“The Fall,” a play currently at the Studio Theatre through Nov. 18, tracks the five-week protest that led to the fall of the Cecil Rhodes statue in Cape Town, South Africa.
Rhodes was a British imperialist, industrialist and former South African Prime Minister. Eight University of Cape Town students, all people of color who participated in the #RhodesMustFall followed by #FeesMustFall movements, created this play now on state at the Studio Theatre in Northwest. where the staging consisted of three small tables that were adapted to each scene.
The production was guided by UCT professor Clare Stopford, and curated and researched by UCT alums Ameera Conrad, Kgomotos Khunoane and Thando Mangcu. Former students who wrote and now act in the production are Conrad, along with Oarabile Ditsele, Tankiso Mamabolo, Sizwesandile Mnisi, Sihle Mnqwazana, and Cleo Raatus. Zandile-Izandi Madliwa, another actor in the production was not one of the creators.
When asked about the history of campus protests on American college campuses, specifically, on college campuses where multiracial groups of students and faculty demanded the removal of confederate statues, several members of the cast said they were aware, and they were keenly aware of the parallels.
“The students did not know how big a can of worms were opened with that statute,” said Mamabolo, one of the former students, actor and creator from UCT when speaking about the Rhodes statue. “Over time, we realized the statue addressed some of the issues we were dealing with on campus. It also revealed who was oppressed by the campus regime.”
Like many campus protest movements, students wondered how participating would affect their academic status. Would differing opinions be considered by peers? Where was the LGBTQ voice? What about the difference in financial standing among the protesters? Those on financial assistance could not afford to jeopardize their funding. Also the difference between Blacks and “Coloureds,” the term to describe multiracial South Africans, was an issue the students confronted.
“The Fall” engaged organizers in compassionate, sometimes harsh discussions about gender equality among the leadership in the movement. The term “intersectionality” frequently used to describe how all of the issues were interwoven. Scripting these concerns made for dialog that was robust and well-paced between actors, and when they spoke directly to the audience.
The portrayal of gender conflict prompted an interesting analysis from Ditsele, one of the actors/creators of “The Fall” particularly since it mirrored the gender conflicts that occurred during the civil rights movement in the U.S. in the 1960s.
“Movements always have this divide when it comes to gender,” Ditsele said. “I remember going to feminist discussion and the men were not allowed to speak, they were just there to listen. Those conversations allowed men not to take up a lot of space and to really understand what the other factions of the movement really wanted.”
Ditsele spoke about a scene where Ameera Conrad’s character returns to the movement. She explained to her fellow protestors that she left after being told she was not Black enough because she was Coloured. The character felt hurt by that statement but admitted that she had to return to fight for other multiracial women who were still adversely affected by issues under protest.
The portrayal of intense discord overturned by a common mission inspired Ditsele to say, “What I love about Black people is that even when there is conflict, there is a time to come together.”
“The Fall” runs until Nov. 18 at the Studio Theatre, 1501 14th Street NW, 202-332-3300. Website: www.studiotheatre.org