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ALL the way from the US is playwright, director, actor and teacher, Dr Tawnya Pettiford-Wates (pictured) who is visiting the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) Howard College as a theatre practitioner.
Fondly known as Dr T, she is working intensively with the second and third-year senior students and will be hosting a theatrical production titled The Space in B’Tween at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre from Thursday to Saturday
Dr T has performed in most of the major theatres in Seattle and starred in the New York Shakespeare Festival’s Broadway production of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/ When the Rainbow is Enuf.
Sharing her reasons for visiting South Africa as a scholar, she says: “I’ve been here before, on a cultural tour in 2007. We used theatre as a teaching tool to educate people about HIV/Aids, sexuality and other issues.
“So I found that our university in Virginia had a relationship with UKZN. And I thought, ‘why hasn’t our theatre organisation been here?’ So that piqued my interest. The work that I have been doing for years has been about how to teach performance in a non-Western style, so I worked on ways of restoring the fundamentals of African art.
“I use a methodology of storytelling which consists of personal encounters that change who we are as people. It’s a method that helps actors go back and get their stories which they suppress or have lost in their unconscious mind because some of these memories are very painful. In this way, they can connect with themselves.
“I also found that young artists tend to intimidate a lot of things. I find that in the process of intimidating, people often lose their authentic self. So I’m attempting to help students be authentic, just to be unique and who they are. Because that’s where their creative genius is.”
During her stay, Dr T has made it her mission not to conform to the South African style of teaching. She explains: “The education here is extremely colonial. Its more Western than the United States’s system (laughs).
“Here, the idea is that the lecturer knows everything and the students’ perceptions are not encouraged. I find that discussion is not big here. Basically, the student just goes there, takes notes and writes the exam. But I’m going into this saying, I’m a learner and you are a learner and we are going to exchange knowledge.
“From the moment I got here, I wouldn’t stand in front of them and teach while they sat at the back. It was like me feeding them like little birdies. I like my class to be interactive where we’re talking to each other and questions are always allowed, even challenges.”
In terms of the production The Space in B’Tween, it has seven cycles with a prologue and epilogue. The play interrogates how our respective identities are formed through the “space in between” – spaces of the visible and the invisible, the places where race, class, sex, gender and cultural continuum intersect and disconnect from one another.
“It’s a collective of writing that uses the various students’ moments of writers’ passage, their revelations, their recognitions and their transformations.
“It’s poetic drama. Some of the subjects are uncomfortable to talk about like rape, death, incest, racism and so on. It’s liberating for them to be able to give voice to the stories. It’s also liberating for the audience to witness because they will be able to relate.
“Our hope is that the audience will come as witnesses and not spectators. That they will allow their hearts to see and not just their eyes and they will be moved to do something. We are devising a place of theatre. Our mission is healing through the arts. We want to activate the audience through what we do.”
• The production runs from Thursday to Saturday at Elizabeth Sneddon. R40 adults, R20 for students, pupils and pensioners at the box office one hour before the show.