A Museum of Bottled Sentiments: the ‘beautiful pain syndrome’ in twenty-first century Black South African theatre making

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This study is about contemporary black theatre makers and theatre making in the 'now moment'; this moment of recovery and gradual transition after the fall of apartheid in South Africa. The 'now moment', for these theatre makers, is characterized by a deliberate journey inward, in a struggle towards self-determination. The 'now moment' is the impulse prompting the 'beautiful pain syndrome', and through performances of uncomfortable attachments and rites of passage, generates and dwells in the syndrome. Uncomfortable attachments are unsettlement and anxiety wrought by the difficulty of the 'now moment'. These manifest in the work of Black South African-based contemporary theatre makers, Mandla Mbothwe, Awelani Moyo, Mamela Nyamza and Asanda Phewa, within the duality of the 'beautiful pain syndrome'. The 'beautiful pain syndrome' is a cultural dis-ease revealed by the individual theatre makers through the aesthetic interpretation, or beautiful consideration of inherently painful material – a condition or predicament that best contains and yet attempts to unpack this shifting impulse of the 'now' moment. The works around which this study revolves, namely Mbothwe's Ingcwaba lendoda lise cankwe ndlela (the grave of the man is next to the road) (2009), Moyo's Huroyi Hwang – De/Re Composition (2007), Nyamza's Hatched (2009) and Phewa's A Face Like Mine (2008) are rites of passage works, representing a passage or transition from one phase of life to another, which occurs on multiple levels. Through guiding thinking tools, which include intuition, my own positioning, observation and comparative and cultural performance analysis, the four selected works are described, probed and, interrogated; with their purposes and poetics investigated and articulated in different ways. The study does not complete the assignment of unpacking the four works but continues to wonder and worry at them, while investigating a particular aesthetic of dis-ease through the artistic assemblage of symbolic categories. These rites of passage works reflect or echo the transitions in the country's shifting identity, along with the identities of the individuals who inhabit it.

Includes bibliographical references.