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Global Grace Project

Participatory theatre and the production of cultures of equality amongst Sex Workers in South Africa

This is a collaborative research project between the Centre for Theatre Dance & Performance Studies (CTDPS), the African Gender Institute (AGI), the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Task Force (SWEAT). It is part of Global GRACE (Global Gender and Cultures of Equality), a transcontinental initiative. Participatory theatre and the production of cultures of equality amongst sex workers in South Africa investigates gender positive approaches to wellbeing through the use of participatory theatre and performance. Using these interventions, we hope to learn existing initiatives sex workers have used to challenge structural systems of inequality and sexual violence and to raise their aspirations and self-confidence. This involves learning about how sex workers produce equality (and challenge inequality and injustice) and enhance empowering decision-making in their daily lives.  Whereas Government policies tend to focus on the law, the criminal justice system and punitive measures our project will be investigating and participating in gender positive approaches to wellbeing in order to promote positive physical and mental health.

 The research project is centred on the following questions:

  1. What does/might equality and well-being look and feel like to sex workers in South Africa?
  2. When and where do sex workers feel dis/empowered? How does gender, ethnicity, sexuality, disability/illness, age affect these feelings?
  3. How does money come into and leave the lives of sex workers? What control do they have over this? How do sex workers understand the selling of sex as work and part of a monetary economy, with/without associated rights?
  4. What is violence in sex workers lives and how do they lessen their vulnerability to violence?
  5. 'How can theatre performance create an enabling and empowering environment for sex workers?


Participatory theatre and the production of cultures of equality amongst sex workers in South Africa is housed within the GlobalGrace project, which is a 51-month programme of research and capacity strengthening funded by the UKRI’s Global Challenge Research Fund (GCRF) delivered through the Arts and Humanities Research Council. GlobalGRACE employs arts based practices and multi-sensory research to investigate the production of cultures of equality and enable gender positive approaches to wellbeing internationally.

GlobalGRACE is a conglomerate of 6 projects based in six countries, namely: South Africa – ‘Participatory Theatre and the production of cultures of equality amongst sex workers in South Africa’; Bangladesh – ‘Working women in men’s world: Visualising female construction workers and the quest for more equitable futures in Syllet, Bangladesh’; Brazil – ‘Decolonising knowledge and masculinities ‘Otherwise’: Street art, dance and the production of cultures of equality in a Brazilian favela’; The Philippines – ‘Making Life Lovable: Digital and literally productions of equality among LGBTQ young people in the Philippines’; Mexico – ‘Por el buen vivir y el buen migrar: creating cultures of equality through the Migrant Museum (MuMi) in indigenous communities of Chiapas, Mexico and the United Kingdom – Space Invading: Curatorial practice and the making of the Global Museum of Equality. Through Partnerships and Capabilities Events (PCE), all project team members meet up once a year to take stock and re-group. At the inception of the project in 2018, the PCE was hosted by the UK team in London, while in 2019, the Mexico and Brazil team hosted the PCE in Rio. In 2021, the Bangladesh and Philippines team will host the PCE in Manila while in 2021, it will be hosted by the South African team – this PCE will conclude the project and also see the launch of the Global Museum of Equality.

‚ÄčUnderpinning our projects are three basic organising ideas. The first is that equality is a cultural artefact: we investigate the variety of ways that equalities are made and  contested in different parts of the world. The second is that cultures might best be understood as the practices through which people create the worlds they inhabit: we investigate how people’s creative practices challenge inequality and engender new possibilities for more equitable ways of living together. The third is the commitment to recognise people’s hard-won achievements and their ongoing struggles: GlobalGRACE is working with partners to highlight just a few examples of this equality work worldwide. Attending to, learning from and sharing about the productions of cultures of equality globally is central to creating sustainable futures for us all. More information on this project can be found here: https://www.globalgrace.net


The Research Team

Yaliwe Clarke and Sara Matchett – Co Principle Investigators – Africa Gender Institute (AGI) and Centre for Theatre, Dance & Performance Studies (CTDPS) – University of Cape Town


Yaliwe ClarkeCo-Principal Investigator – AGI, University of Cape Town

Yaliwe is the Interim Director of the AGI and a Lecturer in Gender Studies at the School of African and Gender Studies, Anthropology and Linguistics at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.  Since 2000 she has interacted with a wide range of women's rights activists and peace-builders/conflict resolution practitioners in over 11 countries in Africa.  She is currently a Phd candidate in Social Development at the University o Cape Town. Her Phd research investigates the micro-politics of women’s ‘peace activism’ in northern Uganda. She is also interested in notions of respectable femininity, marriage, pleasure, and (hetero)sexuality in Zambia.


