Academic journal article African Studies Review

Any Color of the Rainbow-As Long as It's Gray: Dramatic Learning Spaces in Postapartheid South Africa

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Any Color of the Rainbow-As Long as It's Gray: Dramatic Learning Spaces in Postapartheid South Africa

Article excerpt

Abstract:

This article addresses the issue of the relationship between contemporary South African politics and the type of socially committed theater that might be capable of mounting a critique of those politics. The author highlights the contradictions between the aspirations of the Freedom Charter and the realities of subscribing to the neoliberal world order. His contention is that any theater form that is seeking cultural intervention must find a way of representing contradiction if it is to remain true to the experiences of its authences and its participants. Such a representation can be achieved through a combination of Bertolt Brecht's praxis in relation to contradiction and current practices in Theatre for Development, which themselves draw upon aspects of the antiapartheid resistance theater.

The intention of this article is to initiate a search for an appropriate aesthetic for a theater of cultural action in South Africa today. My contention is that an exploration of an aspect of European popular theater can combine fruitfully with some of South Africa's antiapartheid theatrical strategies to produce a strain of community theater capable of representing the contradictions that contain and constrain the development of its majority population. While context is always crucial in defining the particular contours of the struggle between a neoliberal world order and people's desire for selfdetermination, democracy, and justice, that struggle represents the major contradiction confronting First, Second and Third Worlds: the "developed" and the majority alike. A theater, regardless of what label it pins to its lapel, that cannot find the means to address this contradiction is a theater incapable of engaging its authences in meaningful dialogues about their place in the contemporary world.

The argument crystallizes around two related notions: first, that the dominant contradiction of South African politics is that between the aims enshrined in the Freedom Charter and the conditions of its IMF loans; and second, that a developmental theater that seeks to make an intervention into this situation must adopt an aesthetic capable of presenting contradiction. Only by confronting its authences with the world as it is can such a theater make an effective contribution to social cohesion. This article will examine the context of the political contradiction before going on to suggest some of the elements from which an appropriate theater aesthetic might emerge. It is one of the more bitter ironies of recent history that at the moment when South Africa was engaged in a compelling struggle to liberate itself from a regime that sought to determine discriminatory categories of being human for its citizens, the politicians at the forefront of the struggle had already entered into negotiations with global institutions that would impose a different set of externally determined ways of limiting what it is to be human.

When you speak of "learning spaces" in the context of South Africa, it is impossible to divorce the phrase from the spatial geographies of apartheid with its multiple and frequently changing designations of space: black space, coloured space, white space; urban space, rural space; Bantustans and townships. The material realities of the spaces people inhabit intersect with the memories of other kinds of space - colonial space, precolonial space, and the mythical spaces of desire. Notwithstanding the claims of Peter Brook (a theater director and author of The Empty Space) (Brook 1972), no space is empty. All space is culturally determined, in many cases overdetermined. Unlike theater processes located in designated buildings, in "safe" spaces to which one escapes for the enactment of dramas, the theater of the streets, of the communities, sets about to redefine space according to popular history or popular desire. This process of redefinition is by no means guaranteed to be progressive, since the appeal of local, ethnic, class, and nationalist factors frequently produce reactionary results. …

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