In addition to coursework, students will also have opportunities to participate in productions both on stage and off, in performance and technical capacities, working in one of the four theatres we have on campus; or they may wish to audition for the Flatfoot Training Company – an internationally recognized dance company based in the Drama and Performance Studies programme at UKZN; or they may want to get involved in one of the many community-based projects run by the Drama Programme. To find out more about the different creative opportunities available to drama students, click on the links below.
An important aspect of our activities are the major public productions of texts and dance, and the experimental and workshop productions that arise from course work or research interests. The Drama and Performance Studies programme has a long and proud history of mounting productions in a wide range of genres and forms. Approximately twenty such productions are mounted annually in four different theatre spaces, each offering a unique creative opportunity. Each year the department hosts at least one major departmental production, participates in the Grahamstown National Arts Festival, stages several productions directed and/or choreographed by Honours students, and mounts an evening of dance dramas.
Every year the department mounts major productions featuring our student body, from first year through to Masters. These productions vary in style and genre, and are presented across all the theatre spaces in the department, including the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, offering opportunities for all students both to see and to participate in the creative life of the programme.
In celebration of 20 years of democracy, the 2014 departmental production is a musical adaptation of the South African classic novel Mine Boy by Peter Abrahams, presented at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre. Written in 1949, it is considered the first modern South African text written by a black author. Although the story was written over 50 years ago, it has far from lost its relevance and touches on many of the themes of South African life still experienced by many today such as labour and poverty.
The production is a collaboration between the department of Drama and Performance Studies and Eager Artists, resident actors of Wushwini Arts and Heritage Centre. Guest directors are ex-student Jerry Pooe (of Wushwini Arts) and international director Roel Twijnstra, who adapted the novel. Although hard hitting, the play is also a musical celebration of survival and the power of love.
Also this year, a series of comic one-acts by renowned and controversial American playwright and Tony Award winner, Christopher Durang, called Death, Dysfunction and a Duck, was staged in the intimate Studio 5 theatre, co-directed by recent graduates of the programme Brandon Moulder and Donna Steel. This collection showcased the macabre humour and satirical bite, for which Durang is famous – or infamous! Provocative, engaging and dynamic, the production parodied the naked truth about the dysfunctional human behavior with which we are all only too familiar, allowing us to have a good chuckle at ourselves.
Grahamstown National Arts Festival
Each year the department participates in the National Arts Festival of Student Drama in Grahamstown. These productions are most often written/workshopped and directed by students, and all postgraduate students are encouraged to submit ideas for productions, one of which is then selected through a democratic process.
In 2014, the production was a devised theatre piece entitled PS directed by Honours student Nqobile Mthembu. The work focuses on notions of identity – specifically the identity of young contemporary South African women – both as we see ourselves and how others view us. It speaks of ‘Alone realities’ and how, post-apartheid, we have been forced to find comfort in uncomfortable places. Compromised and marginalised, women are born into a world that has already determined them and this is compounded by issues of race and class. There is a box waiting just for us.
To extend this image, the play is situated in a museum. Often referred to as ‘the white cube’, the museum/gallery’s role is to attempt to preserve and fix reality, place it on display – history frozen in a box of information chosen by someone else. The past becomes a commodity, a known thing… we could buy it. Its value is determined outside of itself. But it is not what is in the box that is important, but what is left out, what is excluded and rendered invisible. PS is constructed around the narrative of four domestic workers and a security guard working at a museum, and juxtaposes the opulent and luxurious glory of the museum and all its history, with the lives of the everyday person, particularlary the woman – in this case, the domestic worker who is isolated, ignored and never noticed – in a representative, symbolic and minimalistic theatrical work.
Each year, among the highlights of the drama programme are the Honours productions. Each Honours student studying directing, stages a production; a huge range of productions has been presented over the years ranging from absurd texts to workshop plays to one-person shows to new plays. These productions often go on to be reworked and presented professionally once students have graduated.
In 2014, there have been 5 Honours productions in addition to the Grahamstown Festival production. These cover a broad range of styles and themes from scripted texts to workshopped productions to adapted works. Whatever the genre, the directing students have challenged themselves to make exciting, dynamic and contextually relevant theatre.
Womyn – The Tell Your Truth Movement, a devised theatre piece, directed by Chuma Mapoma
Our truths, our stories, are important and we need to tell them because they are ours to tell. In telling them, we gain a power of sorts. In telling them, we see how much we have in common and in telling them, we own them. This is a play focused on the emancipation of women, seeking to tell their stories for themselves and by themselves. In this process, it exposes the truths about womanhood. Its trials. Its joys. Its greatness. And its importance.
