Black Writings: The Modal Mixtape Sampling and Remixing the Ethos of South African Poor Theatre with the Film Medium

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University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
Let’s imagine I’m standing in a record store aisle, with all these nostalgic “records” of film and theatre that I’m too young and perhaps too black to be drawn to, but still somehow feel connected to. Not only that, but I can’t shake the feeling that these records have informed me as a South African and could form new work in a strong way. I'm trying to make a “song”, a cohesive language for my practice as a filmmaker, with an underpinning interest, ethos and an understanding of South African Poor Theatre. In my hand I have a Grotowski “record”, called Towards Poor Theatre (1976), that is the main sample for my track. I’m also “digging through crates”, looking at the Theatre of the Oppressed by Augasto Boal (1974) and other theories of theatre in film, to mix together to make the song. I’ve been listening to tracks by Athol Fugard and Barney Simon, as sources of inspiration. As Pharrell Williams describes chords as “coordinates pointing us to emotion” (2019) , I have begun to think that maybe plays such Woza Albert (1971) and Sizwe Banzi is Dead (1972 ) and their recordings for BBC (1982 and 1983) can serve as chords and indicators to the direction for my filmic practice. Although you might not find a section entitled “methodology” in this paper, what you will find is that it is underpinned by practice based research methodologies, in the interest of Walter Mignolo’s epistemology disobedience. In this paper, I employ DJ Lyneé Denise’s concept of The DJ Scholarship (2013) as a research methodology, which sees the paralleling between the roles of the research to those of a DJ, borrowing ideas and recontextualising them . I sample theatre concepts, ideas and theories to mix and remix them and eventually form my own knowledge around my filmic practice. This notion of deejaying also exists in the research question itself, as it seeks to attempt a blending of two artistic disciplines. It is further carried in the way I approach film and storytelling, through the editing process, cutting, scratching, loop and rewinding for further indentation. This research further makes use of auto-ethnographic methods for meaning making and epistemic disobedience. These methods are employed through personal anecdotes and reflexivity as additive interrogators and informers to the research exploration. This research project also makes use of the personal, in the research film as a means to explore therapeutic processes for film as well as an exploration of the personal as a political enquiry. Auto-Ethnography functions in the crux of this research, it is an inquiry of the self, as a black “born free” South African and my relationship with Poor and Protest Theatre as an inherited artistic voice. As I stand in the middle of this record-store of theoretical frameworks and literature, I am also analysing the “records” which pick and sample. I am studying them and thinking about what they represent and what they indicate about me and the ethos of my filmmaking practice in a traumatised, post-apartheid South Africa . So let’s get to mixing.
Dissertation submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts (Film and Television) in the Faculty of Humanities, University of the Witwatersrand.
Black writings, South African Theatre, Towards Poor Theatre, Theatre of the Oppressed, Woza Albert, Sizwe Banzi is Dead, Walter Mignolo, DJ Lyneé Denise, Augasto Boal