This morning we rose after a late night. The rich food had played havoc with our digestive systems, our sandwiches were made a little later and everyone had lost a little spring in their step. A week of travelling was starting to take it's toll. However, it was good to see that South African freestyle is alive and well in Durban and we arrived at our 9.30 appointment at 10.10.
When we arrived at K-Cap and shown into the theatre space we realised how different this place is to our previous work. The large theatre space is well equipped and felt much more 'structured' than our previous venues. We decided to split the group into 3 and perform our three forum pieces about a workplace where a boss is abusing his power, the sexual politics of relationships and HIV infection and family relationships. The students were still really nervous - maybe it was having to work with a group nearer their age and with more theatre credentials? These are all members of Twist Theatre group who meet here weekly.
Of course once the groups split up and started working there was nothing to worry about. All of the group really enjoyed the pieces and were quickly reacting and taking part. The theme sod the plays really seemed to strike a chord with the participants and they were completely engaged.
In the group exploring sexual politics one girl, Samantha was particularly engaged and was quickly up on her feet and helping out with Jenny's story as she tried to avoid sleeping with her boyfriend Oscar. The main themes seemed to be to look after yourself first and make sure you feel safe at all times. This lead to really interesting discussion around sexual politics but also the differences between South African and British experiences,
The women in the group seemed to really understand what their rights are and how important testing for HIV is. They also seemed empowered throughout the discussion - as it went on feeling more and more comfortable to reveal things about themselves and their lives. They talked about the clinic where they get tested and although wearing condoms is promoted they said abstinence is the main suggestion given to them.
The men in the group told a different story and even though in the forum they were suggesting all kinds of strategies to help Jenny the protagonist out of the pressures she had from friends and boyfriends the boys said they could relate to Oscar's character - 'If you have a girlfriend sex is a MUST. You have to get them to do it'. Even more worryingly they have real problems with getting tested in the clinic - they find it embarrassing, but also see that by going to the clinic people will find out that you are having sex at all. 'The nurse is like our mothers' one person said when asked why he'd never been tested.
The most shocking thing for me was when they suggested they would find out their results by their partners being tested - 'if she gets tested and she's negative, then I know I'm negative'. Their condom etiquette was also really difficult to imagine saying that you only needed to wear a condom when having sex with a virgin, 'after that it's ok'.
For the rest if the sessions the students will be running workshops and then creating new forum pieces with their groups around the themes that have come out. But already there's so,e fascinating work happening here.