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Research

About Dr Yvette Hutchison


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Dr Yvette Hutchison had been tracing curricular of drama departments in South Africa and other African countries and was struck by how dominant the old, colonial canon remains. In 1997, not long after the end of apartheid, she visited her alma mater, the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, Durban, to speak to Undergraduate students on African playwrights. She was surprised that they didn't know of any African playrwrights. During apartheid many works by Fanon, Marx and various African writers were banned, and many playwrights had blacklisted South Africa, so it was not surprising that students did not know who Soyinka was. She had only encountered Ngugi wa Thiong'o's prose fiction on her English literature course.

It was only later, under the guidance of Nigerian playwright Kole Omotoso, who was teaching at the University of the Western-Cape at the same time as Yvette was there as a part-time lecturer, and later Eckhard Breitinger who co-supervised her PhD at the African Institute in Bayreuth in Germany that she encountered key African playwrights of the 1970s and 1980s, including women like Ama Ata Aidoo and Efua Sutherland (Ghana), Micere Mugo (Kenya), Rose Mbowa (uganda), Penina Mlama and Amadina Lihamba (Tanzania) and Zulu Sofola. Interestingly, Kathy Perkin's Black South African Women (1998), which reflects on women's experiences from both male and female perspectives, and the nine plays in African Women Playwrights (2009) constitute the only anthologies of plays about or by African women to date. Perkins' other anthologies, Black Female Playwrights (1990) draws on women from the diasporas, and Contemporary plays by women of color (2007) consists of 18 works by African American, Asian American, Latin American and Native American playwrights, and exemplifies parallel margins. This is shocking given the size of the African continent and the prolific creative activity of the women on it. Much of their work is done in community contexts, or uses embodied forms, but these few anthologies did not seem representative of the rich and diverse work by African women creative practitioners; and these patterns are replicated in the number of works by female artists being programmed on mainstream theatres of festivals. For example, playwright Napo Masheane created work for 15 years in SA before any of her plays were staged in a state-funded theatre in South Africa, and only after that she was invited to read her work at the Royal Court in London.

These patterns provoked Yvette to try and track contemporary work by African women during her study leave in 2015. She hit a wall when time, the cost of travel and arranging meetings with the women she found was prohibitive for women who often had day jobs unrelated to their creative work, and the task too ambitious for her to undertake alone, in person. So she began to research the potential of using new technologies for this project, in particular, aps and social media sites, given the ways in which mobile phone ownership had transformed how individuals communicate with on another and access information across developing and emerging countries. This led to collaboration with E1M whose mobile application helped create a platform for African playwrights to communicate and network.