For the past few months I have been working with a group of students/artists from the Drama and Performance Studies Department at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban South Africa. Together we created a piece of theatre titled, capsule The Space in B’Tween a poetic drama collectively authored through a process called The Use of Ritual Poetic Drama Within the African Continuum. It is a methodology that works to help the dramatic artists access their own creativity and artistic content using rite of passage journeys. This process requires that each artist identify “things” that are blocking their creative process by constructing barriers and impediments. These moments from their past have so profoundly affected them that it has influenced their ability to connect honestly with their feelings and emotions thus inhibiting authentic work on stage.
The play opened last weekend at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre in Durban and these students/artists took a tremendous step forward as creators of their own stories brought to life on stage. The Space in B’Tween includes music, dance, poetry and STORY. The ensemble company created moments of tragic remembrances, poignant discovery, and recognitions. I continue to be amazed as I witness the passion, power and courage of young people when engaging in community with one another in a creative space for a collective purpose. Together we worked to create a community that valued one another and our diverse experiences and perspectives. Included within the studio space were people from various black African origins including Xhosa, Zulu, Tswana and white African origins of Afrikaner and English descent, along with Indian and Coloured students. There was a mixture of class privileges and gender privileged students and several who declared themselves gay and lesbian, Christian, Hindu, Muslim and Traditional. We engaged in politics and social issues and we never agreed! It was fabulous! We experienced one another in very intimate and vulnerable spaces and because we were a community we supported one another through it all. I witnessed growth in each and every student/artist who committed to the process. Many of them had to sacrifice a great deal to be a part of the work and yet they chose to do so. Struggle is a part of the South African cultural continuum and many of these students struggle to obtain their education. Transportation alone becomes a huge obstacle to overcome.
When students have the opportunity to work in a creative space that allows them to challenge and interrogate, to actively and collectively problem solve and to creatively apply the lessons they have learned in theory, implementing and practicing in common-unity it is an amazing thing. They teach one another, support one another and challenge one another’s assumptions, beliefs, prejudices and biases. Building a classroom community space that values each other as human beings is essential to the process of disclosure. When we all commit to be honest with one another even when it is difficult to do so, it becomes safer to recognize our own flaws and acknowledge what we see in others we also see in ourselves. Stepping up and giving voice to what has been hidden or suppressed is an empowering thing and it liberates the human spirit. With liberty of spirit comes the freedom to transcend your conditions and envision your future. When these young people speak their TRUTH courageously I have hope…. for our future.
Artistic Director and Founder
The Conciliation Project
Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University
Up Next Week: What’s the matter with Congress? That is the Question!