By Amber Williams
This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 8 of VARSITY News.
Florence and Wine in the Wilderness, written by American playwright Alice Childress and directed by rising star and theatre-maker, Nwabisa Plaatjie, is running from the 28th of August to the 13th of September at the Baxter Theatre as part of the Baxter Women’s Month celebrations.
Florence and Wine in the Wilderness, Nwabisa’s most recent work, is a compelling double bill. In Florence, the first act, we hear of a young womxn (by the name of Florence) trying to make it as an actress in New York. However, the colour of her skin limits her dreams. She will only ever be suited for domestic servitude as suggested by Mrs Carter, the white womxn Florence’s mother engages with during their tumultuous and uneasy time together at a train station. Wine in the Wilderness deals with Tommy, a female who has been enticed by a group of so-called intellectual artists to have her picture painted by the artist, Bill. Bill, a representative of most black men, describes Tommy as the ‘messed up city chick’- she has no supposed recognition of, nor regard for her Africanness. The play delves deeper into questions of African womxnhood and who exactly gets to decide how African womxnhood is defined.
Director Nwabisa Plaatjie, a BA (HONs) in Theatre and Performance graduate, is now in her second year of her Masters degree, dealing with the influence of African storytelling in contemporary theatre. Her work aims to break the strict codes of Western theatre and remove the veil that has been shrouded in the oral traditions of African storytelling. “Black people have their own theatre forms, it is a hybrid identity of traditional Western practices but it changes the definition of Western theatre. We have brought our culture in with our ways of telling stories.”
On its opening night, Wednesday the 14th of August, most members of the audience left the theatre with a palpable feeling of anger and frustration, myself included. The play leaves a bitter aftertaste. It is hard to swallow its message considering its highly provocative themes. The eventual question is, should Tommy have walked away? Should Florence give up her dream of making it in the New York theatre scene as a womxn of colour? These are questions that womxn face daily: do we choose to always fight, living the rest of our lives as protestors? Or do we choose to walk away and carry on with our lives, irrespective of the viewpoints of those who would like to put us down? In our interview, Nwabisa continuously stresses the importance of black womxn getting to decide for themselves how their narratives get to be defined and constructed. “Too long now have our stories been oppressed or at best told by others who have no recognition of cognisance of what it means to be a womxn of colour, in a world doing its best to always shut us down. We are here and we have our degrees and we have our freedom and no one can take that away from us.”
This provocative play can pave the way for important discussions to take place. The Masambe Theatre, located in the Baxter Theatre, is an interdisciplinary 60 seater theatre run by Nwabisa. It’s a space for young artists wanting to experiment with their craft,whether it be film, theatre, music, food or discussions – the space can be booked out and young artists have the opportunity to be supported with the Baxter’s resources. “It’s the perfect space for testing out work,” says Nwabisa. For more information on how to get involved in the Masambe Theatre, check out the Baxter’s Facebookpage or the Baxter booklet. Or contact Nwabisa directly through her email: firstname.lastname@example.org.