Yvette Hutchison

Unmuting citizenship – Engaging audiences with disavowed gender and ability issues through physical theatre

After 1994, theatre in South Africa began to engage with more voices and has shifted further away from text to more embodied forms of performance. To some extent this has been because of the politics associated with language, including the use made of narrative in South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and perhaps because postdramatic and postnarrative performance forms are more abstract, open to wider interpretation, which in turn allows for performers and audiences to a greater process of negotiation in their meaning-making process.This paper will explore how embodied practices are being mobilized in post-TRC South African theatre to highlight disavowed issues, like gendered violence, and inclusive citizenship. Given South Africa’s long history of violence, and seeming exhaustion with protest (cf. van Graan, 2006), I am asking how artists’ aesthetic choices are affecting the extent to which they are engaging audience with these issues. The paper will begin by analyzing various ways in which the term ‘aesthetics’ is used in relation to theatre (cf. White, 2015), exploring the tension between its association with taste, specifically in relation to ‘beauty’, and when used in relation to form and style. Drawing on James Thompson’s argument for participatory theatre to “focus on affect rather than effect” (2009), I will analyse how contemporary artists like Chuma Sopotela and the Unmute Dance Company are challenging notions of beauty, and engaging audiences with the ways in which black females or disabled persons are able/ forced to perform their citizenship.

Yvette Hutchison is a Reader in the Department of Theatre & Performance Studies at the University of Warwick, UK. Her most recent monograph is South African Performance and Archives of Memory (Manchester University press, 2013). Through her current AHRC-funded African Women’s Playwright Network (AWPN.org) she is considering the aesthetics contemporary South African women artists are employing to address issues of gender and conflict.