Women's Month: Emma Durden talks life in the arts
Multi talented theatre director and academic, Emma Durden started off as an actor in 1993. Since then she went on to write and direct plays, manages the Twist Theatre Development programme and runs the Fresha Festival every January. She's also just co-authored a book, "Acting in South Africa: Skills and Inspirations", which will be launched in Durban on August 17 at 5pm at the BAT Centre.
To commemorate Women's Month, she chatted to us about life in the arts as a female.
What do you do in your field?
I mostly write and direct work for industrial theatre projects. Plays about mental health, Aids, and general wellness. We will also be at the Hilton Arts Festival staging Twist street theatre shows from September 13 to 15.
How long have you been in the theatre industry and has there been notable changes?
I started as an actor with the NAPAC Schools performing company in 1993 - so that's 26 years in the industry. Over time I have watched a spate of small theatres open in Durban, and flourish for a while, and then close again. It's always so exciting when there is a new initiative that starts, with all the energy and promise of a new venture, and then it's pretty heartbreaking to watch people have to stop doing what they love because finding a paying audience for theatre is such a challenge.
Has theatre also been a predominantly male dominated industry? And what are your thoughts on more woman joining the industry?
I don't think we are under-represented in Durban. I have luckily worked in the company of really great women in the theatre industry. From performing with the actress and singer Belinda Henwood (known for her role in many Kickstart Productions and as the front person of the South Jersey Pompoms) to directing Mpume Mthombeni in industrial theatre performances in factories, and facilitating workshops for development programmes alongside the incredible Caroline Smart, I think there are many women who have made a really strong mark on the theatre industry in Durban, and there is always space for more.
What would you say is the biggest problem faced by women today?
Unwanted sexual attention is one of the biggest problems that I hear from other women in the industry, and they experience this in their everyday lives as working actors, on their way to and from work, and in their home communities. It takes confidence, a thick skin and loud voice for women to overcome this, and these are three things we should all learn and employ.
What is an issue that you've personally faced and how did you over come it?
Like so many people, I have lost people that I love, both in my professional and in my private life. For me, the best way to get through the grief and sadness was to talk to people honestly about my sense of loss. Because of our fear of death and all the superstitions around it, we seem to find it difficult to talk about this. When you have lost somebody that you love, other people don't know what to say, they don't want to upset you, so they tend not to bring up the topic at all, and it can be a very lonely experience. Death is such a vital part of our experience of being alive, that I think we should talk about it more. A friend of mine runs the "Death Cafe" in Cape Town, which is a monthly get-together of people who want to talk about death. They get together because they are dying, or somebody they know has died, or they want to die, or they are just curious about it all. It sounds macabre, but apparently it's an incredibly affirming project which makes everybody want to make better use of their time while they are still alive. I keep thinking of starting one in Durban.
How important is it for women to uplift each other and stand with one another through struggles?
There is an amazing sense of comfort that comes from having somebody really listen to you when you come up against something difficult. Whether we are women or men, I think if we listen to each other more then we are able to build a sense of support and community that helps us to weather the storms we are faced with. But I think listening comes with a responsibility to challenge each other too, so that we are able to see how we can take action to bring about change when we feel that things are tough.
What will you be doing on Women's Day?
I expect I will be working. There are seldom enough hours in the week.