Lalela uLwandle is more than a theatrical recital; it’s a knotwork of stories of intergenerational connections between ancestors and present generations, research, environmental activism and the contemplation of the ocean’s value and power.
By Eleonora Prior / Matthew staff || Edited by Alexandra Nava-Baltimore
What is your first memory of the ocean? The warm ticklish feeling of a million grains of sand weaving in between your bare feet? The cold water gently caressing your legs while you walk on the shore? Or the melodic sound shells make when you pull them close to your ear to hear the secrets that the ocean keeps?
This is what the South African artivist group Empatheater asks the audience to reflect on before immersing themselves in their theatrical performance of Lalela uLwandle, a research-based theater project which touches on the issues of environmental injustice and ocean health. The title of the play means “Listen to the Sea” in Zulu, a concept more than a mere translation which stands for the ability to give voice and space to stories of cohabitation and coexistence between people and the sea. The performance becomes a sensorial journey through which the audience acknowledges the urgency of marine degradation thanks to the staging of three different storylines, each weaved together by a single thread– the ocean.
Through its narrative, Lalela uLwandle explores the painful experiences of South African and Indian coastal communities being robbed of their lives on the coast due to capitalistic enterprises, as well as the degrading consequences that extractive mining and industrial fishing reflect on both the people and the ocean. Yet, Lalela uLwandle is more than a theatrical recital, it’s a knotwork of stories of intergenerational connections between ancestors and present generations, research, environmental activism and the contemplation of the ocean’s value and power.
Empatheatre is in fact a community made up of researchers, academics, actors and ocean enthusiasts who use data, scientific inquiries, local testimonies and personal stories to create empowering theatrical experiences through which the audience is made aware of the crisis in a more heartfelt way. Therefore, the objective is not to present the problem itself, but rather to amplify the voices of all those emarginated communities who are neglected in the conversation of environmental governance. In addition, they want to achieve a pro-active response to this emergency.
Living in a world where data and statistics are the medium through which we are fed news and events, we tend to detach ourselves from their true meaning and importance. What Empatheater does, is bring the audience personally closer to the issue, instead of throwing intangible numbers at them. Therefore, empathy and awareness become key to understanding the urgency of the social concern the performance presents; they allow us to be more involved in the cause as opposed to reading about these issues online.
Lalela uLwandle was performed in an adapted format at JCU on March 28. A group of students, faculty and staff also attended the dress rehearasal at FAO on March 30.