/ 6 August 2020

The Portfolio: Slindile Mthembu

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Theatre-maker Slindile Mthembu is embracing the opportunities afforded by taking her work to digital audiences

Within the context of being a black womxn playwright, director and currently navigating through the voice of a researcher, I reached a point where I needed to do my part by using my writings to give voice to the voiceless. Thus, my interest or focus is on the complexities of black womxn’s existence and presence. In particular, I raise awareness on issues of sexual, psychological, emotional and cultured violence(s) that women experience on all three different levels (gender, race, and class discrimination) every day.

This has been a praxis that I have been developing from my MA research paper for the past two years and have recently shared through the exploration of a new South African play, Igama?, which was presented as part of the curated programme for the first-ever virtual National Arts Festival

Igama? maps the lived reality of South African black womxn who live in a well-behaved postcolonial South African society, and who struggle with societal standards and how to conform to them. In this new work I explored the idea of collapsing habitual, chronological and often one-dimensional narrative structures depicting black womxn and their lives, as a way to say, “Asijiki, we are forging forward and our voices will be heard, named and seen in hegemonic places that have rejected us.”

Theatre has always been an effective mode of storytelling because of the impulse and feeling that one gets when bringing to life imagined worlds, with actor-characters who can confront a live audience. 

However, the reality is theatre in South Africa — since the ’80s — has been limited in terms of attracting mass audiences, resulting in a decline in theatre-goers and creating a huge gap to fill in reaching digital audiences in post-apartheid South Africa. As Mabu Art Foundation we have seen the need for the traditional phrase “bums on seats” to adapt to “eyes on screens”.

The pandemic has presented new opportunities, with the virtual space making it easier to reach more people, and to keep the tradition alive. This shift to digital couldn’t have come at a more apt time. At Mabu Art Foundation, we urgently strategise about creating an “always on” approach, so that content is always accessible and well-filmed. Quality content can always travel through digital channels. Recently we were able to film Igama? and adapt the Standard Bank Young Artist for Dance Lulu Mlangeni’s story into a documentary film. This shift proves that we can keep theatre alive, while enticing audiences back to their “theatre seats”.