Rhodes University Drama Department offers an integrative approach to drama studies. We emphasise the body as expressive medium in locating and training unique, indigenous performance languages. Most of our teaching staff are practitioners themselves affording students an intensive interface between choreography, performance, theoretical and administrative studies. Our strong undergraduate programme prepares students for a comprehensive selection of eleven Honours papers. Our post graduates produce a variety of high quality works drawing from all disciplines and genres of performance.
Each year the Rhodes Drama Department and resident company First Physical Theatre Company produce at least ten productions at the National Arts Festival with alumni featuring in over thirty. To date, we have produced four Young Artists Award winners, taught four of the six physical actors who auditioned for Cirque du Soleil (2008) and our staff have presented productions and conference papers in more than ten countries. Our alumni stretch from the Hollywood sublime (the Borg Queen) to the Boksburg ridiculous (Twakkie), to five of the ten South African university dance and drama departments. In recent years, graduates have won Arts and Culture Trust awards, Naledi awards, FNB Dance Umbrella awards, Gauteng MEC Dance and Choreography nominations, a SPAT award, a Daimler-Chrysler South African Choreography nomination and a KZN DanceLink nomination.
Africanism through the eyes of Mwenya Kabwe
Date Released: Mon, 25 May 2015 08:56 +0200
Theatre Maker, Performer and Lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand, introduced her acclaimed style of immersive theatre when she visited Grahamstown for the first time as a facilitator at the Rhodes University Drama Department and not as a performer for the Arts Festival. She spent the past five weeks directing her theatre production Astronautus Afrikanus which showed between 21 and 23 May 2015.
The idea of immersive theatre, which she describes as a form of theatre where the audience is fully engaged in the play, is one that is constantly embedded in her work and which she incorporated in her interaction with the students at the Drama Department.
Kabwe explained that in this production, she was invited to be a Director in Residence as well as to make work with second and third year Drama students at the university. However, unlike the conventional style of teaching and learning, she mentioned that hers was to create a collaborative exchange of knowledge between students, herself and the audience.
“In every work that I do, I try to develop a non-traditional relationship between the audience and the performer where we explore exactly what it means to be African,” she said.
The theme on African identity and what constitutes an African is one that she admits has inspired and continues to inspire her work.
“This is a constant question and a personal one,” she said. “It informs my teaching and helps to shape my work,” she added.
Kabwe further mentioned that her interpretation of theatre is one that affords the audience some form of agency to travel and stimulate their curiosity to make sure that they never relinquish the process of asking questions. According to her, it is important that we all continue to ask questions about everything happening around us, touching on current issues such as xenophobia and the recent debate on transformation surrounding Rhodes University. The aim, she clarifies, is not to find answers, but to encourage more and more people to partake in these discussions.
The inspiration for her theme on African identity for this particular production was inspired by Zambian high school teacher Edward Makuka Nkoloso who, in the 1960s, had a dream of training the first African Astronauts through his Zambia National Academy of Science, Space, Research and Philosophy. Kabwe, therefore, uses him as a symbol of African knowledge and the way that people come to know about themselves and those around them
In doing so, she also challenges formal education and the main ways through which education came about and also seeks to problematise the perception that knowledge can only be gained through this type of education.
Second year drama student Kyle Prinsloo expressed his admiration for Mwenya’s theatrical approach, calling her a “game changer.”
“What I like about her is that she manipulates the space around her, I even got to see places in the Drama Department that I had never seen before,” he explained.
When asked about her signature approach to facilitating theatre productions and performing, Kabwe indicated that she was quite reluctant to characterise her work under one as she is still in the process of learning and evolving in the world of theatre. Nonetheless, she did reveal that reoccurring features of her work are centred on ideas of migration and travel where she relinquishes the passive nature of audiences. Another one is her use of what she calls Afroisms where she attaches the prefix Afro to either the names of her characters, as she did in Astronautus Afrikanus, or the title of the production itself. Her element of promoting Africanism is so strong that she reveals how she had thought about compiling a dictionary of Afroisms that would allow her to express what being African is in a way that is fun, light and seeks to reclaim our African-ness in a way that English fails to do.