Sara Matchett - Co-Principal Investigator – CTDPS,  University of Cape Town

Sara is Head of the CTDPS at the University of Cape Town. She is also an Associate Teacher of Fitzmaurice Voicework® and the Regional Director of the Fitzmuarice Institure for Africa and India. Her teaching profile centres around practical and academic courses which include, voice, acting, theatre-making, applied drama/theatre, and performance analysis. She is especially interested in trans-disciplinary modes of creating.  Her research explores the body as a site for generating images for the purpose of performance making and specifically focuses on investigating the relationship between breath and emotion, and breath and image, in an attempt to make performance that is inspired by a biography of the body. As co-founder and Artistic Director of The Mothertongue Project women’s arts collective, Sara has experience in the field of theatre in South Africa, Africa and internationally as a theatre-maker, performer, director and facilitator.


Yasmin Gunaratnum – Academic Lead – Goldsmiths, University of London

Yasmin Gunaratnam is a Reader in Sociology at Goldsmiths (University of London). She has an interest in critical race, disability, migration and feminist scholarship and in qualitative and participatory methods. Yasmin’s publications include 'Researching Race and Ethnicity: methods, knowledge and power' (2003, Sage), ‘Death and the Migrant’ (2013, Bloomsbury Academic) and the co-authored book ‘Go Home? The Politics of Immigration Controversies’ (2017, Manchester University Press). Yasmin has edited nine collections and writes poems.  She is an editor of Feminist Review.


Bev Orton –Consultant – University of Hull

Bev is a Fellow in Criminology at the University of Hull, an Associate Researcher at Goldsmiths University and an Associate Lecturer at the Open University. She is a consultant on ‘Participatory Theatre and the Production of Equality amongst Sex Workers in South Africa for the GlobalGRACE research project. Her area of research is criminology, gender, restorative justice and conflict and political struggle. Her latest book is Women, Activism and apartheid South Africa. I have worked extensively in areas of film, theatre and visual studies.


Phoebe Kisubi Mbasalaki – Early Career Researcher – University of Cape Town

 Phoebe is a post-doctoral research fellow on the GlobalGRACE project housed at the AGI and the CTDPS – University of Cape Town as well as the NGO – SWEAT. She holds a PhD in Gender, Media and Culture from the Graduate Gender Studies Programme – Faculty of Humanities, Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Phoebe was also a lecturer at Utrecht University and taught on the Graduate Gender Studies Programme, feminist theory and feminist research methods. Her research interests are in critical race, gender, sexuality as well as  decolonial thought and praxis. Phoebe has also worked for a number of years in various fields including gender, HIV and public health with agencies such UNDP, UNAIDS and WHO on a regional (Sub-Saharan Africa) and global focus.


SW Steering Committee – Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Task Force (SWEAT)

The SW steering committee is a governance group that over sees the implementation of the project.  The Steering Committee was set up in September 2018, at the beginning of the implementation of the project, through a call that was made through SWEAT. We were guided by SWEAT on this matter but some of the main criteria in the call included having some background experience and/or interest in theatre and performance. We envisioned a sex worker led steering committee.


Our overall methodological approach is based on principles of participatory action research methods, where sex workers are equal and active participants throughout the project. In practice, our aim is the co-production of knowledge with sex workers based on developing democratic relationships. Our ‘conversations’/consultative process is facilitated by members of the steering committee and UCT-based researchers in collaboration with SWEAT. The aim is to: allow participants to generate their own ideas about the theatre work and theatre group; enable researchers to follow-up, clarify and elaborate on topics raised by the participants; encourage participants to develop ideas by exchanging thoughts/opinions and experiences in a group setting; and to provide an opportunity for a collective decision-making regarding the research process. More specifically, we envisage using voice, narrative and embodied theatre performance methods which will help us to elicit multisensory and intersectional experiences of gendered inequalities.


