Brett Bailey is a South African playwright, designer, director, installation maker and the artistic director of the performance company THIRD WORLD BUNFIGHT.
His iconoclastic works, which interrogate the dynamics of the post-colonial world, include the musical dramas BIG DADA, IPI ZOMBI?, iMUMBO JUMBO, medEia and ORFEUS, a radical reworking of Verdi’s MACBETH, and the performance installations, EXHIBIT B and SANCTUARY.
His theatre and performance works are shaped by the intertwining of his unfolding inner reality and his interpretations of outer social-political realities. They arise from his consciousness of the long and troubled relationship between Africa and the West, and the effects of the greed and violence of the powerful on the marginalized. Immigration, xenophobia, rampant capitalism, racism and extremism are recurring themes across his portfolio.
Ritual, myth, dreams, trance and the non-rational are fundamental to both the content and the form of his works. He strives to craft compelling atmospheres, unpredictable sequences of powerful scenes, and vivid images to create worlds of beauty and disquiet. He seeks to create works with the quality of lingering dreams that haunt one for days, and cast one’s reality in another light.
His methodology involves many months researching and harvesting ideas, associations, pictures and music, and designing and writing, before getting into the rehearsal room. Sound, image, costume, colour, text, props, rhythms, light, the performers themselves and the locations in which he stages his works are the ‘materials’ he works with to convey multiple layers of meaning.
He is inspired by the rituals, ceremonies and performance modes of diverse cultures and religions, by performance art, installation, promenade performance, visual art, pop and rock concerts, opera and nature. He weaves these together to create the form that the work will ultimately take. He sees his eclectic, hybridizing approach as conceptual: a refutation of any hegemonic, ethnocentric notion of what theatre should be.
He has worked throughout South Africa, in several African and European countries, and in the UK. His works have played across Europe, Australia, Africa and Latin America, and have won several awards, including a gold medal for design at the Prague Quadrennial (2007). In 2019 he was made a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres (Knight in the Order of Arts and Letters) by the French government.
He headed the jury of the Prague Quadrennial in 2011, is chairperson of the artistic committee of South Africa’s National Arts Festival, and has twice served as a juror of the International Theatre Institute’s ‘Music Theatre Now’ competition. From 2008-2011 he was curator of South Africa’s only public arts festival, ‘Infecting the City’, in Cape Town. In 2014 he wrote the International Theatre Institute’s World Theatre Day message for UNESCO.