May 19, 2010
Immigrants and advocates for the illegal marched April 23 outside the State Capitol in Phoenix. Monica Almeida/The New York Times
In the post-show discussions after Sizwe Banzi is Dead this weekend, one issue that audience members consistently raised was the new Arizona immigration law, which grants state and local police broad powers to enforce federal immigration law. The New York Times paraphrases the bill:
The law would require the police “when practicable” to detain
people they reasonably suspected were in the country without
authorization. It would also allow the police to charge immigrants
with a state crime for not carrying immigration documents. And
it allows residents to sue cities if they believe the law is not
Audiences have been drawing connections between the enforcement of immigration documents in Arizona and the South African passbook law, which regulated the movement and employment of South African blacks and led to frequent unwarranted incarceration under legal apartheid. While I would caution against making broad statements of equivalency between U.S. immigration law and South African apartheid, what’s resonant in Sizwe Banzi is Dead is the infringement on basic human rights and dignity that a banal state-issued document (like a passbook, like immigrant papers) can support. Thus, as a widely cited example, a brown-skinned man may get pulled over for so much as rolling through a stop sign as an excuse to check his immigrant papers. The argument against the law, an argument that Sizwe Banzi is Dead makes quite powerfully, is that this kind of targeting and profiling of a sect of the population—namely, poor brown-skinned men and women—is nothing short of an existential infringement that violates an individual’s human (or natural) rights. The assertion from supporters of the new law that “you should have nothing to fear if your papers are in order” misses the larger consequence that such a law creates a paranoid system of human coercion over an unempowered people. Thus does Sizwe Banzi assert that “I am a man,” thus do Arizona immigrants assert that “we are human”—these laws take away those basic assumptions.
Allen Gilmore as Sizwe Banzi in Sizwe Banzi is Dead
Of course, what you think of the Arizona Senate bill has a lot to do with what you think of U.S. immigration law, which the Arizona law, in some ways, merely follows to its logical conclusion (ie. sustained local enforcement). What Sizwe Banzi is Dead does, however, is to illustrate exactly the human cost of such a measure, and indeed, goes a long way toward forcing your opinion on the way we handle regulate immigration in this country.
You can read the full text of the Arizona Senate bill here.
May 11, 2010
First preview for Sizwe Banzi is Dead is less than forty-eight hours away. Playwright Athol Fugard recounts a previous opening night of the play in a South African township:
The venue was St. Stephen’s Hall in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth, and the occasion was our first public performance of Sizwe Banzi is Dead in a black township in South Africa. Date: September 1974. The play was already nearly two years old, but it was only after its West End run that we felt sufficiently protected by its overseas success to risk the hazards involved in a township performance. Up until then its life in South Africa had been restricted to private performances before invited audiences… circumstances which theoretically made us safe from censorship and police interference. I say theoretically because even under those circumstances there had been incidents. The last one had been just prior to our departure for London. Half an hour before a performance at The Space Theatre in Cape Town we found ourselves confronted by the Security Police and a warning that if we proceeded with the show we would be charged under the Group Areas Act. They claimed the performance would constitute ‘...occupation of a building in an area which had been zoned strictly for whites.’
As far as openings go, I would say that Court Theatre has it easy, except that most of us theater people actively dream of putting up work that invites censorship and police interference.
May 5, 2010
I don’t want to work on the mines. There is no money there. And it’s dangerous, under the ground. Many black men get killed when the rocks fall. You can die there.
Sizwe Banzi is Dead
One of my favorite artists, William Kentridge, is a South African film-maker who animates his own charcoal and pastel drawings. In Mine, Kentridge portrays the inhuman living conditions of black mine workers. Undesirable and underpaid as it was, mine work was a viable and common option for black South Africans who couldn’t find employment in the cities.
Sizwe Banzi is Dead opens May 13.
May 4, 2010
A lonely gear from the set of The Illusion retires house right as the set for Sizwe Banzi is Dead is loaded in. Sizwe Banzi is Dead opens May 13.
April 29, 2010
We’re two weeks away from premiering our fifth and final show of the season, Sizwe Banzi is Dead by Athol Fugard, John Kani, and Winston Ntshona. The idea of presenting a Fugard play had been rattling around Court Theatre for many years, and it’s finally come to fruition under the direction of our Resident Artist, Ron OJ Parson. Court’s production is also the final installment in Chicago’s Fugard Fest, following Remy Bumppo’s The Island and Timeline Theatre Company’s ‘Master Harold’...and the Boys.
Sizwe Banzi is Dead was composed in 1972 by a white South African playwright in collaboration with two black South African actors. In creating the play, Kani and Ntshona would improvise large sections of the story, which Fugard would shape and tighten into a finished form. Devised largely from the experience of these three artists, the plot of Sizwe Banzi is Dead is concerned with the government-issued passbook, or “Book of Life,” which recorded and controlled the identity and movement of black South Africans under Apartheid. Those who could not produce their passbook on request were rendered ineligible for employment, kicked out of the white towns, and sometimes thrown into prison. Sizwe Banzi tells the story of one man who steals the passbook of a dead person and changes his identity in order to work and support his family.
Watch this preview for Sizwe Banzi is Dead shot by production dramaturg Kelli Marino and edited by Andrew Carter.