Bands of Women is a futurist, feminist, comic-book fantasy; an odyssey that starts with a dystopian scenario in which contemporary fears materialize in the desertification of the south, northern floods with rising seas, exacerbated by incessant global war.
Far in the future, in a city where multiple groups of male militia roam and fight for territory, women band together for protection and safety in defunct basements and underground garages previously home to glittering sports cars. Technology has collapsed and except for a few privileged and secret spots cellular networks and cyber space have ceased to operate. It is a long time since fresh food was seen and contraband markets flourish.
When Magda arrives dressed in an old wedding dress with a broken steering wheel in her hands, the odyssey is born. Having found the parts to repair her bukkie, our band of women decide to leave the city with her in search of a different life.
Magda’s destination is ‘Willows Speak’, a family farm which is irrigated by the Red River and flanked by six Willow Trees. (Well, during the rainy decades that’s what it looked like. Now, we do not know). But the focus of our story is not on the dream of an alternative or utopian future but rather on the process of getting there: byways, unexpected swerves and hiatuses, in which other women are encountered opening up new ways of being, surviving and existing. But most of all, it is a journey of self-discovery for each of the fourteen women: a rites of passage for some, a tragedy for one, and for others a ‘coming into being’, into power as women, and womxn.
The choice of magic realism and fantasy as a style of representation hopefully encourages the re-imagining of women as physically active and as problem solvers; as well as beings who exercise a wide scope of inner power and heightened acuity in the psychic, spiritual and psychological realms.
I originally wrote this play in 1988 for nine women. Rather depressingly its genesis was despair over climate change as well as the threat of global and nuclear war – conditions that not only still exist but have increased in scale.
Then called The Last Trek, the play was performed at the Market Theatre in 1989 starring Vanessa Cooke, Terry Norton, Nandi Nyembe, and Charlotte Butler to name a few. In the same year it was directed by Jennie Reznek for the UCT Drama department. Dr. Sara Matchett, currently a lecturer in our department, performed in it.
I have rewritten the play extensively to attempt to bring it into the twenty-first century and closer to the concerns of the ‘millennials’ performing in it (female students of the 3rd and 4th year acting streams). I have also added 5 new parts not only to facilitate more performers, but to expand the concept from a single ‘trek’ away from war and mayhem, to include more female bands and a larger variety of female ‘voices’.
Some of the more contemporary themes were written in response to the students’ suggestions.
Straie: previously a war photo-journalist, now on the borderline of psychosis and drug addiction: Kelly Jeffrey
Carmin: Uses her body and looks to survive. Discovers her sugar daddy is responsible for mass murder. Is confronted with two life defining decisions in a row: Noluvo Ntsunguzi
Robby: A street orphan and wheeler dealer of note with a manic energy, her humanity is hidden behind a hard shell of survival and swagger : Michaela Moses
Skye: A naïve and spontaneous flower child. Parents are volunteers in the military hospital. Will come into menses (start her periods) and discover hidden powers: Sesane Sealy
Sarah: From a safety compound; her husband has just lost his life trying to put out a fire bomb in their home. She has nothing left by a suitcase and a baby in her arms: Nicola Moerman
Magda: An escapee from a safety compound and a dead marriage, she is unpretentious and down to earth. She needs to shake off the cultural restraints of her background but Grootouma’s voice invades her head: Laura-Lee Mostert.
Ouma grootjie: She is the voice in Magda’s head telling her to discard the band of women, as they are a hindrance to the project of ressussiting their land, their culture and their language: Megan Theron
Justma: She has been in the government militia for years and is desperate to get back to her children. She needs to find herself as a woman and mother. Her greatgogo haunts her present and tries to control her future: Molatelo Maffa
Greatgogo: She is the voice in Justma’s head telling her to leave the band of women behind and urging her to reconstitute her clan and their traditional ways: Sibonakuhle Mensah
Holly: An out of practice magic woman and healer; a very ordinary woman in a mac and boots on first appearances but when provoked by danger and necessity, she is a formidable power: Lu-lu Read
Thokozile: A queenly feminist matriarch and creator of The Covenant, with secret powers and command over a large rural peace compound, she has extensive influence but right now has a crisis on her hands: Cassandra Mapanda.
Pietie: Rebellious hyperactive teenage daughter of Thokozile. Resents the restrictions of The Covenant* and wants a normal teenage life experimenting with boys, sex and rock ‘n role; instead she gets sent on a rites of passage: Bianca Oosthuizen
UDiana: Equal in age to Thokozile she is her partner in politics. Also an originator of the covenant, she prides herself on her knowledge of the healing plants and herbs of the area: Gretchen Ramsden
Melisizwe: Niece of Thokozile, wise beyond her years. A rape survivor, she is ‘ruined’ and must be healed: Kim Adonis
*The Covenant is an oath women take in which they commit to refusing men sex until there is peace. The idea comes from Lysistrata and has become a trope in women’s peace activism.