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For the 13th year in a row, a unique drama festival in Hillbrow promises to change lives, inspire creativity and promote positive change.
“Teenage issues” and drama may go hand in hand in some people’s minds, but we don’t necessarily associate the two with inner city regeneration – until now. For the 13th year in a row, a unique drama festival in Hillbrow promises to change lives, inspire creativity and promote positive change. The Inner-City High Schools Drama Festival, hosted by the Hillbrow Theatre Project, celebrates its 13th anniversary in 2017. This year it will run from 1 to 9 September and is presented in partnership with the Department of Arts and Culture, Rand Merchant Bank (RMB), the Market Theatre Laboratory, Bread for the World, Assitej South African, Hillbrow Radio, Exclusive Books and the Johannesburg Arts Alive International Festival.
Teenage talent takes the stage
“The school children themselves came up with the theme for this year,” says Thabang Phakathi, Project Coordinator, Inner-City High Schools Drama Festival – they wanted to discuss ‘teenage issues’. They put this idea forward themselves – a sign that they have really taken ownership of the festival and value the role it plays in their lives.”. This year, a record-breaking number of 39 schools will be participating – a total of 585 learners performing their stories on stage and competing for the coveted awards that recognise the talent of Joburg’s emerging creative voices. Of these 39 schools, 31 are Inner-City Schools. The festival has extended its reach to include schools from further afield, including four schools from Soweto, three from Vereeniging and one from Sandringham. St John’s College joins the competition for the first time.
A five-year partnership with the Market Theatre Lab
What makes this festival unique is a partnership with the Market Theatre Laboratory. Far more than nine days of performances, the festival is a culmination of months of workshops and training, with student facilitators from the Market Theatre Lab’s professional training programme spending time in classrooms, forming bonds with young people and nurturing their talent.
“I watched children who were voiceless, who were rebellious, who couldn’t concentrate, go from being life’s outcasts to life’s conquerors. They now have purpose and a will to achieve their dreams,” Sibongile Fisher is a graduate of the Market Theatre Lab and has facilitated drama workshops for the festival since 2013. Sibongile was so inspired by witnessing the impact theatre can have on young lives that she went on to initiate the Indalo Inter-High Drama and Poetry Festival in Tembisa last year.
The extensive outreach programme that precedes the festival is a response to the reality that most inner-city high schools offer little to no arts and culture education. Learners are unable to partake in cultural activities as part of their education or investigate possible future careers in the arts through exposure to arts and culture training.
“Theatre and arts have kept me from doing some of the bad things that are around in Hillbrow, like drugs or crime,” says Bigboy Ndlovu, a Hillbrow Theatre Project stalwart who participated in the festival throughout his high school career.
“The festival itself offers dramatic arts experiences and skills directly to inner-city schools,” explains Hillbrow Theatre Director, Gerard Bester, “while the outreach programme provides drama training to inner-city learners – we assist, guide and mentor them in the production of the plays that they enter into the festival.”
Jobs for artists in the city
The team of 31 facilitators who go into inner-city schools to work with the learners on a weekly basis, is made up of a combination of facilitators from the Hillbrow Theatre Project, young artists working in the city and second-year Market Theatre Laboratory students. Twelve former Market Theatre Laboratory students are employed to work in various schools. This is a point of pride for the festival as it is now able to provide paid work opportunities for young artists in the city.
“The impact of the partnership between the Market Theatre Laboratory and Hillbrow Theatre has been far greater than I initially imagined – I am amazed and delighted by how many alumni continue to work with schools in the inner city, and how it has re-shaped and focused the career trajectory of many of the Lab students who have participated. I look forward to building on this partnership to provide more opportunities for young people in the city to experience the arts.” Clara Vaughn – Head of the Market Theatre Laboratory
The space to excel
“You can only see what you are capable of if you’re given space to practice,” says Mpho Molepo, an ex-Lab graduate and long-time supporter of the festival who regularly adjudicates. “That is exactly what the Inner City Schools Festival offers to the graduates of the Market Theatre laboratory. The partnership has really brought positive growth to the festival. The mentors know that the quality of the work is essential and they work hard in making sure that the end product is of high standard. Sometimes when you attend student festivals or performances you assume that the level or standard will be low, but not with this festival. It is highly professional and all schools come prepared to compete.”
Building confident resilient teenagers
Polished stage performances are only one aspect of how the creative process benefits young participants. Rudy Thabiso Motseatsea, a second-year Market Theatre Laboratory student has been facilitating with Mzukzin Moses Mathonsi at Freedom College. “Every time I start classes,” he explains, “everyone must contribute to an exercise. It gives them a sense of responsibility and builds confidence for those whom are shy. One girl who is very shy actually finds herself through these exercises. I can relate to her as I always had a self-confidence problem but because my directors and fellow group members were patient with me when I was at school I was able to grow in confidence and that is what I hope to achieve with the students I teach.”
In celebration of the five-year partnership between the Market Theatre Laboratory and the Hillbrow Theatre Project, Ismail Mohamed, CEO of The Market Theatre Foundation, has offered every learner taking part in the festival a theatre experience which includes the Market Theatre tour and the opportunity to watch one play in one of the theatres. He has also generously generated support for sponsorship of our awards on social media – this release is sponsored by Artslink!
New Sponsorships for awards
Members of the Joburg community join in making the festival a success. This year the Best Production award will be named in memory of the late Taki who opened the first Fontana Bakery in 1967 in Hillbrow. The Hillbrow Theatre is grateful to Jason and Rahla Xenopoulos for sponsoring the award in memory of Jason’s late father.
Thanks are also due to Gidon Xenopoulos for sponsoring the Best Actor in a Lead Role Award, Tallulah Xenopoulos for Best Actress in a Supporting Role Award and Samuel Xenopoulos for Best Script Award, in memory of their Grandfather.
In addition to those contributions, Exclusive Books have sponsored book packs, Ismail Mohamed will sponsor Best Ensemble and Best Cameo performance and the Market Theatre Foundation will sponsor 3rd Best Production. Assitej South Africa continue to support and this year will present the Best Ensemble award winning school with a trip to the Redhill Theatre Festival. Ekhaya Neighbourhood CID is sponsoring the Best Actress award.
Dumisani Dlamini, acclaimed actor, remains the loyal Inner-City High Schools Drama Festival Ambassador and has already visited each of the inner-city schools in order to encourage learners in their play creation and to inspire their creative journeys. The panel of Festival adjudicators will be Mpho Molepo, Baby Cele and Bongani Gumede and guest adjudicator, Gcina Mkhize Olifant.