Bags are packed, performances have been rehearsed, and programmes have been set. Drama for Life is leaving the wintery smog of Johannesburg for the student town of Grahamstown – for 11 days, at least.
The National Arts Festival, the biggest annual celebration of the arts on the African continent, will be held in Grahamstown from June 30 to July 10, and Drama for Life – the University of the Witwatersrand’s arts centre for social transformation and healing – will be a huge part of it.
From AfriQueer – a site-specific rite of passage that explores masculinities and queerness through the lens of an ancient creation myth – to the curatorship of the Remix Laboratory, Drama for Life will play a major role in this year’s festival.
“We are delighted to be returning to the National Arts Festival in 2016,” said Warren Nebe, director. “We are bringing our Drama for Life Theatre Company in partnership with the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project; our Drama for Life Africa project with representatives from five SADC countries; some of our staff and students to perform and run workshops on the main festival and in the communities of Makana; teach certified education and training workshops, as well as offer expert open workshops in Drama Therapy, Applied Theatre, and Performance for the National Arts Festival Remix Laboratory.
“We look forward to working with our colleagues from across the region and witnessing everyone’s work.”
Drama for Life’s official projects at this year’s festival include:
- AfriQueer: an evocative site-specific journey through multiple solo and group performances from across Africa; an intimate improvisational evocation into the lives of men living on a continent that violently rejects the ‘other’; a dreamscape into a world that embraces queer in Africa. AfriQueer is curated by Warren Nebe with a team of performance artists drawn from six countries, namely Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa. This travelling work changes according to site and country and availability of artists. AfriQueer Iteration 1.1 was performed at Kloppenheim, Mpumalanga, Iteration 1.2 was performed the Cultural Institute of Brazil, Maputo in 2015, and AfriQueer Iteration 1.3 was performed at the Maitisong Festival, Botswana in 2016. The South African premiere of AfriQueer Iteration 1.4: how the stars were made will be performed in the Botanical Gardens at the National Arts Festival.
- The Drama for Life Africa Project: a multi-media, interdisciplinary project that aims to enhance a deeper understanding about sex, sexualities and sexual health with a human rights perspective across the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in partnership with the Swiss Development Corporation (SDC). AfriQueer is one of many performance projects that form part of the Drama for Life Africa Project. A post-performance discussion with the director and cast will take place after the 4 pm performance on Thursday, June 30. See the Think!Fest programme for more details.
- Remix Laboratory: this year’s Remix Laboratory, based at Crown Hall, will be a dynamic space of ‘best practice’ training for young adults who represent Community Theatre Groups from across South Africa. The laboratory will also have open, free performances and workshops for festival and community members in the afternoons.
Drama for Life has partnered with the 2016 National Arts Festival, under the directorship of Ismail Mohamed, to re-develop and grow the Remix Laboratory with a view to growing a long-term, sustainable relationship.
The following will be offered in 2016:
- New Consciousness in Cultural Leadership: an accredited training in cultural leadership and management for Applied Theatre for Youth Project coordinators, managers and strategists.
- Performing New Histories: an accredited training in popular histories, personal stories and theatre-making for Theatre for Youth performers and theatre-makers.
- Unzipped: using humour, theatre, and personal storytelling, the Drama for Life Theatre Company has created an interactive and educational performance for sexual health education called Unzipped. Founded around South African satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys’ belief that laughing at fear and taboo makes them less fearful, the performers challenge youth to have the conversations needed to make their own empowered choices. Using true life stories and questions to inspire the performance, the actors seek to spark open dialogue and discussion, rather than didactically share a prepackaged set of messages about HIV and sexual health. The performance of Unzipped is one part of an arts-based intervention for youth in Southern Africa called the Drama for Life AMP! Initiative Project. It is created by Drama for Life in collaboration with the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Art & Global Health Centre, and in partnership with the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project (CTAOP).
- Open Creative Drama Workshops for children and adolescents will be run at the Remix Laboratory (Crown Hall) in the afternoons with an expert team of facilitators.
There will also be open theatre workshops exploring auto-ethnography, autobiography and biography in performance; performance training and skills by the Drama for Life Africa Project; open arts therapies workshops which will be exploring the power of the arts for social transformation and healing; and open poetry slam practice and performance sessions to explore the power of poetry for social change presented by Drama for Life Lover + Another Poetry Slam.
Drama for Life’s staff and students can also be seen in numerous performances at the National Arts Festival this year. Leading artists include Cherae Halley, Nondumiso Msimanga, Tefo Paya, and Warren Nebe.
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