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Packing Up My Memories

A Charming Tale About the Baggage We Carry with Ourselves

Photographed by Ryo Ichii

As part of the ASSITEJ Artistic Gathering 2019, we enjoyed a treat of a show titled, Memory In The Bag which was directed by Kenjiro Otani and presented by Company Ma, a theatre company from Japan. What I found most fascinating about the play is its simplicity in the way that it unpacks such a complex, multifaceted topic of memory and history.

a work of devised verbal and physical theatre inspired by Hiroshima and Nagasaki, learning from the past, and looking forward to the future

In no uncertain terms, I found the play thought-provoking, relevant, and far-reaching in the way that it explores the intricate relationship between memory and history. For me, I couldn’t divorce this relationship from the strong implicit sense of identity and belonging to which I think it is intrinstically linked. The act of remembering, like packing your bag, is always a selective process, which means that not everything goes in. So, how do we decide what or which to pack?

Photographed by Ryo Ichii

What kind of memories do you have in your bag?

This was a profound question for me. If we understand that we all have histories and memories that we must carry with us – in our bags or in our lives – when one moves on, which memories, stories, or histories of ourselves do we decide are worth carrying, and which ones do we store for safekeeping? Or do we just discard them, throw them away, or leave them behind? During the performance, I imagined I was going away somewhere, leaving a familiar place for a strange new one (albeit not all that hard to imagine as I am currently relocating from my home city to a new country, culture, language, and people). I sat there asking myself which memories I had packed with me in my bags on this journey to a strange new place. And why those memories? Even as I write, I am still grappling with these questions, and even though the play ended on a very happy, lighthearted note – the weight of the performance themes was not lost on me.

It is certainly important for Theatre to remind us to confront our uncertain present, to confront questions about where we come from, where we are going, and what we bring, carry, or take with us. Memory In The Bag certainly did that.

Eliot Moleba is a Johannesburg-based scholar, playwright, and director. He is one of the founding members of PlayRiot, a collective of playwrights committed to telling bold, contemporary South African stories. Moleba’s work explores social issues and how they (re)shape young people’s lives. He is now producing a ten-part series of artistic productions under the theme “The War You Don’t See”, looking at how global conflicts and migration impact and/or affect children’s lives. He was the resident dramaturg at The South African State Theatre, and is currently enrolled for a PhD in Theatre Directing at The Oslo National Academy of the Arts.