My Children! My Africa! – adapted and directed by Bheki Maphumulo
The play is an adaptation of Athol Fugard’s My Children! My Africa! It is a political commentary that focuses on the discrimination based on gender and race amongst students on the Howard College campus of UKZN. It explores the active and passive political views we, as students, hold, and highlights some of the misunderstandings that occur in as diverse an environment as a university. Color boundaries and power struggles are topics that spring up in the play, and all this is centered around the relationships between students, and between students and the systems and structures around them.
The State vs Medusa Gorgon – written and directed by Caitlin Goulding
A story about rape, murder and corruption that looks at the myth of Medusa and the relevance that the story still has by setting it in modern society. The story is told as a series of court cases and makes use of the different versions of the myth.
Bafa Bazi – written and directed by Mfundo Hlatshwayo
Bafa Bazi is a story about the Nguni Culture. It tells the story of a woman Mary, who was first forced to marry Vusumuzi, and when the family found out that Vusumuzi was infertile, Mary was then forced to sleep with Vusumuzi brother David, which led her to fall in love with David. The play explores the consequences of those actions in an intimate domestic drama.
4000 Miles – written by Amy Herzog and directed by Irinka-Sante Nelson
This play is about a young man dealing with the loss of his best friend, who turns to his grandmother Vera for comfort. The dynamics of relationships are explored in this sharply observed, often humorous, psychological drama, as through this journey the two characters end up helping each other to deal with the losses that each of them has had to overcome.
In partnership with the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, our programme run an annual dance performance season which features most of the students registered on Howard College Campus and forms the culmination of all the dance work over the academic year. Entitled DANCE IN
ACTION the production offers contemporary dance rituals created by first level students, Laban based dance work from second level students, and the third year dance major students performing a dance theatre work created with and for them by a guest choreographer. The evening usually culminates with a very special performance by the FLATFOOT Training Company. DANCE IN ACTION usually signals a joyous end to the annual academic programme and is also used as platform to wish students well with their end of year exams and final practicals.
Some highlights from previous years:
Here are some examples of work that has been created in the department – you may even have watched some of these shows!
The Shakespeare Festival (1999 – 2010)
For 10 years, the department presented an annual Shakespeare festival, which saw more than 9000 school learners visit the department to see productions ranging from A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Romeo and Juliet to Twelfth Night and The Winter’s Tale. Presented either in the Pieter Scholtz Open Air Theatre or the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, and featuring large casts of students in all years of study, the goal in each production was to make Shakespeare accessible for a multicultural, young and uniquely South African audience. Whether it was a tokoloshe Puck, a gangster Romeo, a Jimi Hendrix Orsino, a hip-hop Oberon, or a football fan Dromio, the emphasis in all of the productions was to explore what gives Shakespeare’s works their enduring magic – namely, the fantastic stories and the characters that continue to speak to us in new ways each and every time we connect to them.
Family (2008) – a contemporary restaging of the Oresteian tetralogy featuring a cast of more than 60 students, and co-directed by Lliane Loots, Mervyn McMurtry and Tamar Meskin. This site-specific project included a dance theatre piece on the Roof of the Drama Building, a ritual-based rendering of the Agamemnon in the Open Air Theatre, an intimate adaptation of the Electra in the Square Space Theatre, and a final satiric version of The Eumenides on the Roof again. Audiences moved between the theatre spaces and through different styles, in this major exploration of one of the most important works in the history of theatre.
FrontLines (2009) – this event was the first collaborative production between UKZN and the Durban University of Technology, directed by Tamar Meskin and Tanya van der Walt; it has since, been performed four times in different contexts from UKZN, to DUT, to the University of Pretoria, and even spawned a Remix version. This work, the first inter-institutional collaboration of its kind, explores the horrors of war and its consequences, through letters, poetry, dance, music, and narrative, in a collaged work that crosses political, cultural, ethnic and linguistic borders as it dramatizes the shared nature of our human experience.
Metamorphoses (2011) – this play by Mary Zimmerman was a Broadway sensation when it was first produced in 2002, not least for its exotic design featuring a real swimming pool on stage. This version was presented in 2011 – for the first time in South Africa – in the Pieter Scholtz Open Air Theatre, as an inter-institutional collaboration, featuring a cast of more than 70 students from UKZN and DUT, directed by Tamar Meskin and Tanya van der Walt.
