Over the course of five short scenes, Boxes set out to probe the legacy of apartheid spatial planning and forced removals, interrogating notions of ‘development’ and ‘progress’, by posing the question: Who is really benefitting from all this so-called progress? 

Boxes, written by Neil Coppen and Ameera Conrad in collaboration with journalist Daneel Knoetze, Marí Stimie and performers Quanita Adams and Mark Elderkin, was a touring, social justice theatre production which connected South African investigative journalists with theatre- makers and artists.

Over a period of three weeks, the production was viewed by more than 2, 000 people, with each show followed by a facilitated talk-back discussion.

Working together to change and adapt

Boxes overcame their challenges by devising various creative solutions based on a small budget. They created a mini Empatheatre (the method used by the team in their performances) approach and pulled all of their resources together to pull off a successful, immersive experience. The pressure of time constraints and a reduced turn-around time added to their experience and once the play was in motion, it became increasingly difficult to adapt it to include all the new insights and suggestions that they were receiving. Because of this, the team has recommended that a second iteration and interrogation of the project takes place. 

Adams and Elderkin as Cape Town couple Kaye and Lawrence, who have recently moved to the inner city and face turmoil as the story progresses. Image: Retha Ferguson

Turning something big into something even bigger

Their biggest learnings included the need for a more substantial budget to produce such an intense and time-consuming project, as well as more time to prepare and produce the show. In the end, they felt that a long-term project would serve the topic of land, in relation to corruption and the apartheid legacy, well. 

Aunty Sumaya, as portrayed by local performer Quanita Adams. Image: Retha Ferguson

Audience engagement is key

The team managed to create an incredible in-round experience that enabled the audience to engage directly with the characters and actors after each performance, and Boxes enjoyed a successful tour of Cape Town and its surrounds - in total, they performed 21 shows. Over a period of three weeks, the show was enjoyed by more than 2, 000 people and in most instances, these were school-going learners and tertiary education-based students, as well as members of non-government organisations.