The art of make-believe

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Recently the production Speak Sign Love was staged at the Wits Theatre.

Working with a strong cast and crew, Speak Sign Love creator Amy de Wet has set out on a journey to share a message with her audiences; a message of hope, love and compromise. There has been some controversy regarding Speak Sign Love; the concerns stemming from the fact that a hearing actress portrays a deaf character.

Speak Sign Love is a theatrical production, and like any other theatrical production it provides a space of time where reality and disbelief are suspended and the audience engages with fantasy. However, as the curtains close reality returns and everyone is aware that what they have seen is pretend. Although theatre often mimics reality, it is fantasy. The character of a mother can be played by a single, childless woman; the serial killer that strikes terror into the audience’s hearts is not played by an actual serial killer, his victims are not really dead and even the blood is fake. Yet in that moment of the story, you believe – that is the magic of theatre.

In order to give the audience this magic, a great deal of work goes into the process of preparing a production. The actress playing a mother will research and observe actual mothers in order to make her character believable. The actor playing the serial killer must do long hours of research and training to build his terrorising character – but his training will never include killing a person. The same principle applies to Speak Sign Love; the actress does not have to be deaf to portray a deaf person believably.

Most of the controversy around the theatrical industry arises from reactions to the artistic expression and the message the artist is articulating. The playwright, W. Somerset Maugham stated, “The drama is make-believe. It does not deal with truth but with effect.”

It is the privilege of an artist to craft their art until they gain the effect on the audience that they have envisaged. No artist claims that all must enjoy and agree with the art that they have produced. What the artist wants is that whilst the audience expresses their own opinion, they remember that the work is make-believe and that the artist has the prerogative, some may say even the duty, to express their art in any way they choose fit.

Beth de Wet
Producer for Speak Sign Love