01 September 2010 by Dianne Tipping-Woods

Teaching theatre in South Africa

A first-hand view of the affirming role of theatre as a means to explore themes like identity, social justice, health and ethics.

I am writing this from cold and windy Amsterdam. And while Holland is not known for getting the weather right, it does get theatre right.

My sister-in-law is a theatre teacher and anthropologist. She teaches all around the Netherlands on projects designed to introduce young people to theatre – and in the process to aspects of themselves and their identities that they otherwise wouldn’t access. She is about to embark on some research that looks at theatre in relation to minority youth living in the city – and this got me thinking about South Africa, and theatre’s potential to look at all kinds of exciting aspects of our complex, colourful cultures.

Simone spent an afternoon showing me the kind of theatre education she does at Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam. I saw clever, engaging, well-designed programmes which, each and every day, large groups of school kids (mainly teenagers) are exposed to. And while there is structure to each visit, the kids are also encouraged to produce their own content, shape their own experience and gain the kind of confidence they need to draw their own conclusions about what they have learnt.

I got to see, first-hand, the affirming role of theatre as a means to explore themes like identity, social justice, health and ethics.

While there is structure to each visit, the kids are also encouraged to produce their own content, shape their own experience and gain the kind of confidence they need to draw their own conclusions about what they have learnt.

Then Simone asked me what we do in South Africa. I don’t know. A quick Google search comes up with some South African theatre outreach programmes – but they’re thin on the ground. I couldn’t find reference to any national education mandate to get kids from government schools into important creative spaces on a regular basis.

I won’t get into it further other than to say that my trip got me thinking about theatre’s potential in South Africa. We need to make meaning of who we are and where we are as a country. We are already doing this through our creative work – but do we do it enough? And what would a couple of programmes like the one I saw at Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam contribute to this process?

Theatre is about making meaning – and those who have a chance and want to be involved in it come out confident, expressive and engaged in a world that is challenging, malleable and alive with possibility.

Category: Arts & Entertainment

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