Prague Quadrennial: SA’s indi theatre designers on global stage

Concept shot for PQ

Our country’s foremost indi theatre designers are showing the world how we roll. Their work is contained in the South African exhibition at one of the most trendsetting arts festivals in the world (officially) happening now in Prague, Czechoslovakia.

Curating the showcase of local talent on display at the Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space (PQ) from 6 to 16 June, is UCT scenography lecturer Jenni-lee Crewe and Joburg-based theatremaker Tamara Guhrs.

South Africa has participated three times in the 13 editions of the world-renowned Quadrennial, which is the only one that celebrates the architecture of performance space. According to PQ history archive, we represented in 1999, 2003, and 2011. The records state South Africa also showcased the best of our theatre designers and scenographers in 2015. But Crewe was there, and there was no SA exhibition to be found.

It was while attending for research during her sabbatical and noting the absence of any African presence among the 70-odd countries exhibiting, that Crewe decided she’d make it happen in 2019.

Now, after managing to obtain some research funding from UCT and the Centre for Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies (CTDPS), sponsorship from Business Arts SA (BASA), and a donation from PQ itself, the work of 11 performance designers from around the country is being shown to almost 180 000 visitors who attend to view the works presented by the approximately 1 000 artists from about 70 countries.

This is the place where the best contemporary scenographers and theatre architects from around the globe meet, hold workshops and seminars, have conversations, and learn from each other.

Calling on collaborations formed over decades, and underpinned by Flying House – which is dedicated to making spaces in which innovation and creativity can flourish sustainably – Crewe and Guhrs took wing.

A call out to theatre designers, scenographers, and public art practitioners was made, and the form of the exhibition was planned.

“Part of our decision on what we would use as our material to work with and provide to responding artists, was based on what we could take over to the empty hall it has to be set up in,” said Crewe.

It also had to have individual elements each artist could customise to represent their work, yet be able to fit into a unified structure, said Crewe.

After some experimentation and consideration of conceptual elements, flexible round reflectors of the type normally used in photography to enhance or modify lighting conditions, were chosen.

Crewe worked with models to determine different configurations, and sent each artist a reflector to modify. The end result is woven into the overall construction in situ at the Industrial Palace in Prague.

Shutterspeed: Reflection/Deflection, is the title of the complete work.

“What’s important is that, like photography, in theatre design you frame something, you construct it or propose it. And when you do that you eliminate all the other possibilities. So we’re really questioning what it is we choose to see and what we choose to deflect, or look away from.” says Crewe.

A 40-page catalogue of the artists and their work is available, and can be ordered from Flying House via email on

The participating artists are:

Noluthando Lobese-Moropa; Illke Louw; Jemma Kahn; Jade Bowers, Erika Lüttich and the Boitumelo Project; Leigh Bishop; Naomi van Niekerk; Zivanai Matangai; Mantala Nkoatse; Gavin Krastin; Gerhard Marx.

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