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What Are You? Cape Town

The debut of "What Are You" in March 2023 in Cape Town, South Africa was, in the words of some attendees, "unlike anything I had experienced before." This evening of interactive theatre, installation artwork, and community discussion invited the audience into a space shared by people representing every ethnic category of an extraordinarily complex city. Presenting to and engaging such a diverse group with a deep history of separation and conflict was delicate and important. I kept telling myself that if I could do it here, I could do it anywhere.

We moved the audience from one space to another and encouraged them to interact with each other in these moments between in order to soften the boundaries when it came time to exchange words. The show began with mingling around an installation of photography and text boards that explained the designs on the textiles– Sankofa and Anamnesis– and the framework for understanding notions of identity, knowledge, and belonging. The middle section was a dance performance of two women, Cleo Darling and Vita Nova, that embodied the conversion, costumed in the textiles that mirrored the themes.

The culmination of the experience was the community dialogue, which was anchored by community elders, artists, a journalist, and the attending public. The discussion ranged from intergenerational issues around South Africa's struggle for majority rule to queer and trans notions of identity and belonging.

This experience was a success by every measure and propelled me towards replicating this experience in other communities. The fact that this approach facilitated a space where such diverse people could feel safe enough to be as vulnerable as they were was an affirmation of the importance of this work. The audience left with a feeling of empowerment and closeness that was not present at the beginning, and this is what I intend for each expression of my work.

Dancers: Cleo Darling and Vita Nova
Photographers: Isak Person and Lukas Kuhne
Text Boards: Thandi Steenkamp
Video and Production: Sean Drummond and Mike Mtsinje
Coordinator: Adam Kent Weist
Music: Derek Gripper edited by Dplanet
Discussion Anchors: Ghadija Vallie, Mandy Sangar, Atiyyah Khan, Nonhlanhla Mditshwa, Adam Kent Weist

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