Women’s Month: Lynn Chemaly celebrates 26 years in theatre

Theatre director and practitioner, Lynn Chemaly is a force to be reckoned with. 

With 26 years of experience and more than 30 productions under her belt, she’s one of Durban’s finest.   

Chemaly has adapted, written and choreographed productions – and some of her career highlights include the South African premiere of "A Mouthful of Birds" by Caryl Churchill in 1994; "Life’s Easy", a feature film, she directed in 2011 and the annual FUNK: Interschools Dance Programme started in 2000. 

We chatted to Chemaly to find out more about her career in the arts and entertainment. 

What are you currently working on? 

I’m currently directing Tim Redpath in the astonishing one hander: "Breasts" – a play about men by Greig Coetzee which will be at the Hilton Arts Festival from September 13 to 15. It was first presented in 2000 at the National Arts Festival. The content remains relevant 20 years later – not only its insight into gender relationships and masculinity, but attitudes to race, class and culture. Redpath presents nine male characters who talk about the women in their lives, giving tremendous insight into the face of the #MeToo movement. "Breasts" makes you laugh too, as we recognise ourselves and people we know in the glorious, poignant characters. 

Has there been notable changes in the years you’ve been in the industry?

There is greater diversity in the industry now, which is fantastic, but no money. All artists are scratching for funding. Parents are discouraging young people from studying in the arts as society promotes the importance of maths, science and finance careers, which are also more financially lucrative. Theatre artists have always existed on the fringes of society, and will continue to do so, with great aplomb! I admire theatre professionals who get stuck in and made great work, despite the many challenges in the industry. 

What are your thoughts on more women joining the industry?

Historically men had more power in the industry, and always the better roles. Female performers were often just window dressing to male characters. That is changing and we have a number of South African playwrights writing great roles for women. We need more good playwrights in general, but real playwrights, not writers trying to be playwrights. Writing for theatre is a true art form, requiring an understanding of objective, character, action and theatricality. Reza deWet is a good example. Women are coming to the fore more in the technical aspects, which is good.

What would you say is the biggest issues faced by women today? 

Many women are not economically independent and so are unable to make important, life changing decisions to better life for themselves and their children. If parents can do anything today, it would be to ensure that their daughters receive a good education which will enable them to get into the workplace and be completely financially independent.

What issue did you experience? 

The usual for women, being fobbed off – not taken seriously. Keep plugging away…

As women, how important is it to uplift and stand with one another through struggles?

Very. Women have no reason to compete with each other; we all have unique and valuable skills and personalities. The more women stick together and support each other, whether it be in the family, workplace, or community, the happier and stronger they are likely to be.

What will you be doing on Women’s Day? 

Working – no rest for the wicked!

LynnChemaly - Women's Month: Lynn Chemaly celebrates 26 years in theatre

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