, ritual, always belonging and never belonging. The traveller’s journey into a fantastical world of ‘places’ to encounter characters who are from history and from next door, with stopovers in The Black Place of Fables, The Red Place of Conjuring and The Green Place of Letters. Afrocartography is an autobiographical choreopoem. Its first written iteration was produced in Cape Town, South Africa in 2007 in response to the complexities of living and working in the city as a non-South African migrant of Zambian and Zimbabwean extraction. The production itself, as itinerant as its title suggests, has had showings at the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town in 2007; the UNESCO World Festival of Theatre Schools in Barcelona in 2008; at the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) symposium on Knowledge and Transformation in Stellenbosch in 2008; at the opening of the Gordon Institute for Performing and Creative Arts (GIPCA) in Cape Town, 2009; and as part of the live performance programme of GIPCA’s Exuberance Project in Cape Town in 2012. It has also been performed at the Wits Theatre in Johannesburg and at the Afrovibes Festival in The Netherlands in 2013.”

Afrocartography as described via Ellipses

Read more about the piece, here.

Nadia Davids – At Her Feet

In 2002, At Her Feet, written/directed by Nadia Davids and performed by Quanita Adams, exploded onto the South African theatre scene. This breakthrough play was described as ‘brilliant’, ‘triumphant’, ‘unforgettable’ ‘timely’, ‘a production that will touch you, shift you and never really leave you’. From its first staging at Cape Town, it travelled throughout South Africa, was staged in New York, London and Holland and went on to win two Fleur du Caps (Best Acress, Best New Director) and was nominated for a Noma Award for Best Published Book in Africa.

Written in 2002, At Her Feet evokes the experiences of four Muslim women in Cape Town whose lives are touched by 9/11 and by the honour killing of a Jordanian girl. These women – a secular student, a tough-talking auntie, a Che-worshipping slam poetess, a recently married religious travel agent- narrate their own lives, offering vivid, affecting, bitingly funny, deeply moving stories that speak to race, love, faith and belonging.

Through monologue, song, and poetry these women offer the audience an intimate glimpse of their world. 

At Her Feet, as described on Nadia Davids’ website.

You can watch At Her Feet, here.

Ameera Conrad – Tales from the Garden

Tales from the Garden follows the story of an unnamed young woman who asks the audience to do nothing more than listen to her tell her story. It weaves through imagery and text as she tries to explain her trauma, fear, joy, and desire for healing after being assaulted in a foreign country by someone that she trusted. Through the play, she recounts the event itself, the circumstances leading up to and following it, and the difficulty that she has in finding ways to explain it to others.

Tales from the Garden as described via Ameera Conrad’s website.

Napo Masheane – A New Song

Set in a middle-class Johannesburg suburb, we are introduced to nine women who formally eke out their existence as domestic workers, juggling the struggle, intemperate madams and motherhood. The varied backgrounds and attributes of the women form an interesting composite that relays and represents the fate of women during a very difficult time in South Africa’s history. The singular thread that binds the differing narratives of these women is that they happen upon Johannesburg with bags full of hopes and dreams.

A New Song was first developed as part of a long-term project with the Royal Court Theatre between 2013 and 2014 and was supported by the British Council and Connect ZA. The first staged reading of the play took place at the Jerwood Theatre at the Royal Court on 12 May 2014. The play had a resounding reading at the Market Theatre earlier this year.

The story commences when one of the women, Thokoza, joins the congress and is on mission to persuade other workers to get involved in the Anti-Pass book campaign. As this unfolds the audience taps into each woman’s story and follows them as they witness their journey, their growth and daily lived challenges. Through A New Song, ordinary women’s voices take centre stage in work that recalls the challenges of the struggle with song and dance bringing to life the tone of the day which is captured through requisite set design, texture, smell, fashion, language, and the political history. A New Song celebrates a strong political action of history and indeed sisterhood.

A New Song as described on Artslink

Watch an interview about the play, below.

Hope you enjoy these recommendations!

This month’s blog is curated by Jen Thorpe.

Jen Thorpe is a feminist writer. Her first novel, The Peculiars (2016), was long listed for the Etisalat Prize for Literature (2016) and the Sunday Times Fiction Prize (2017). Her second novel, The Fall, was published in July 2020. Thorpe has edited three collections of feminist essays – My First Time: Stories of Sex and Sexuality from Women Like You (2012); Feminism Is: South Africans Speak Their Truth (2018) and Living While Feminist (2020). Her writing has been published in Brittle Paper, Saraba Magazine, Jalada, and Litro. Find out more via Jen is also the host of the Living While Feminist Podcast available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Anchor, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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