Touring the Past and Creating Theatre from Memory and Pain
Robben Island, situated 8km off the coast of Cape Town, is one of those sites that is and powerfully evocative of a painful past. The declaration of Robben Island to the status of UNESCO Heritage Site is a recognition of the political and cultural potency of the site. In the context of tourism however, the cultural potency of the place is also ostensibly a constructed and enacted one.
This presentation draws on earlier collected data that looked at the narrativised and historicized heritage in the context of Robben Island Prison Museum and places that data alongside more recent studies on heritage tourism and dark tourism in the context of South Africa.Methodologically the study worked through face to face interviews and observational data. Theoretically the study articulates through the theoretical precepts of symbolism, social constructivism and interpretivism.
In the context of the findings, I argue that Robben Island Museum acts as a performance space for the experiencing of a collective shared past and history by attempting to show how ‘heritage’ is constructed and made into performance and theatre within the space. I argue that the visitor is placed into a liminal space by the manner in which the tour is fashioned and experienced and that the constructed heritage product (or tour), emerges as a ‘liminal space’ where different racial categories of visitors, who have had differently shaped life histories, are made to ‘experience’ a shared past (heritage) of denial and oppression. These findings are further situated within more recent interview data and the context of the emergent discourse of ‘dark tourism’ and ‘trauma places tourism’ within South Africa.
Keywords - Tourism, Experience, Theatre, Dark, Memory