Projects & Programmes
Photographer: Paul Grendon
Reminiscence Theatre Project
The Reminiscence Theatre concept starts from the premise that Cape Town is a divided city. Slavery, colonialism, Apartheid and now gentrification and urban renewal, have all left physical and emotional traces which can be tracked in the routes and pathways that people travel on a daily basis to enter the city. From train tracks to taxi routes, the transport system buckles under the weight of human traffic, historical separation, and economic disparity.
The first Reminiscence Theatre Festival took place in December 2012, coinciding with Emancipation Day on 1 December. This marks the day when the enslaved people at the Cape were legally emancipated in 1834. This annual commemoration has become an opportunity for expessive artists to ‘perform memory’ within the context of the commemoration.
The Reminiscence Theatre concept starts from the premise that Cape Town is a divided city. Slavery, colonialism, Apartheid and now gentrification and urban renewal, have all left physical and emotional traces which can be tracked in the routes and pathways that people travel on a daily basis to enter the city. From train tracks to taxi routes, the transport system buckles under the weight of human traffic, historical separation, and economic disparity. The city is thus a space of intersection, collision, connection, and disconnection. It is a space of memory, of historical layers of remembering and of forgetting. Reminiscence Theatre draws on the ambiguities of memory to raise critical questions about our communities today and the impact of systems like Apartheid on society.
The Reminiscence Theatre Festival was a three-day event designed to re-imagine public spaces in the city. It built on the Emancipation Day procession which takes place on the night of 30 November into the morning of the 1 December each year. This time mirrors the final hours before emancipation, which was celebrated by the enslaved people of the Cape at midnight on 30 November 1834. Processions with music and dancing in the city streets and the lighting of bonfires on Table Mountain marked the joyous ending of slavery, as the new day of 1 December arrived. The Kaapse Klopse (Cape Minstrels) celebrations which take place in Cape Town on Tweede Nuwe Jaar (Second New Year or 2 January) emerges from this tradition.
The Reminiscence Theatre Festival drew on the above notions of celebration, performance and the ongoing legacies of practices of segregation. It formed a critical and creative remapping of distance and proximity, connection and disconnection.
The ‘klopsekamer’ (‘minstrel room’)is a concept that is central to the way of working of the Cape Minstrels. It is usually based in a home that is transformed into a musical training ground for the klopse to practice. It is a space of gathering and can be a literal starting point for the procession, or can be a figurative conceptual starting point to prepare for entry into the city. Artists forming part of the Reminiscence Theatre process were invited to engage with this concept through performance, visuality, or sound.
This was shaped around journeys on the bus, train and taxi. It sought to engage with movement and public transport as a liminal space between the centre and the periphery. Artists could perform, engage with, or stage an intervention within this moving, shifting space.
Scripting the Street
This part of the journey sought to encourage a variety of forms of engagement with public space, history and historical characters, real and imagined. It included live script-making and choreography as a form of narrating the body in space, visually changing the face of the street.
This leg of the journey provided spaces for the participants to voice their stories, and talk. Through a series of talking walls and podcast booths, Street Talk aimed to capture the everyday through sound and visual forms. Artists staged platforms for participants to engage with.
The ‘tafel’ within Cape carnival parlance, is a space where tables are laid out for ‘klopse’ teams to enjoy hospitality. In this process ‘tafel’ symbolically represented a final platform for talk on topical issues. Food art installations were imagined. This is the final point of the journey. All journeys end, reconnect, intersect around the ‘tafel’, around food passageways and sharing.
The above concepts served as avenues for engaging with the idea of slavery, emancipation, and celebration. Artists could choose to connect or disconnect themselves from this, and express their ideas about these themes. Thus artists could choose to plot themselves on one point of the map or plan a route through the city.
(All projects and programmes of the District Six Museum are structured inter-departmentally, with a lead department being assigned to each. The Reminiscence Theatre Project was a project of the Education Department of the Museum and was co-ordinated by Mandy Sanger.)