Crossing the line to probe xenophobia

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The Line, which opens at the Market’s Barney Simon Theatre at 8.30pm on Friday (running until August 12), is a product of dir- ector Gina Shmukler’s research for her masters degree thesis dealing with trauma and theatre making.

Her personal trajectory determined this choice because while living in New York for a few years, she was attacked in her abode soon after her return home.

Going through permutations of what she wanted to do, she finally concluded that she really wanted to explore the cruelty of women in violent situations as happened during the xenophobic attacks in this country a few years ago.

Partly it had to do with her desire to move away from the stereotype of the violent male, but she was also disturbed by what happened to women in these horrific circumstances.

“I’m no playwright,” says Shmukler, but she interviewed various people, especially women, about the xenophobic attacks to discover what happened to people in that kind of situations. “What makes good people turn bad?”

She describes what she did with The Line as storytelling, but not just with her pen. “I used other people’s words verbatim,” she emphasises.

Her own mind was shifted a few times during her research as she attended lectures and found snippets from different speakers.

One such idea was a speaker who questioned the fact that SA was a place of freedom for those escaping traumatic experiences in their own countries on the continent.

“So many people flee here because they view it as a place of safety,” says the director. “Think of suffering that kind of trauma again in what you thought was a place of safety.”

Using two actors, Khutjo Green and Gabi Harris, to play two women representing different points of view in this situation, Shmukler hopes to speak to South Africans about the circumstances and effects of something as horrific as xenophobia playing out in a community.

“Hopefully we call people to account,” she says. But more importantly she wants to get people thinking and talking about the things they do to one another.

At another lecture, she was confronted with the issue of people crossing a line, hence the title.

“We can’t simply take for granted who we are. What would you do in a situation when someone is attacked in front of you? Step in to help or turn away?”

All these issues are raised as the two women discuss various issues around xenophobia, looking at it from different vantage points, so common in a diverse country like ours where it is so easy to turn away, to turn a blind eye when we’re not affected and to let others battle on.

Shmukler, who was last seen on stage as the lead in Mamma Mia, is best known for her musical talents, but says she has always been attracted to the darker side of theatre.

“It’s such a powerful tool,” she says about telling stories. And turning a corner with The Line she is going to be a fascinating voice to watch out for in future.

Because the play was part of a theatre festival at Wits, she was thrilled to attract a younger audience to the earlier run which was sold out. She hopes to reach wider, but also to bring in youngsters. She explains that The Line is a play about us, voices that we haven’t heard before.

It investigates the fragility of goodness and questions around how the attacks were born.

“Hopefully,” she says, “because it is a personal story, it contextualises something in this complex country of ours. It asks questions at a personal level.”

A plucky lass who knows how to get her work staged, apart from lining up a handful of sponsors, she also attracts talent with the music by Charl-Johan Lingenfelder and design by Niall Griffin.


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