The African Women Playwrights Network project facilitates research, debate and encourages the dissemination of creative practice produced by female creative practitioners living in Africa.
- To enable the African women practitioners to disseminate their work more widely and thus become more visible to theatre or festival programmers, educators, and others.
- To enable creative practitioners to connect with one another and so share good practice.
- To enable professional theatre makers (directors, writers), organisations and researchers to access African women practitioners so that they can better understand the work, choices and new developments these artists are exploring; and to explore the implications of artists' creative practices with them, particularly with regard to developing wider awareness of contemporary gender issues specific to various African contexts.
People are viewing activity from areas outside Africa, predominantly from North America (Canada and USA), Russia and Pakistan. This suggests that the app has been able to access a significant number of African women artists working in the performing arts, and others interested in engaging with them. Some playwrights have disseminated their work more widely and accessed theatre or festival programmers, educators, and others. We have had direct access requests from various organisations to advertise various work opportunities for artists via the app: Manchester Exchange for artists (UK, 2016), the Arcola Theatre, London called for LGBTQ plays either in English translation or written in English from under-represented parts of the world for a festival in March 2018. Equity in Theatre (Canada, 2017), a four-week residency for mid-career/established African playwrights at the Camargo Foundation, France in 2018, Pulley & Buttonhole Theatre Company, Philadelphia, USA called for non-American women playwrights for their 2018-2019 season, Arterial Network called for new designs to their logo and visual identity design for the African Culture Fund, and the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and development (Netherlands) has called for proposals for the Next Generation 2018, to support one-year initiatives by artists from Africa and Middle east between 15-30. The Playwrights Guild of Canada used AWPN network to seek and screen applicants for a 3-month residency for a Southern African playwright, which 2 South African playwrights won, and will be financially supported and mentored by senior Canadian playwrights and a South African theatre maker to develop their work.
What is very clear is the need to create meaningful links between the north and south to facilitate the development of African women’s creative and critical capacities. It was only after the Royal Court hosted a SA artist who has been creating interesting work for 15 years that she was recognised and programmed at the National theatre. Of the Methuen collection: Pulley & Button are reading JC Niala's 'Unsettled', for possible production in Philadelphia, USA; Koleka Putuma's play 'Mbuzeni' is going to Edinburgh 2018, and Sara Sawaari's 'Niqabi Ninja' will tour UK in 2018.
Connecting and Sharing
This has occurred to some extent, as we see the core practitioners how have engaged with the site and in the symposium have developed relationships with one another, and collaborations have come out of these which has led to sharing skills, expertise and good practice. Examples include artists inviting artists from another country to collaborate on developing a project or bringing their work to a festival. Examples include Ugandan artist taking work to Zimbabwe, Kenyan taking work to SA and lecturing UGs at a South African university, a Cameroonian and South African company taking collaborative work to festivals in SA, Cameroon, Angola, etc.
However, what is also evident is that artists prefer to get to know one another face-to-face. Until we had the symposium, these connections did not form beyond investigators with specifically engaged participants. This finding aligns with research in Indigenous methodologies for research which suggests that, ‘Building networks is about building knowledge and data bases which are based on relationships and connections. Relationships are initiated on a face-to-face basis … [which] is about checking out an individual’s credentials, not just their political credentials but their personalities and spirit.’ (Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Decolonizing Methodologies, 2012:157-158)
Once artists and participating academics had positioned themselves clearly and stated their purpose for engaging in the community, trust was established and grew.
It is thus important when establishing an online network that it begins with face-to-face engagement, which can be built into the design of the project; and that the design of an online platform facilitates people positioning themselves clearly and ensuring that the space is safe for community members who feel that they have some sense of control of the form of communication.
In the next phase of the project we are considering how to facilitate more live engagement between artists in the online platform.c.
Access and Awareness
This has been the most challenging aspect of the online platform. The reason is an extension of the point made above. The identities and motives of the researchers outside the community – by virtue of them not being an artist, or African with a shared history of colonialism, limited the trust and extent of engagement with researchers. Both investigators found race to be an issue when engaging artists. However, given time, demonstrating respect and care and negotiating protocols for discussion, strong relationships have been built by PI and artists. Individual artists with whom the researchers have worked have responded to the theoretical or historical input. Artists have used opportunities we have brokered via WPIC and CASA to stage sections of plays at festivals for further development of new work that will now be published.
Although this network has not aimed to put plays into production or to commission plays, it has aimed to create a space for artists to interact with one another, and broker new opportunities to share their work more widely. Outcomes directly attributable to the network include : Thembelilhe Moyo (Zimbabwe) invited Judith Adong (Uganda) to stage her play 'Blood & Holy Maria' in Harare in October 2017; Sophia Mempuh (Cameroon) collaborated with Mothertongue Project (SA) to create 'WOODWAYS', performed in Luanda, Angola at the FESTACA - ASSITEJ ANGOLA in July 2017 and Goethe-Institut, Kamerun in November; CASA invited Southern African artists to apply for resident fellowship via AWPN; and two of the three inaugural winning playwrights, Koleka Putuma and Philisiwe Twijnstra, came through AWPN. JC Niala is having anew play produced and performed in Cape Town.