This innovative project facilitates research, debate and encourages the dissemination of creative practice produced by female creative practitioners living in Africa. It aims to place African-authored theories and practices related to gender, sexualities and identities at the centre of the study by asking African women what issues need discussion, analysis and creative expression. Funded by an AHRC network grant, the project has developed a mobile application and uses this, alongside other social media, to build a virtual community consisting of female creative practitioners involved in poetry, play writing, and theatre making both professionally and in community projects, with researchers and other interested parties engaged with literary or gender-based research in any part of the world. These forums are facilitating multiple levels of engagement, enabling users to interact with one another and to compare methodologies, aesthetic choices and their impact on various communities, particularly around issues of gendered citizenship and the terms and parameters of African and feminism.
NEWS & Activities
Launches of Contemporary Plays by African Women: African Women's Plays Leap Off A Global Page
Brittle Paper have published an excellent piece about the collection - see https://brittlepaper.com/2018/04/collection-contemporary-plays-african-women/
Belgrade Theatre, 21 February 2019: with the Belgrade Black Youth Group performing extracts from 3 of the plays: Adong Judith's Silent Voices, directed by Belgrade's Drama worker Leon Phillips; Koleka Putuma's Mbuzeni, directed by Tenikah Beveney, a Theatre Studies student at the University of Warwick, with choral work by Una May Olomolaiye; and Sara Shaarawi's Niqabi Ninja, directed by Sebbie Mudhai, a performer and support worker at Belgrade Theatre. Respondents included JC Niala, an award-winning stage & screen writer & the community manager of the African Women’s Playwright Network; Christabell Amoakoh, founder of The Highlife Centre, a charity engaged with addressing unemployment, disadvantage and inequality, and Laura Nyahuye, a Zimbabwean born artist, creative writer, and Founder of Maokwo Social Enterprise, which tackles Isolation using creative activities; Sara Shaarawi and Dr Christine Matzke, Uiversity of Bayreuth African Studies Centre. Some 120 people debates issues raised by the play extracts, and so further awareness of African writing locally. See http://www.belgrade.co.uk/event/contemporary-plays-by-african-women
Oxford Playhouse, 22 February 2019: where the Black Youth Group from the Belgrade in Coventry went to Oxford to perform the same extracts, and respondents Hannah Greenstreet, an AHRC-funded DPhil student at Jesus College researching feminism and realism in contemporary theatre, Nomfundo Ramalekana, MPhil student at Lady Margaret Hall College in equality law, looking at the challenges and possibilities of achieving employment equity through affirmative action in South Africa; and playwright Sara Shaarawi and Dr Christine Matzke, Uiversity of Bayreuth African Studies Centre engaged some 50 people in issues raised by the play extracts, and so further awareness of African scholars and writing locally. See https://www.oxfordplayhouse.com/whats-on/all-shows/contemporary-plays-by-african-women/11997
Dr Hutchison was interviewed for BBC West Midlands on Sunday 17 February, on Sunday Night with Nikki, https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p06zksz1
and on the AWPN project with James Sandy, Switch Radio, Tues 26 Feb, 7-8 pm, The New Curiosities Box, https://www.switchradio.co.uk/jamessandy
Theatre Arts Admin Collective, Cape Town, SA: launches the plays with a week long festival that is staging aor reading all the plays in full at Theatre Arts Admin Collective, 25-31 March, with respondents each noght and playwriting workshops on Saturday and Sunday, for program see http://theatreartsadmincollective.weebly.com/…/book_launch_…, for worshops see http://theatreartsadmincollective.weebly.com/
Africa Writes (Royal African Society)
A project AWPN is collaborating with African Writes, whereby we are running workshops around the play collection and developing an educational pack on African Theatre into schools, begining with Stoke-Newington in London. Playwrights from the network will run workshops with the children (years 7-9). We begin with Nia-cerise Conteh and Lanaire Aderemi, with community manager JC Niala. The young people will share their work at a showcase at the school & then at the Africa Writes event at the British Library on the 5th July.
CASA Awards: https://www.facebook.com/thecasaproject
2019: Winner: Rehane Abrahams
Deadline for submissions August 23rd, 2018, for details see https://www.facebook.com/African-Women-Playwrights-Network-837218766368787/
2018: Winners: Koleka Putuma, Philisiwe Twijnstra
Pen Pal exchange experience. "My name is Thembelihle Moyo and I am from Zimbabwe , the Casa pen pal program was an eye opener for me especial with the writing partner I had, Janet Hinton."
June 2018: Kenyan playwright JC Niala is coming on board as community manager. She will also do workshops and other outreach & impact activities with me.
We are in conversation with local groups - Belgrade Theatre, Coventry and London, to work with local communities to link virtual network with local, national and international Communities.
By end of February 2017 we had 115 registered users between the ages of 17 and 69 from 16 countries. There have been 6126 cumulative unique visitors to the site.
