If it is said that the mark of a great piece of theatre is the conversation it sparks that lasts long after the curtain has fallen, then The Amazing Other Show has been keeping conversations going year after year. Commissioned by Rhodes University, the annual theatre work is aimed at first year students starting their academic careers, some away from home for the first time, who will need to confront issues of racism, classism, sexism, rape culture, depression, addiction, and more in their university years to come.
Hannah Lax, Rhodes graduate and director of this year’s show, explains that it’s a lengthy and meticulous process, devised by her and a 13 member cast made up of community performers, working professionals, and drama students.
“We work together as a cast, we have discussions and reflective writing on various topics and we sift through all the stories and memories that emerge and then see what is applicable for the stage. In order to provoke questions, you have to present scenarios that have a slight dilemma so that the audience can then debate the decisions that were made or the outcomes of each scenario,” she said.
Some scenes are especially contentious. ‘It’s not that I hate black guys, it’s just that I feel like if they wanted to rape me, I couldn’t do anything about it’. This line from last year’s show was met with no small number of heated remarks and uncomfortable laughs from the audience. Another touchy scene involves two students from different backgrounds comparing residence rooms and uses humour to highlight socio-economic divides amongst students.
This year Lax is staging a similarly controversial show that provokes its audience enough to grab their attention, while encouraging introspection amongst audience members. To do this, Lax and her cast has looked to find a medium that tip toes between gratuitous offensiveness and witty humour.
“A show like this can leave the audience incredibly raw which is not a very constructive position for them to be in once they leave the theatre so what I’m trying to do is find a medium that is poking, shouting, laughing, crying, singing, dancing, and entertaining, but at the same time allows the audience to unpack themselves through a show that’s not so affronting,” Lax said before adding, “Because it’s hard to look at who you are if you’re being kicked in the nuts.”
The Q&A section at the end of each performance sees the performers answering questions both in and out of their stage characters. This section allows for students to hear the views, sensitivities, and opinions of their fellow students through the discussions that are sparked from the show’s content, a way to debrief from the content of the performance.
“We all express discomfort in different ways. With theatre, there’s no screen separating you from what’s happening. If there’s a particularly intense scene like a rape scene, you’re so close to it you can feel the pulse of it. By being able to speak directly with the performers, the audience can make sense of what they’ve just seen and hopefully seek out answers to the questions they may have,” Lax said before adding, “As a country, we really need to combat the lack of theatre literacy. That said, we’re pretty comfortable as a generation with entertainment so I hope that the show can kind of bridge the two and provoke thought around the many issues we still face as a country and a generation.”
All images courtesy of Mia van der Merwe.