By Phiwokuhle Mandisa Dhlamini
Rhodes University Drama Department Presents
A new devised work directed by Mwenya Kabwe
21, 22 & 23 May 2014
About the work | dynamic, fantastical, fresh
Age recommendation | 12 +
Duration | one hour
Tickets available at | Theatre Administrator (Room 107) | 09:00 – 13:00 weekdays
Ticket prices | R40 Public | R25 Students | R20 Block
Contact | Katlego 046 603 8542 (mornings only) | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Rhodes Drama Department proudly presents Astronautus Afrikanus, a work devised by the cast under the direction of guest director Mwenya B. Kabwe in collaboration with Lieketso wa Thaluki and Illka Louw.
This immersive work uses the source story of a rather colourful character in Zambian history named Edward Mukuka Nkoloso who in the mid 1960's was convinced that Zambia was going to beat the Russians and Americans to space. So much so that he started a Zambian space programme a year before Zambia's independence from Britain in 1964, and started to train a group of young people to be his Afronauts. Inspired by this story this production is an immersive work that invites the audience to discover the nooks and crannies of the Rhodes Main Theatre.
Astronautus Afrikanus celebrates imagination, invention, intellectual and creative freedom and indigenous African Knowledge systems. It is an ode to African thinkers, philosophers, pavement intellectuals and poets whose genius is undervalued, unrecognized and even ridiculed.
The audience is invited to celebrate exploration and discovery by creating their own journey through a working space station. They are encouraged to wear comfortable shoes and bring their spirit of adventure!
Astronautus Afrikanus features the work of a fabulous group of creatives intellectuals:
Danielle Van Der Merve
About the director | Mwenya Kabwe
Mwenya B. Kabwe is a Zambian theatre maker, performer, educator and mother. She has a Masters in Theatre and Performance with a focus on theatre making, from the University of Cape Town where she was a lecturer in the Drama Department for four years. She currently teaches performance studies and theatre making in the Drama Division of the Wits School of Arts.
Kabwe is a recipient of a number of awards including a Fleur du Cap, Naledi and the Handspring Award for Best Visual Theatre Production. Kabwe’s original work has been showcased at the Drill Hall in Johannesburg (Please Do Not Leave Your Baggage Unattended, (2007), Out the Box Festival of Puppetry and Visual Performance (for nomads who have considered settling when the travel is enuf, (2007), 27 Windows, 4 Doors, 2 Taps, (2010), Migritude’ Echo (2011) and the UNESCO Chair International Festival of Theatre Schools in Barcelona Spain (Afrocartography: traces of places and all points in between, 2008). Kabwe is also one of the seven 2007 Spier Contemporary winners for a collaborative performance work titled Unyawo Alunampumlo (The Foot Has No Nose) with Chuma Sopotela and Kemang Wa Lehulere. In 2013 she directed a site-specific version of her autobiographical choreopoem, Afrocartography: Traces of Places and all points in between, in and around the Wits Theatre in Johannesburg. Later that year the production was reworked to feature at the Afrovibes 2013 Festival in Amsterdam. She has also been recently named one of ‘Five female theatre makers in South Africa you should know’, by AfriPop magazine:
Media contact | Katlego Gabashane
Dr Ameh AKOH (Postdoctoral Fellow)
Dates: 23 Feb – 20 April
Osun State University, Nigeria
Dr Ameh Akoh
45 minute presentation followed by discussion
"The Famished Young men”: Nigerian Drama beyond Soyinka
27 March @ 14:30 in the Drama Lecture Theatre, RU Theatre Building
Drama staff will be in the RU Theatre foyer to take you to the venue.
Dr Ameh Akoh is a postdoctoral researcher in the drama department for the first term until 20 April. His is currently conducting research on the Nigerian dramatist, Femi Osofisan. This fellowship is part of the AFRICAN HUMANITIES PROGRAMME which includes 5 African countries and is funded by the Carnegie Corporation.
Through fellowship competitions, regional workshops, and peer networking, the African Humanities Program provides support to the humanities in five African countries, including Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda. The centerpiece of the program is the distribution of fellowships to African scholars in these countries for work on dissertations, research projects, and scholarly manuscripts … The program is supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
Information prepared by Professor Gary Gordon
19 March 2015
For more information on the drama department visit our drama reviews