SW Theatre Group - SWEAT

The SW theatre group is at the heart of work-package 1. The group was formed in February 2019 through a selection process that was facilitated by the CTDPS. An audition and interview call were put out through SWEAT’s safe space and outreach program with the help of a poster and flyer that was specially designed for this call. Through an auditions sub-committee, the SW steering committee were involved through the designing the flyer/poster auditions’ call as well as contributed to the planning of the audition workshops. In addition, the sub-committee worked alongside an audition panel made up of theatre and performance experts from the CTDPS. Performance auditions, officiated by the auditions panel took place over two separate days where professional judges through the Centre for Theatre, Dance and Performance studies officiated this process. In addition, an interview session was carried out for the technical team. A total of ten performers and three technical team group members were chosen, who are currently on probation till July this year. The Theatre Arts Admin Collective (TAAC) in Observatory Cape Town will be the main resident home for the SW theatre group throughout the entire project. The TAAC is a thriving theatre centre in the heart of Observatory. Built on the tenants of affordability, inclusivity and accessibility, the Theatre Arts Admin Collective has grown into a home for local theatre practitioners – a place where they can create work, develop skills, perform, engage in dialogue and meet and work with theatre practitioners who come from diverse backgrounds, whether cultural, social, economic or simply in skill and experience. More information on the TAAC can be found here: https://web.facebook.com/TheatreArtsAdmin/?_rdc=1&_rdr

We see the theatre and performance training to be divided into five clusters, four of which culminate in a performance.  The first focuses on participatory theatre as practiced and theorised by Brazilian theatre practitioner and activist Augusto Boal, who founded The Theatre of the Oppressed.  The SW theatre group will be introduced to improvisation as a tool for devising and performing theatre. Improvisation serves as a key tool across all clusters. This leads to training in Image Theatre, where still physical images are used to interrogate concepts, issues, beliefs, challenges and the like. This is followed by training in Forum Theatre, a form of participatory theatre where audience members are invited to suggest possible solutions or actions to challenges that are presented in the theatre piece. Presently, the group is going through this skills training carried out over 16 workshops facilitated by Delia Meyer  who is a lecturer at the CTDPS at the University of Cape Town. This cluster culminates in a Forum Theatre performance that will be devised and performed by the group at the beginning of August 2019.

We envisage the second cluster culminating in a physical theatre performance and involves training in contact improvisation, a form of dance improvisation that explores the principles of weight sharing, touch, and physical or movement awareness. The second aspect this cluster proposes to explore, is mime storytelling, inspired by the work of Jacques Lecoq. The approach  has been contextualised to respond to a South African context where people’s bodies are under constant threat of violation. Training in the Japanese dance form of Butoh, as taught and danced by South African performer and academic, jackï job, will round off the training in this cluster.  job studied Butoh in Japan and her research focuses on contextualising the form in South African.

We envisage the third cluster involving training in creative writing, singing as well as an investigation into voice as sonic material. This will culminate in a spoken word performance.

The fourth cluster involves training in object theatre, scenography and site specific theatre and will culminates in a public live art performance in the city of Cape Town.

We see the fifth cluster providing training in Arts Administration, which involves drawing up business plans, funding proposals, training in basic accounting, and also covers marketing and publicity strategies.  We think it is necessary to include this in the training in preparation for the launch of the first independent sex worker theatre company in South Africa.

In addition to the five clusters mentioned above, the company will receive training in script writing.  The idea is for all of the performances to be scripted into a published collection of performance texts that will be launched at the same time as the independent theatre company.

The final Global GRACE meeting in Cape Town, will provide the company with the space to showcase the work they would have made over the course of the project.  This idea is to curate an exhibition of these works or performances.  The independent theatre company and the publication of performance text will ideally be launched at this event.