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Sunday, January 10, 2010


(Janni Younge - pic by Timmy Henny)

SA’s own “Geppetto” wins Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Theatre.

Janni Younge has lured young and old into the world that she masterfully creates through puppetry. This year, she adds the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Theatre 2010 to her long list of accolades.

“I’d like to create a piece of theatre which touches on the fragility and beauty of the experience of being alive as a human being in the world,” said Younge about what she would like to achieve with the Young Artist Award. “I’d also like to use the opportunity to generate awareness about the magic that can be created when different art forms are brought together.”

Before completing a masters degree in Theatre and Performance through the University of Cape Town (UCT) in 2007, Younge spent time in France from 1999 to 2002 to do a Diplome d’Etat des Métiers des Arts de la Marionnette (Diploma of Puppetry Arts) from the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Arts de la Marionnette (Higher National School of Puppetry Arts) in Charleville-Mezieres. This followed a first class BA from UCT in Fine Arts, majoring in sculpture and psychology. Younge said that puppetry is about bringing objects and images into the theatrical spaces and through this synthesis create new relationships of meaning. “I would like this award to be about these relationships,” she said. “I am looking forward to creating relationships and collaborations around the award and to hopefully see something unfold that comes from within and then goes far beyond me.”

“The awards are a space to create, and also a reflection on what is important to the artistic community of South Africa. It gives young artists a place and a voice in the ever-evolving cultural identity of South Africa,” said Younge about the Standard Bank Young Artist Awards.

Her talent, mixed with her passion and dedication to her craft, has attracted multiple awards and scholarships. Some of the prestigious scholarships that she has held include the Siri Johnson Scholarship, KW Johnstone Scholarship, Twamey Scholarship, Noreen Saunders Scholarship, Luis Epstein Endowment Scholarship, Rosalie van der Gucht Scholarship and a CG Saker Scholarship. She was also nominated for a Fleur du Cap award for The Fire Raisers’ puppets. She has been the CEO of UNIMA SA (The South African Association of Puppetry and Visual Performance) since 2006, as well as the director for the Cape Town based puppetry and visual performance festival. She is also director, producer and co-founder of Sogo Visual Theatre.

“For me, creating theatre is about generating images, energies and dynamics that somehow approach the experience of being human,” said Younge. “Whether I’m creating a festival, directing puppet theatre or making a puppet or mask for someone’s production, I’m asking myself: What energy does this thing have? What am I putting out there, and what is the intention I have in creating this? What this award means to me personally is that people are hearing the resonance of this creative process, and somehow, somewhere it is creating positive echoes for them too.”

In 2009, she was responsible for the design and construction of the puppets and puppet choreography for Janice Honeyman’s magnificent production of The Tempest co-produced by the Baxter Theatre Centre and the Royal Shakespeare Company and performed at the Baxter, The Courtyard (RSC) and subsequent tour in the UK. Some other stage productions for which she created puppets include Pictures of You, Kock up, Quack!, High Diving and the spectacular Giant African Parade Puppets, all of which featured at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.

In 2008, Younge was writer, director and designer of Thandi, performed at the International Festival of Puppetry in Kilkis, Greece. She was also involved with productions including Elise’s Adventures in Congoland, Shooting the Rain, the construction of life-sized elephants for the Bastille Day parade, and was the South African delegate to the International Congress of Puppetry. She was responsible for the design and construction of the puppets used in Romeo and Juliette presented at Cape Town’s Maynardville in 2007. Other major productions include being visual consultant for Amadeus directed by Lara Foot Newton and Magnet Theatre’s The Fire Raisers, with shows in The Baxter Theatre, Schlachthaus Theater (Bern), La Parfumerie (Geneva) and Temple Allemand (La Chaux-de-Fonds).

“Janni Younge is a remarkably talented young woman, whose work seems to symbolize the very essence of the new imaging in theatre that Cape Town is producing. An artist to watch!” said National Arts Festival committee member for Drama, Malcolm Purkey.

Younge has been involved with puppet construction and manipulation for various corporate and community theatre productions, as well as for television commercials and children’s programmes. She has also directed, designed and constructed puppets for The Cape Town International Comedy Festival. She has co-ordinated youth development programmes, including UWC’s Brown Paper Studio in District 6, and has worked with the British Council’s environmental education programme. She was director, workshop facilitator, puppet designer and collaborative script writer for Pulling Strings, The Africa Project, a street puppetry performance devised by youth against corruption in Jerusalem and Mpumelanga. She has also presented a shadow puppetry course taught over nine weeks at the Dominican School for the Deaf, and has been a drama tutor at UCT. From 1993 until 1998 she ran Somersault children’s puppet theatre, which did regular performances in schools, hospitals and private homes in Cape Town.

Younge co-curated At arm’s length, an exhibition of Malian and South African puppets at the Museum of African Art, New York. She handled the curation, exhibition design and installation of Patrimony, an exhibition of Malian puppets in the Sasol Art Gallery, Stellenbosch, the Irma Stern Museum, the Gold of Africa Museum in Cape Town and Museum Africa in Johannesburg. She has also participated in various solo and group exhibitions. She has taken part in many international exchanges and workshops on puppetry. These include a study of Bonraku puppetry with the National Bonraku Theatre of Japan in Charleville-Mézières, and training in the Paris studio of Alain Duvern, Images et Mouvement (creators of Gignol’s d’Info). She has also had apprenticeships with the puppeteer Bob Hartman of Hartman Entertainment and Nina Gerasimov, former head puppeteer of the Bolshoi Theatre in St. Petersburg.

“There are so many ways we find to give form and expression to the inner workings of the mind and imagination, and each one of those is a step on the journey of being an artist,” said Younge. “Maybe my journey is starting now. Or perhaps it hasn’t started yet and all of this has been a journey towards tomorrow where I will start a new moment.”

The Young Artist Awards were started in 1981 by the National Arts Festival to acknowledge emerging, relatively young South African artists who have displayed an outstanding talent in their artistic endeavours. These prestigious awards are presented annually to deserving artists in different disciplines, affording them national exposure and acclaim. Standard Bank took over the sponsorship of the awards in 1984 and presented Young Artist Awards in all the major arts disciplines over their 26-year sponsorship, as well as posthumous and special recognition awards. The winners feature on the main programme of the National Arts Festival, Grahamstown and receive financial support for their Festival participation, as well as a cash prize.