A touch of theatre from South Africa

Aug 26, 2015, 08:12 IST | Suprita Mitter

Sara Matchett, senior lecturer at the Department of Drama, University of Cape Town, works with voice, acting, theatre making, applied drama/theatre, and performance analysis. Post a workshop at The Drama School, Mumbai, last evening, she chats about her technique and connect with India

Q. When did you first get involved with theatre?
A. My undergraduate major was in theatre and performance at University of Cape Town/UCT. Thereafter, I went on to do my honours degree in Drama in Education at the same university, followed by an MA in Theatre-Making. I am currently a senior lecturer in the Department of Drama at UCT, where I am also completing my PhD. Prior to studying theatre and performance, I was involved with theatre at high school. I used to do drama as an extra curricular activity and performed in numerous school plays. I decided to make it a career seeing of John Pielmeier’s Agnus of God that played at one of the major theatre houses in Cape Town in 1983.

Sara Matchett (left) using Yoga at a workshop
Sara Matchett (left) using Yoga at a workshop

Q. What made you decide to teach?
A. The honours degree in Drama in Education exposed me to teaching at primary and high schools as well as at the university level. It was here that I discovered my passion for teaching. I currently only teach within a university context and all of my students are intent on entering the industry, either as actors or theatre makers once they graduate (they are serious about their chosen course of study). I continue to make theatre and perform alongside my teaching practice. I find that the two feed each other.

Sara Matchett at a workshop (right)
Sara Matchett at a workshop (right)

Q. Your workshop uses a whole-body approach. Tell us about this technique.
A. The workshop is based on a particular system of voice work known as Fitzmaurice Voicework, of which I am an associate teacher. Catherine Fitzmaurice, founder of Fitzmaurice Voicework, holds an MA (Theatre Studies) and BA (English Literature) from the University of Michigan and is also a certified somatics therapist. In her 40-plus years of working with actors and their voices, Fitzmaurice has principally focused on breath as a key functional component of theatre voice training. This includes both processes of sound production as well as the role of breath in the expression of creativity. Through her research into neuroscience, she discovered that there is a synthesis between the two processes, and the balancing of the two is reliant on synchronising the functions of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) and the Central Nervous System (CNS).

Q. Tell us about The Mothertongue Project that you are co-founder of
A. The Mothertongue Project is a collective of women artists and facilitators who are committed to healing and transformation through the employment of participatory theatre approaches that integrate arts methodologies. Our methodologies include physical theatre/movement, storytelling, visual arts, creative writing and expressive arts therapies. Our vision is a society where we, as women and young people, have safety of our bodies and our communities and where we have agency over our lives. Our work, using the creative arts over the past 14 years, has yielded positive results with beneficiary groups ranging from transgender groups, refugees, HIV infected and affected, LGBTI groups, children and youth. 

Sara Matchett

Q. Tell us about your India connect.
A. I first came to India in 1998, and have been back on many occasions. In 1999, I did a workshop at Prithvi Theatre for their children’s holiday programme. That year, I directed an environmental play with actors from Mumbai who performed at the Prithvi Festival. In 2002, I was part of a team from South Africa, India and the UK that launched Project Phakama (an international exchange between young people and artists). On this project, I worked alongside Sanjna Kapoor, Prasad Vanarase, Divya Bhatia and Meera Oke. That same year, three members of The Mothertongue Project (including myself) spent a month working in residence at Adishakti Laboratory for Theatre Art Research (Pondicherry) with Veenapani Chawla and Vinay Kumar.
In 2012, I conducted the same voice workshop that I am conducting now at the Mumbai Drama School, with students as well as graduates students from the National School Of Drama.
In 2013, I started a creative conversation with Maya Krishna Rao. Part of this conversation involved the curation of and performance in Walk: South Africa, a performance piece made by a group of South African women artists in conversation with Rao’s Walk. Rao created Walk as a response to the gangrape and murder of Jyoti Pandey.
We decided, with Rao’s permission, to create Walk: South Africa in early 2013, as a response to the gangrape and murder of Anene Booysen. The conversation with Rao continues and it is our hope that we will soon find ourselves in the rehearsal room together.

Q. Yoga is a part of the training process? What is it's significance?
A. The Destructuring component of the work involves placing the body into certain modified yoga postures. It is important to note that this is not a yoga practice. The breath used in yoga is very different to the breath used in Fitzmaurice Voicework. Fitzmaurice argues that essentially the yoga breath is not conducive to a performer, in that yoga breathing is not functional for performance.
In the Destructuring aspect of the work the breath is never held, and breathing happens through an open mouth. Performers do not breath in through the nose, as is the case with yoga breathing. The focus is not so much on the idea of controlling breath but rather on allowing breath. The argument here is that performers need to be ready to respond with breath, body and sound at any given moment.

Q. Tell us a little about the theatre scene in Cape Town.
A. Cape Town has a thriving theatre scene with 2 main theatre complexes, i.e. the Baxter Theatre and Artscape, as well as a host of smaller theatre spaces in and around the city and neighbouring suburbs. There is also a growing move towards public performance, as well as live art festivals, which see an integration of art forms. Last year saw the inaugural Cape Town Fringe Festival, which is modeled on the fringe festivals of New York, Prague and Amsterdam. There are a number of exciting theatre makers who are constantly making new work, which keeps the ‘scene’ fresh and alive. In a nutshell, the Cape Town theatre scene is thriving - dynamic and alive!

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