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IN a time when we hear, almost daily, of acts of violence against women and children, a team from Durban University of Technology’s drama school has decided to challenge the norm in an artistic manner.
Through the production Living Dead Girl, which opens on Saturday, writer/director (and lecturer) Marcia Peschke and a group of students will present what has been called an “experimental performance project written as a critical response to incidents of violence against women and the patriarchal structures that promote gender distinctions”.
We asked Peschke to tell us about how this project all began.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to engage in studies where I have to question how I situate myself in society and how and why I have acquired the belief system I have. As my social reality is one in which there have been increasing incidents of violence, I cannot deny the urgency in me to investigate that.
“My responsibility as a critical citizen, academic and student is to understand why it is so important to use my conscience and own power to empower others. Living Dead Girl was originally an auto- ethnographic exploration of how disempowered I felt as a woman and spurred me on to use the idea of reflection as a mechanism to tell and explore other stories as a means of achieving liberation,” she explained.
Described as a production that “is an act of rebellion creating a platform for the presence of personal stories to create empowerment”, we were curious as to what Peschke aimed to achieve with this work.
“As a writer and director I want to encourage women and men, because men are also victims, to social discourse that perpetuates the belief that they have to be violent warriors, to find the truth of who they are and to speak their stories.
“I would like for the audience to be critical of their actions and to question those values which allow them to live with the passivity that perpetuates violence. For all women, I would like to say that by sharing their stories it can be an extremely liberating experience.
“By confronting ourselves we stop distancing ourselves from how we perceive the world. This production will create a forum in which we can hear the truths of many characters and perhaps confront our own truths.”
Peschke said this production was “deeply concerned” with social issues, especially those affecting women and the empowerment of women, and that she decided to stage it in a way that would compel the audience to become active participants in creating change.
“In order to displace their complacency and engage in the complexity of issues around violence (against women) aspects of the performance are abstract and expressive rather than literal.
“Rather than attempting to simulate or re-enact certain actions/situations or reality exactly as they happen, we’ve used creative mechanisms in exploring what it feels like to be in those situations. The spectator witnesses ‘real’ incidents in a dreamlike manner and must participate more in responding to what they are perceiving.
“Mere re-enactment, including graphic violence, may force a spectator to cower. There is no overt violence. The stories, which are honest opinions and experiences regarding violence against women, are powerful enough to hopefully incite a more active response from the audience,” Peschke said.
According to a press release, Living Dead Girl uses new media technologies, activism and documentary theatre as mechanisms to exploit, subvert and critique patriarchal systems of governance.
Commenting on the state of action against violence in South Africa, Peschke said the steps taken by action groups and individuals had been a positive sign of participation.
“However, I still believe that as a collective we’re still under the pretence that it’s okay to rise together at certain times. That’s only a temporary solution.
“In order for transformation to occur we have to have a total shift in consciousness and decide which values we live by and actively live them out.
“We cannot simply express outrage when it’s appropriate and then silently sit back and be satisfied with a culture that discards women.”
• Living Dead Girl, Saturday to March 21 at the Courtyard Theatre. R35. No under-16s. To book, call Lebohang Sibisi at 031 373 2194.