Drama Student directors take on gender issues in Festival debuts

Student directors take on gender issues in Festival debuts

Several student directors – all of them women – are presenting work at this year’s Festival that deals with the complexities of gender and sexuality.

One of them is 22-year-old University of Western Cape (UWC) Bachelor of Sciences student Ayabonga Pasiya, whose passion for drama was sparked when she was in high school. She’s at a university with no formal drama programme but, along with her cast, has impressed supervising lecturer Mary Hames with their ability to “write their narratives without apology”.

“Ayabonga has done amazing work,” Hames says. Her drama, Admission Reserved, addresses gender and racial stereotypes. “It’s not anti-men or anti-white, it’s just pro black women,” Pasiya says. The script was workshopped with the Gender Equity Unit at UWC. “Choosing [content] was difficult because I didn’t want to make it seem as though any person’s truth is more or less valuable than another’s,” Pasiya says.

“I’ve enjoyed watching the transformation of our stories into actions and the blossoming of confidence and will in the cast members.” Pasiya’s says of her Festival directing debut, “I would like anyone who has been a victim of rape, molestation or abuse of any kind to feel that they can reclaim their bodies.”

Tackling taboo topics

Inez Robertson, third-year acting student, writer and director of City Varsity’s Raw Meat, says she aims to highlight the plight of people who are often neglected in discussions about sexual violence. “Sexual abuse is so prevalent in this country that it has become part of our culture. But are we protecting the man that was raped? The sex-worker that was raped?”

“Touching on complex subjects such as sex work, homosexuality and sexual abuse is “important to me,” says Robertson, “not only as a writer but as a South African.”

“I’d like my audience to walk away wanting to challenge what they know and cf wanting to know more about how they can help people like the characters in the piece,” she says. “Sometimes it’s simply about getting to know the people around you and understanding that everyone just wants a chance, no matter what they’ve been through or what they do for a living.”

Setting aside emotional intensity, Robertson loves the highs of directing. “I’m hooked on the moment-to-moment thrill of it all,” she says.

Robert Haxton, the lecturer who supervised Raw Meat, praises the cast for their sensitivity to these intense issues. “They approach characters from a very inward and real place; they want to find the subtlety in the characters,” he says.

Honest theatre

For Mariska Denysschen, a 21-year-old BTech student at Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), the focus is writing “relevant and honest” theatre. Her piece, Medea, supervised by lecturer Kabi Thulo, is an interpretation of Euripides’ Greek tragedy. “We’ve adapted the story to articulate more relevant themes for young women today, to create a Medea that women can identify with,” she says.

Denysschen says Medea questions the idea often portrayed in the media that women are “weaklings”. Her choice to represent women as strong, she says, is because she believes “it’s important for the world to see us this way”.

Josephine Peka and Mkhabela Thabo in Enough is Enough at the 2015 National arts Festival in Grahamstown. (Photo: CuePix/Sithasolwazi Kentane)

Josephine Peka and Mkhabela Thabo in Enough is Enough at the 2015 National arts Festival in Grahamstown. (Photo: CuePix/Sithasolwazi Kentane)

Not wanting to give too much away about Medea, Denysschen says the style in which the cast presents the piece leaves more than enough room for audience members to take away whatever they need to from [it]”.

In producing experimental theatre, Denysschen says the challenge was to “sustain” the unconventional “language” in Medea. “The process was made easy by the hard-working and committed cast members, whose fearlessness and trust in me humbled me,” she adds.

For the love of theatre

The fourth student work involving gender is Enough is Enough, a chapter in the life of a girl who was raped. Lehlogonolo Sekgatja, whose directing debut represents The University of Limpopo, says getting the cast to understand the style of different types of theatre is the hardest part of her job but that forming relationships with the cast has made the long hours worthwhile.

“We call ourselves a family. We work hand in hand,” she says.

Sekgatja has been working on Enough is Enough while also pursuing a Bachelor of Sciences degree. “[This] is something we love; it’s people with passion who wanted to do this,” she says.

The highlight for Sekgatja is watching the protagonist in Enough is Enough transform under different circumstances.

Gorata Chengeta

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