Lecturer in the School of Arts Dr Noxolo Matete kept her doctoral studies a secret from her family for three years before surprising them with the news that she was to graduate with a PhD in Drama and Performance Studies.
‘My parents had encouraged me for a long time to do a PhD,’ said Matete. ‘So because I knew the degree would mean so much to them, I thought, why not let it be extra special by making it a surprise? I do love surprises! The news was met by shrieks of delight, dancing and congratulatory hugs.’
Matete’s research examined the factors contributing to the under-representation of black women stage directors in South African theatre. She concentrated her study on three of South Africa’s six state-funded theatres – Artscape in Cape Town, the Market in Johannesburg and the Playhouse in Durban – between 1999 and 2018.
She held one-on-one in-depth interviews with the institutional heads of theatres, and with 12 black (African, Coloured and Indian) women who have directed productions in at least one of the theatres during the 20 years under investigation.
‘Although these women have had directing opportunities within these theatres, their narratives reveal adverse experiences at the time that their productions were staged or later,’ said Matete.
Her research revealed that black men, white men and white women theatre directors continued to dominate mainstream stages.
‘Cultural policy is not the panacea for persistent intersectional prejudices at state-supported theatres as other mitigating factors are at play, including the profoundly elitist nature of the mainstream performing arts world and the notion of excellence,’ said Matete. ‘Nevertheless, it remains the foundational document guiding artistic activities in these spaces in a democracy.’
Matete notes that in their frameworks, the White Paper of 1996 and later drafts, neglected to effectively facilitate the overt inclusion of black women stage directors.
‘Efforts to substantially transform these theatres are further betrayed by the pursuit of commercial viability,’ she said. ‘Additionally, a lack of investment by these institutions regarding training and capacity-building programmes designed to benefit specifically black women directors does not augur well for emerging directors particularly. Furthermore, aspects like the level of education, training, experience or accolades do not seem to ease challenges of access, despite the various efforts made by this group of practitioners to get into these spaces,’ said Matete.
‘Essentially, weak cultural policy frameworks alongside insufficiently funded theatres that must see to their own sustainability, foster an arts and culture landscape that has only marginally transformed in more than 25 years of democracy.’
She thanked her family, friends, God and her supervisor for their support during her PhD journey.