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Sunday, May 17, 2015


ASSITEJ (The International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People) celebrates 50 years of existence this year, an exciting milestone for the organisation that began in France with the intention of fostering theatre for young people. Now in almost 100 countries worldwide, ASSITEJ SA has been exceptionally active for seven years, with major festivals, productions, workshops, conferences and forums in several provinces.

Developing theatre for young audiences is like planting a seed in fertile ground. Children and youth not only have a natural capacity to enjoy productions, they are also the ones who will ensure the continuation of the culture of theatre-making and theatre appreciation in the future.

UNESCO, under the International Fund for Cultural Diversity, funded ASSITEJ SA to support theatre-makers creating works for schools and schools inviting quality theatre to their premises: this multifaceted project is titled Theatre4Youth. In KwaZulu-Natal the project saw more than 200 schools and 17 theatre companies added to the programme as well as two developing theatre companies mentored to reach professional status.

Under the astute direction of ASSITEJ’s Global President, Yvette Hardie - and with a team of passionate theatre makers, educators and researchers - Theatre4Youth has had a widereaching positive effect on the essential theatre in schools aspect of developing audiences and supporting new companies to understand the demands and rewards of performing for young people. In KwaZulu-Natal, Educational Theatre veteran Gisele Turner took two companies under her wing for a year, whilst Pauline Dalais, free-lance performer, administrator and promoter undertook the gathering of schools and companies to the organisation.

From the green hills of Luganda Township came a group of young people under the guidance of Doctor Kheswa - The Lashona Arts and Theatre Creation. The group, which has been working tirelessly in the area with the youth, teaching traditional dance and song as well as creating skits and hosting festivals, was formed by people concerned for the youth who were bored and resorting to anti-social behaviour. While Lashona were writing their own works, they were also keen to translate Turner’s award winning play Lucky Strike which deals with such issues as child-headed households, pet care, gender violence and xenophobia into isiZulu and perform it for their communities. The year not only saw them bring this goal to a resounding success, but workshops during the course of the year taught members how to make and manipulate marionettes and mouth puppets, make and use masks and write scripts. 10 schools and over 8,000 learners saw Lucky Strike and the Lashona group is currently creating and performing African Folk Tales as their latest project.

Award winning actor Mthokozisi Zulu had been touring schools with Jean van Elden’s company Odd Pair of Jeans since his first year of tertiary education and was keen to start a company and develop new works. He teamed up with fellow DUT graduate Lyschelle Linderboom and together they formed Edu-Fun, a company geared to spreading positive messages about difficult social issues to learners.

Under Turner’s guidance they created a script Wolf, aimed at the Intermediate Phase and dealing with the subject of bullying and abuse, both at home and at school. A set of entertaining vignettes that play out a number of dramatic scenes that learners can relate to brings the issue of abuse to the surface and also offers a solution and information of a haven of safety should the learner have experienced abuse. So far they have visited nine schools and performed for almost 4,000 learners.

“The Theatre4Youth mentorship programme has been hugely successful,” said mentor Gisele Turner. “Through intense processes over a whole year, the mentees are able to identify exactly what they need to lift them to the professional level and these needs are met through a combination of workshops and mentor sessions. Whatever the company requires to develop – whether it is fundraising, administration skills, scriptwriting, learning how to make props and puppets, developing performance techniques, understanding the needs of learners – is provided by the Theatre4Youth programme. And because it runs for a year there is time for real development rather than surface polishing. It has been a wonderful experience to be able to support young theatre practitioners in the craft I love the best.”

Co-ordinator Pauline Dalais commented that theatre companies don’t always know which schools to go to and schools do not necessarily get the kind of theatre they are looking for. “What I do is a kind of matchmaking process,” she said, smiling broadly. “Theatre4Youth puts out a national catalogue in which all the companies are featured as well as the names of schools that are keen to see shows. I have been responsible for the KZN section of that catalogue which has involved personal connection with schools and supporting companies that want to be known to those schools.”

As Theatre4Youth 2014-2015 draws to a close, the team responsible for bringing the project to fruition in KZN, as well as nationally, are satisfied with the excellent results. Yvette Hardie, who has been attending the 50th anniversary celebrations of ASSITEJ in Berlin, has said, “Other members of the association are so excited by the work that we are doing in South Africa. Cultural diversity has become a real issue in much of the Western world, and to see how ASSITEJ SA is tackling some of these issues through the Theatre4Youth programme, as well as how we are combining artistic development with educational and social development concerns, has been inspiring for other members. We are looking forward to sharing some of the work with the international community when we meet again in Cape Town for our ASSITEJ World Congress and Performing Arts Festival in May 2017.”

For more information contact Pauline Dalais, Theatre4Youth Coordinator for KZN, on email: visit