Encountering the Other in Johannesburg and Darlington

Peter Lathan

When I grow up I want to be sexualised, objectified, made to feel wrong, ignored, used, abused and belittled. I want to be defined by the colour of my skin, the size of my tits or the use of a tampon, my hair, my muscles and what I’m packing in my toolbox. I want to be looked at and touched without asking, I want to be made to feel uncomfortable just for saying no, I want to be expected to be something I’m not, expected to change for you, expected to go with the flow and let it happen without speaking up.

This is Encountering the Other, a ”passionate, riotous and often hilarious examination of just what womanhood in 2017 means.”

It’s collection of voices, stories and experiences of young women and men living across two hemispheres, brought together through a fusion of music, dance, comedy, colour and the internet, as they try and make sense of themselves, each other and a world where everything often feels upside down and back to front.

Six women actors from the North East—Rebecca Graham, Charlotte Gray, Leah Mains, Alanna Wilson, Brogan Gilbert and Katie Powell—travelled to Johannesburg after communicating with their South African counterparts over the Internet. There they developed the production, a collection of stories, dance, comedy, singing and improvisation, based on their views on womanhood, their different experiences and what they want from the future.

And it is all very relevant, given the current focus on gender politics and sexual harassment.

“Our aim was to achieve mixed gender, class, and race participation, providing a more inclusive outcome in a way that transcends more than just cultural divides, but also divides of gender, class and sexuality,” said Katy Weir of Darlington-based theatre company ODDMANOUT which organized the UK end of the collaboration.

“The actors got on so brilliantly. They are obviously very different, but what brought them together was identifying the things that joined them—having a crush, understanding how to grow up. It was great to see people crossing their geographical and societal divides to explore the big issues they have in common.”

The collaboration was with the Market Theatre Laboratory in Johannesburg and the show they devised, Encountering the Other, was performed at the Ramolao Makhene Theatre, with an outstanding audience response.

The actors from Johannesburg are due to arrive in the North East on 17 November for the return visit and, with their NE counterparts, will hold workshops in the region and they will give the show its UK première at Darlington Hippodrome on Monday 27 November.

Grace Meadows, the Programme Manager in South Africa of British Council Connect ZA, one of the sponsors of the project, said, “British Council Connect ZA was proud to connect young voices and arts organisations that actively contribute to a dialogue about the structures that marginalise women's voices, practices that demean women and, most importantly, to be a part in co-creating platforms that interrogate how women can empower themselves by being vocal and strong.”