The Love of the Nightingale (2011) – Timberlake Wertenbaker’s imagistic reimagining of the Greek myth of Philomela and Procne, was presented at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre as an Honours production. Wertenbaker’s contemporary feminist interpretation of the mythological narratives interrogates the often-fraught relationships between men and women, and maps the journeys between violence and freedom and back again.
The Free Person of Such-A-One (2012) – this imagined sequel to Bertolt Brecht’s Good Woman of Setzuan was directed by guests to the Drama programme, iainEWOKrobinson and Karen Melissa Logan and created in collaboration with a cast of students. It combined elements of Brecht’s signature style of theatre making with contemporary Hip Hop and spoken word theatre. The play begins when “The Gods” return to Earth on a mission; to find a person who is truly “Free”. But this time they’ve landed in South Africa, and finding “Such-a-One” is not as simple as it first appeared …
Dead End (2013) – this important work by acclaimed South African writer Zakes Mda was directed by Miranda Young-Jahangeer. The play tells a story about lives constrained by circumstance: political, social and economic. It is a South African story; yet it is also a human story about ordinary human beings ‘making do’ and yet longing for a better life. It is a story about choice – and the illusion of choice, because every choice is a dead end. It is a story of (the) struggle. Struggle for survival, struggle for dignity, struggle…for freedom. Freedom from …and the freedom to… Originally set in 1970s South Africa, renowned playwright Zakes Mda, was making a comment on the lives of black South Africans under apartheid; however the unfortunate irony is that 40 years later the lives of the working poor in South Africa are much the same, as are the dreams and aspirations. It posed no problem to bring the play forward to present day Durban, South Africa.
The Refusers’ Revolution (2012) and V: Prepare for the Escalation! (2014) – inspired by Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues and Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuff, these two works were presented at the Square Space Theatre as part of the department’s Production Module and Acting Elective respectively, directed by Clare Craighead. Using a “workshop” process, the students engaged feminist-activist performance practices (and texts) as well as navigating areas of ‘solo performance’ to create an ensemble piece that engages relevant contemporary issues related to gender-based violence and rape.
It has been my long-standing belief that theatre and performance are vehicles for change – both personal and political – this is indeed evident throughout the history of performance, and specifically here in South Africa. Harnessing the transformative power of performance, both for performers/practitioners and audience, the director engages activism in and through performance, confronting the endemic gender-based violence in our societies, and highlighting the need to engage this pathology critically and performatively.
The Space B’tween (2013) – a poetic drama, collectively devised and authored by students in our Production Module working under the guidance of guest director Tawnya Pettiford-Wates, a visiting scholar from Virginia Commonwealth University. Engaging a process called The Use of Ritual Poetic Drama Within the African Continuum, the students accessed their own creativity and artistic content through rite of passage journeys, focusing on their own vision of themselves as artists. The work included music, dance and poetry in presenting the essence of drama, which is story. The ensemble company created moments of tragic remembrances, poignant discovery, and recognitions that may lead to change and transformation. Ultimately the work celebrated the resiliency of the human spirit through telling stories in which we all might recognize ourselves.
FLATFOOT DANCE COMPANY
UKZN’s Howard College Campus Drama and Performance Studies Programme is proud to house the award winning and internationally acclaimed FLATFOOT DANCE COMPANY. Not only do students who enroll in Howard College Drama programme, get taught by the professional dancers of FLATFOOT in their daily course work programme, but the company runs its FLATFOOT Training Company which is geared at offering Durban and UKZN based students a further space to gain more training and technical expertise. Auditions are held at the beginning of each semester and drama students are strongly urged to audition for a place in the company – no previous dance training is required as FLATFOOT aims to offer to train and develop young dancers. For more information: http://www.flatfootdancecompany.webs.com/
DANCE QUICKIES – choreographed by FLATFOOT DANCE COMPANY with the student based FLATFOOT Training Programme. Held annually in the Square Space Theatre, “Dance Quickies” offers 6 short dance works made especially for the confines of the thrust theatre of the Square Space. Each work is a five minute delve into a new style of emerging African Contemporary dance theatre and pairs up the training dancers with the professional company in a very joyous and usually groundbreaking dance event.
Students are encouraged to participate in a variety of creative activities other than acting: in writing or devising original poetry, monologues, dance and plays, in directing their own work, and in entering work in local festivals and competitions.