Mr Muftic speaks!

Hello dear readers. Yesterday I posted about the GIPCA symposium Directors and Directing: Playwrights. I expressed some frustrations and reservations about the focus of the platform and whether it really spoke about playwriting in a significant way. Sanjin Muftic has pointed out that I missed his presentation at the final panel (the burger I got in lieu attendance were tasty though… ) and so I can’t really sum up the symposium. Of course I can (I argued) after all the panel was New Directions and featured only one playwright. So Sanjin sent me his presentation. Check and mate by Mr. Muftic.

Here follows Sanjin Muftic’s presentation at the symposium:

I must start by saying that I feel that I come to this presentation as
a bit of an outsider. I am not South African. I am a Bosnian refugee
who found himself in Ethiopia during the war of the 90s, and managed
to study in Canada as an immigrant before arriving to this country
when I was 22.  But I have spent the last 8 and half years in Cape
Town – which has recently become the one place I have spent the most
years in my life.   Having started out as student in theatre, I now
spend most of my time as a drama lecturer, I feel as if I might have,
just like most of you, made little footprints in the sand that is the
theatre industry of South Africa.  And my concern, just like yours, is
to work towards doing my part to contribute to the future of this art
form, as a lecturer and director, even if I am not of this land.

My concern for this “New Directions” panel is for the future of this
theatre role that we call the “playwright”.  From this weekend’s
thoughts I have found that a playwright covers everyone from the
director/auteur, the facilitator of a workshop production, to one who
feels compelled on their own to put words on a page.  Thus for me a
playwright, is anyone who writes down a blueprint for a future
performance and playwriting is the craft of creating that blueprint.
With that in mind, my question is where are the future playwrights of
this country going to come from? From where will come the scripts for
future directors? I am concerned about this because I feel that there
are not enough true craft playwrights around and not enough new texts
being produced today to inspire the playwrights of tomorrow.  I
believe we need to find ways to improve that.

At this moment, and it might seem like a bit of a generalization, but
we proudly claim that everybody can be a playwright.  If you have a
story, and have we acknowledged that all of us have stories, our
stories that we want to say- write it and you might end up a
playwright.  However, some playwrights are better than others, more
supported than others, have more education opportunities than
others…so we are not all equal playwrights. While experience and a
certain amount of incubation can help you tell your story, it won’t
necessarily make a good play, no matter how much the actors, directors
and producers contribute to its development.  It seems to me that what
is missing from our focus on playwrights, and perhaps all of ours, is
the issue of working on and developing our craft.  Not enough
attention is paid to the training and the improvement of each
playwright, ensuring that their end product on the page, their script
is as much art as the sum of their experiences.  For all the talk of
live productions, and even in this digital age, where it is much
easier to capture the visuals and somewhat communicate the experience,
it is the script that is the starting point for many a creative
process.  Playwrights outlive the actors and the directors, future
generations pick up the pieces of paper they set down and realize them
into life, much as we do with Shakespeare today.

So how do we go about improving the playwrights and also increasing
the number of playwrights? We celebrate the notion that to survive in
this industry you need to be multi-talented and multi-skilled while
many of us play different roles in order to survive.  A lot of
students are trained with this logistical necessity in mind – being
responsible for everything from writing a script, rehearsing it,
designing it and even performing it.  This is indeed a series of
remarkable achievements and many artists are fantastic examples of
this multi-skill set.  However, while it is necessary to have an
overview of the whole theatrical process, general exposure doesn’t
breed mastery in any one of those crafts.  We need to set up
structures, especially for future playwrights, which would allow them
to focus only on that aspect of the theatrical craft.
Playwriting needs more South African opportunities to be taught as a
craft, and those that are passionate about setting words on a page to
take place on stage, need to be given the space and the time to have
their interest and talent nurtured.  To my knowledge, no higher
education programs in this country, offer focused playwriting
programs.  We struggle with the education system at a basic level
because reading and writing are not supported or encouraged as much as
we would need to have future playwrights, and students not held
accountable for not gaining proficiency in each one of those skills.
But we must fight this trend even at an undergraduate level with
playwriting and dramaturgical classes that look at the writing and the
development of a theatrical script. We don’t need to have an aversion
to written words, but in order to conquer it we need to be wrestle
with them from the very start of our training.  The training should be
continuous, forgiving, multi-voiced, multi-styled, personal and
practical.   We don’t need to prescribe a certain method of writing,
but rather take students through various approaches, using examples
from South African and from the rest of the world – thus allowing for
each voice to find its own style. A playwright does not need to wait
until a certain age to begin writing or to be considered as a
playwright, it is not only experience that makes them one, but also
the mastery of their craft, and that can be trained.  Playwriting
needs to be taught at more South African tertiary institutions, more
student playwrights need to be signed up, more attention must be paid
to them, more scripts need to come out, more scripts need to be
performed and developed. And thus more scripts may exist for us to
pick up and direct in the future.

But what can we do today? It is a very idealistic view to say that the
increase in playwriting programs will generate plays and more
individual stories, and perhaps allow for a wider reach for our
audience. I also understand the difficulty in setting up such programs
especially with the personnel required to teach this new stream of
playwrights.  But how could we go about setting that up and what would
we teach?  The idea of introducing dramaturges has come up, and others
have mentioned mentorship as something that young artists need to
improve their craft. Both of these, I believe, are something that can
be done anytime from tomorrow, if we open up our creative processes a
lot more than they are at present.  A dramaturge is somebody who is
trained in the art of developing plays, but why can’t that role be
outsourced to other theatre practitioners in the country? Why can’t we
serve as each other’s dramaturges, offering our point of view (as we
have shown that we have) about scripts, rehearsals and productions?
Can we also be humble enough to understand, analyze and act on it?
Can’t we crowd-source the training of playwrighting until we build up
those who can teach it? Is it possible for current playwrights to
offer courses and workshops to be aligned with higher education
institutions to mentor those who show interest and promise in the
craft of writing? Can those be set-up in some kind of continuous
engagement?  Is it about increasing the accessibility and transparency
within our methods of creating art? Can larger theatrical institutions
and companies take on recent graduates or promising writers to align
them with resident practitioners who can offer advice, support and
work experience? Should current South African playwrights make their
texts more accessible to a younger population, allowing them to study
and investigate their written words and how they would be put on
stage?  Do we need to investigate new methods and formats of writing
down script? Does writing now also include curating and archiving as
some of its activities? Do we need to move away from the belief that
writing something down claims authorship more than it allows for easy
dissemination among people?

For all the discussions and opinions that have come out of the GIPCA
symposiums such as this one, and how they force us to confront the
experiences and the craft of the art we practice, we must leave these
sessions with some kind of plan. What is that each one of us can do to
further the development of theatre in this country?  The development
of new writing voices has to be placed into our teaching curriculum,
lifting the playwright to a more stable and proficient position within
the South African theatre society.  It needs to be celebrated,
respected and taught as a craft of its own. Performing your story is a
transaction between you and your immediate audience, but creating the
blueprint of your story is a transaction between you and a future

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