LETTER: Wits theatre head defends ‘deaf’ play

The following letter to the editor was received from Ms Gita Pather, Director of the Wits Theatre in response to a recent article: No sign of love for ‘deaf’ play.


“I need to express my dismay at your article titled “No sign of love for deaf” play”. It may have been your intention to shed light on a perceived disgruntlement about a play that includes a deaf role played by an hearing person in this case a Drama student enrolled within the WSOA but is rather shoddy journalism that should have addressed the issues in a balanced and informed manner especially since the focus of attention is a young, sensitive female student with the very best of intentions.

The journalist is obviously a student as well who should be guided a little more and that is why this letter is addressed to you as the editor.

It’s  sensationalistic and ignores some of the very fundamental stances related to artistic freedom and in fact the freedom of speech and expression (surely located at the heart of journalism?). A more valuable approach for your readers would have been to tease out those very issues: the rights of the deaf community in relation to artistic freedom/freedom of expression and the arts as a profession.

[pullquote align=”right”]”Dr Kaneko is entitled to her views but the study of drama and performance is really quite specific”[/pullquote]

You have attempted to capture the sentiments of “members of the Wits Community”  and they are referred to as such … vague and completely disregarding the fact that this university is as diverse as the society it is sited within. There is no “wits community” and to state it as such is to assume that we all share the same values, backgrounds, ideologies and that is plainly not true.

In your view, who are these members? Do they include students and staff on this campus who are actually studying/teaching drama and  who prize and would defend the right to artistic freedom as strongly as any other lobby? ?

Would that not have been more balanced reporting since you saw fit to include rather strong emotive statement from  Dr Michiko Kaneko? Dr Kaneko is entitled to her views but the study of drama and performance is really quite specific and actually requires an understanding of the totality of what the curriculum involves including the sanctity of the creative and artistic vision.

“The deaf community on campus and related stakeholders are entitled to their views”

The Deaf community on campus and related stakeholders  are entitled to their views but it needs to be balanced against the rights of artistes to practice their craft without pandering to every viewpoint.

The theatre is an arena  of constant contestation: it is about educating, inspiring, provoking, making statements about life in all its complexities . But as importantly it is absolutely personal , a sum total of a particular artistic viewpoint on a subject, the world, our community Actors are called actors because they “act”.

[pullquote]”The play has not been staged yet so exactly what is at issue here?”[/pullquote]

That is the nature of performance and we are all engaged in teaching our Drama and performance students about that art and it is an art. To presuppose that just anyone can “act” is ridiculous and rubbishes a art form that is actually one of the oldest professions in the world.

What is even more dismaying is that the play has not been staged yet so exactly what is at issue here … the fact that there is a hearing person playing the role of a deaf person? Amy de Wet is a student studying performance and how to be an actor. She is the director and has the final say on the play. In the creative industries, it is always the director’s prerogative.

It may turn out to be a stinker of a play or it may be fabulous. The Wits Theatre upholds the rights of all  students and artistic practitioners to fail because performance, directing and acting is not about absolutes, it is about process. This is even more important because Amy is a student here and has the same rights as any other member of the Wits “community”.

I think you need to revisit the issue in a more balanced and informed way.


Gita Pather

Director, Wits Theatre