How can performance prevent rape?

On-stage performance can help us reimagine what we take for granted. This blog looks at how performance can explore different ways to be a woman or a man, and negotiate relationships that are flexible, fun, and freeing.

I suggest that performance can be used as a tool in rape prevention. I look at how performative methods of rape prevention may build upon and develop other forms of social education that work to end rape, creating possibilites for different ways to engage in intimate relationships.

This blog is a personal, theoretical, and performative exploration of how performance can be used in rape prevention.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Protest Theatre and Gender Bending at Witwatersrand University, Joburg

Last week I returned from the Drama for Life festival and African Research Conference at Witwatersrand University, Johannesburg. The festival explores how live performance can prevent the spread of HIV. This year the theme was 'Sex, Actually'.

The festival and conference were mind-blowing. Performers were predominantly students from the Drama and Drama for Life postgraduate course at Wits. There were also performances by critically acclaimed choreographer, PJ Sabbagha, and other local performers.

Local performer, Deep Fried Man

Protest Theatre
On the first night off the conference we all bussed up to Constitutional Hill. Constitutional Hill is the infamous prison that detained many anti-apartheid activists, including Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. Later, this prison was transformed into the court which drew up South Africa's constitution, which stands as one of the most progressive in the world. Now, Constitutional Hill is a museum which tells of the struggles of apartheid, and the dreams that wouldn't die.

Students performed excepts from plays they had performed during the year around the old prison. Placed around Constitutional Hill, we walked in groups to each one. The combination of the students' commitment to what they were saying, and the historical landscape in which performances were set, combined to give this performance event deep emotional resonance. the students can act, dance, and oh! can they sing. Nice.

Two student performers at Constitutional Hill

Performances at Constitutional Hill were in the style of protest theatre. These performances told stories of struggle during the apartheid era, adressing themselves to the oppressor, a plea for mercy. They used minimal props and very physical acting styles. A leading writer of protest theatre is Athol Fugard.

In a recent discussion on protest theatre chaired by the head of DFL, Warren Nebe, and between Nobel prize winner Nadine Gordimer and Chilean-American writer Ariel Dorfman, theatre was suggested as particularly important in bringing about change in South Africa. Art's function was considered to be as societies' conscience.

Protest theatre is not the same as agit-prop theatre, as it does not attempt to incite political action or retribution. Instead, protest theatre is more like a lament, an appeal to the conscience of the oppressor. No solution is sought, the problem is simply stated. Or often, wailed.

Here is an example of a the very physical protest theatre in Imobokotho's show

Gender Bending in Jo'burg

The performers and presenters embraced the festival theme, 'Sex, Actually', as many shows explored same-sex desires and gender fuck. As someone who enjoys a bit of queer activist activity this suprised me. I'd heard that due to South Africa's strong and large Christian population it's a taboo to speak about sex, especially sex that's not straight, monogamous, and within marriage.

But the DFL festival did not show this same silence. I wonder if choosing such a provocative theme opened the festival up to exploring riskier work?

Several shows charted a masculinity that is not all sexually, politically and physically powerful.

  • Deep Fried Man sang about being romantically and sexually clueless, and a bit of a geek.
  • Blow explored a man's romantic relationship with his blow-up doll. It was vulnerable and tender, reminiscent of Norweigan film, Lars and the Real Girl.
  • The Tea Party used full-face masks and a puppet-like physical style to unravel the story of a heterosexual relationship gone stale, until the husband starts having sex with strange men in toilets. The wife follows him one day. He stops doing it. And all goes back to normal.
  • Pillow Talk explored the sexual lives of several different characters, exposing people's private lives as definately queer despite their religions and private school uniforms.

The queer narrator of Pillow Talk

Notions of femininity were not challenged with similar gusto, only one show, a piece of performance art, examined ideas of women as being sexually available and desirious.

1 comment:

  1. i'm loving what you're writing aurora, so many in one day. someone's on creative fire! it's great to read what you've been doing and your reactions to your experiences.

    i really like the idea that "art's function was considered to be as societies' conscience" in this one. in a way it would be nice if that's what it is; our conscience is always good and right and fair, isn't it? sometimes i think that it can be more a product of societies' aspirations and fears ...

    i'm reading a book at the moment about art and evolution. the first bit has been about looking at what we find safe in a landscape - water, trees but with signs of habitation, paths that show that there is more to explore, height to look across the distance, a house or something we can make into one to keep us warm, and dry, and safe. the best bit is a liking for trees that are of climbable height and structure - nice :) x

    *heading off to read your other posts*