The Drama For Life academic programme at Wits brings art activism to the #SilentProtest.

Students came out in their numbers to march in solidarity with those affected by sexual violence in this year’s #SilentProtest at Wits University, among them art activists who adding a new dimension to the annual gathering.

Students from the Wits Drama For Life (DFL) programme staged drama excerpts around Wits campus earlier in the week and in the run-up to the protest on Wednesday.  The short public performances made use of a “blend of performance art, theatre and activism”.

“We are activists, that are in the field of drama, dedicated to using art to speak to communities about the subject of change,” said Hamish Mabala Neill, a lecturer at DFL.

“Instead of hanging up posters and handing out flyers, our students promote events theatrically and metaphorically,” says Neill.

Neill says the programme decided to partner the #SilentProtest as it went in line with their view on adding a layer of understanding to a sensitive issue. “We really hope to engage people in conversation through our performances,” says Neill.

Charae Haley, one of the coordinator’s of DFL’s partnership with the #SilentProtest, says “We felt that as powerful as the protest was, as a division we could hold some of the spaces to contain parts of the event in which the protestors were asked to be vulnerable.”

“Our aim was to contribute to the containment of the event, using our drama methodologies and skilled facilitation,” she says.

According to Haley, DFL incorporates a great deal of their course related work into the protest on a number of courses, such as reflective practise, drama therapy and theatre as activism. Lectures are put on hold for the day so that students, in their respective courses, dedicate the events of the day as part of their course requirements.

“By doing so we’re saying that despite the protest not being an official event on the university’s calender, we take the protest serious enough to stop all teaching for the day and participate as partners and protestors,” says Haley.

“We’re saying #WeBelieveYou, #WeAreInSolidarityWithYou, #WeSeeYou,” adds Haley.

Many of DFL’s productions deal with sensitive issues, thus the process is research intensive. “Our ethos is based on partnering with a community or a group of people helping a community,” adds Neill.

This year’s protest saw the biggest turnout since coming to Wits. Neill says the gender equity office is an essential part of the movement. “Our efforts would be in vain if weren’t for the individual’s in the gender equity office doing such phenomenal work,” says Neill.