Blackface on the South African Stage
Early English South African Theatre (19th and 20th Century)
Keywords:blackface, early English South African theatre, blackface minstrelsy, Othello, postcolonial
In most contemporary studies in which the practice of blackface is discussed, it is seen as a controversial and racist practice. While many studies are available globally on different aspects of this practice (e.g., origin and history, the broad spectrum of media where it is used, different permutations and developments of this practice in various countries, etc.), one finds only a few studies focused on the use and practice of blackface in South African theatre studies. This is surprising when one considers the major role played by race in the general history of South Africa, as well as more specifically within the history of South African theatre. The focus in this article is on the practice and occurrence of blackface on the South African English stage from a historical theatre viewpoint as framed within a postcolonial perspective of this topic. Although one can assert that the practice of blackface was probably simply taken from the origin of this practice in the United States and mainly introduced to South Africa via travelling minstrel troupes from America and travelling theatre companies from the United Kingdom, it is important to see how this practice was received in colonial South Africa. The discussion will first address the use of this practice within early English theatre in South Africa as influenced by the blackface minstrelsy travelling troupes of the 19th century (1830s to 1870s), while the second part of the article will focus on the use of blackface by white actors on the South African stage to portray black characters in the early 20th century (1910 to 1930s).
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