Woza Albert! is a satirical play written by Percy Mtwa, Mbongeni Ngema, and Barney Simon. It was work-shopped and took years of research and input from locals before this masterpiece was performed in The Market Theatre in 1983.
The play was written in the Apartheid era, as a form of Protest Theatre, which was confrontational. It brought up the sensitive subjects of Apartheid such as inequality; it gave the audience insight into the true feelings of black people who were in these tough situations.
The play deals with Morena (Christ) coming to South Africa, and how dubious it was for him to becoming here if he could choose anywhere in the world. They explore beliefs and how people have faith in their Morena, dealing with the religion in the streets of Johannesburg. The main idea of Woza Albert, was however to protest.
The play was written in 1981, four years after a petition was signed to abolish the government legislation which prevented white and black audiences and actors to work together. Grotowski was seen as a huge influence on this play.
We see this by the actors only wearing pants allowing the rest of their body to be used as a tool and their own techniques to show that there was no shame but was working against inferiority. All of this was seen as someone taking a stand for what they believed in and trying to get the inequality out of the government system; by allowing for mixed audiences and two black actors working with a white man.
Shortly after the Dutch arrived in the Cape in 1652, the oppression of nonwhites emerged. The whites being oppressed angered them which eventually lead to South Africa no longer being a colony (1910), now becoming a Union. The new South African union faced many challenges while the drama wasn’t seen as one. The 1930s was an important decade for Drama, holding the births of both Athol Fugard and Barney Simon (in 1932).
In 1948 The National party comes into power, which was followed by the Group Areas Act being passed in 1950 (which separated the black people from the whites.) In 1955 the Sophiatown removals took place while the Boycott Movement was founded in 1959.
Not long after, the Sharpeville Massacre influenced theatre on a huge scale, allowing a new kind of theatre to be born called Protest Theatre. In 1963 the PACT was formed (Performing Arts Council of the Transvaal.) After the boycott, other countries weren’t proud to be involved with South Africa in any way so South Africa was expelled from the Olympics and it was a shame for the citizens. This actually helped us by forcing South Africans to work through it and attempt to reunite.
Barney Simon, who was firm in his standing on equality and racial segregation, co-founded the Market Theatre in 1976. The government often threatened him as his Market Theatre allowed for multi-racial casts and audiences. He was against the racial segregation laws of apartheid.
Being a well-known ‘workshopper’ (Which was basically someone who created a play by gathering information and improvising it to eventually form a script), Simon often worked with big names such as Athol Fugard and BBC’s Nadine Gordimer on a story called “City Lovers”. He was The Market Theatre’s artistic designer until the day he died, leaving a legacy.
Each script has its own theme, which was effectively a group of ideas or emotions, which was carried throughout the story. The themes in this particular play include life being corrupted and disturbed by apartheid. It took people’s lives away from them and left them in the gutter, hopeless. There is also conflict throughout the play that brings up topics of the time.
Drama allows for people that aren’t asked to give an opinion, as quoted “Drama gives voice to the voiceless.”
There were three massive events that happened which impacted drama unbelievably; The Sharpeville Massacre, Soweto Uprisings, and The Boycott. All three of these events stirred people’s hearts and people responded to these brutal events through drama. At this stage, Protest Theatre was quite common. The boycott put us in the situation for South Africa to be able to grow and become independent.