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She’s seldom seen wearing her director’s hat here: interrogating the paucity of black women stage directors in three state-supported theatres in contemporary South Africa (1999-2018)

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The startling dearth of black women stage directors accessing three of South Africa’s six state-funded theatres – Artscape, the Market and the Playhouse – between 1999 and 2018 forms the impetus for this study. Production information across these case studies reveals that black men, white men and white women theatre directors continue to dominate mainstream stages, despite the 1996 White Paper’s resolute stance that everyone is to equally participate in the arts in a post-1994 dispensation. This study examines the factors contributing to this group’s under-representation through analysis of cultural policy, one-on-one in-depth interviews with the institutional heads of the three theatres, and with twelve black (inclusive of African, Coloured and Indian) women who have directed productions in at least one of the theatres during the 20 years under investigation. As historically those who are the most marginalised, the narratives of the twelve women are centered. Although these women have had directing opportunities within these theatres, their narratives reveal adverse experiences at the time that their productions were staged or later. Cultural policy is not the panacea for persistent intersectional prejudices at state-supported theatres, as other mitigating factors are at play, including the profoundly elitist nature of the mainstream performing arts world and the notion of excellence. Nevertheless, it remains the foundational document guiding artistic activities in these spaces in a democracy. In their frameworks, the White Paper of 1996 and later drafts, neglected to effectively facilitate the overt inclusion of black women stage directors. Efforts to substantially transform these theatres are further betrayed by the pursuit of commercial viability. Additionally, lack of investment by these institutions towards training and capacity-building programmes designed to benefit specifically black women directors does not augur well for emerging directors particularly. Furthermore, aspects like level of education, training, experience or accolades do not seem to ease challenges of access, despite the various efforts made by this group of practitioners to get into these spaces. Essentially, weak cultural policy frameworks alongside insufficiently funded theatres that must see to their own sustainability foster an arts and culture landscape that has only marginally transformed in more than twenty-five years of democracy.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.