Objectives and Actions:
1.) 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.
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.
2.) To enable creative practitioners to connect with one another and so share good practice.
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.
3.) 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.
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.
Who You Think We Are at the Tate Exchange (14 March 2017)
JC Niala, Yvette Hutchison and Tim White, who connected through this network, had their proposal for the performance Who you think we are accepted by the Tate Exchange for the festival Who Are We?, designed as a week of engagement, dialogue, debate and lively disruption, asking what it means to belong – across and within borders.
Audiences responded enthusiastically, suggesting that the performance was excellent and enjoyable, 'It changed my sense of how I relate to others. I realised that I am much more sensitive to facial and bodily postures while 'deciding' about someone, even when it comes to their characteristics such as honesty, compassion, etc.', 'Makes me rethink nature of group identity and imperfect nature of any veto on membership by others', 'Made me more aware of pre-judgement and assumptions I make about people based on how they look, without knowing someone first', 'It has made me think about trying harder to be non-judgmental when meeting people for the first time & to listen to what they say rather than judging appearance.'
Breaking Boundaries: African Women Writing on the Edges of Race, Gender and Identity
This AWPN sympoiusm was hosted by Arts Admin Collective, Observatory, Cape Town, South Africa, 4 & 5 February 2017 - with 55 artists from 9 countries shared work and collectively workshopped how to develop writing, key challenges artists are facing and how they can strategize these, how to create safe spaces in relation to the artist herself, her processes and also in relation to engaging publics with disturbing material. The session ‘Who can speak, about what?’ raised issues of how to engage with the ethics of telling other peoples’ stories, about form and affect. Through experimenting practically artists began to understand the impact of different strategies of telling other peoples’ stories. Finally, we discuss how women can access festivals, and how these fora can affect the perception of women and their roles in society.
Two plays were staged - a new play by Sara Sawaari, Niqabi Ninja, one of those to be publised in the new Methuen play collection. The play was amazing, and facilitated really excited discussion about how form assists engaging audiences with issues related to gendered issues, while also challenging stereotypical approaches to topics like Islamic women. The play allowed us to discuss whether an artist should propose solutions, or utopias, what were their social responsibilities? It also allowed discussion of how context affects the conception and reception of work – so how this play works differently in the UK and in SA.
The second play, Mama Ruby was created and performed by a youth group from McGregor, an offshoot of Mothertongue Project's Langeberg Youth Arts Project which aims to develop creative expression, leadership and entrepreneurial skills amongst young men and women in the region. Thsi show explored the complexities of the socio-economic and personal issues youths from this rural area of the western Cape experience. Afterwards the youths shared their own stories of their personal and creative growth, and the participants of the symposium engaged them in our discussions around issues of gender and violence.
When asked: What is the one thing you have learnt from this symposium that you didn’t know /were unaware of, going in?
Responses included: 'How to work on taboo topics, networking with other women in the arts. And above all I realised women artists go through same thing no matter the race, country or cultural background.' 'How festivals in other countries are funded and supported.' 'How the app works, could work.' 'That safe spaces need to be constantly created. And that we can't rely on an experience to represent a vision.' 'Sharing of Privileges.' 'How to be a support system for others, and how to trust others for our safe space. I also learnt a lot about collaboration and most especially that to fail is not a crime. It's a stepping stone to knowledge.' 'About different spaces for artist that are available throughout Africa.' 'I learned a lot about making theatre in South Africa and in a South African context, which I found really fascinating.'
For more responses on the symposium and shows, see awpn.org, https://www.facebook.com/African-Women-Playwrights-Network-837218766368787/, and SA Director Megan Furniss' blog, http://www.meganshead.co.za/awpn-niqabi-ninja-new-stories/
Methuen to publish Contemporary Plays by African Women
These seven new works were identified and developed via the network, and the collection will be edited and introduced by Yvette Hutchison and Amy Jephta. The plays are: Sara Sawaari - Niqabi Ninja (Egypt), Tosin Tume - Not that Woman (Nigeria), Sophia Mempuh - Bonganyi (Cameroon), JC Niala - Unsettled (Kenya), Adong, Judith - Silent Voices (Uganda), Thembelihle Moyo - I Want To Fly (Zimbabwe), Koleka Putuma - Mbuzemi (South Africa)
Playwrights Guild of Canada Womens’ Caucus – are collaborating with AWPN to access southern African playwrights for an artist’s residency, see CASA Project, https://www.facebook.com/thecasaproject/
Equity in Theatre, http://eit.playwrightsguild.ca/
The Mothertongue Project, Cape Town, http://mothertongue.co.za
Arts Admin Collective, http://theatreartsadmincollective.weebly.com/
Vavasati international Women’s Festival, State Theatre, Johannesburg
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, http://www.belgrade.co.uk/event/contemporary-plays-by-african-women