Some other groups

A look at other groups using TO/Arts for Social Change

I want to suggest some parallels and possible links with companies using theatre process for social change. This is intended to open up awareness of comparable work, particularly where that is not widely known in the TO community. In subsequent postings I will describe work in the UK, India and elsewhere which also comes under this category.

Scene from “Pump”, directed by Mark Fleishman and Jennie Reznek from Magnet theatre taken from its homepage

In line with JSIRRI’s vision and mission, I would like to stimulate interest in exchanging experiences, skills and knowledges in order to extend the possibility of networking and mutual support among practitioners who are essentially fighting similar battles and using similar approaches rooted in a similar concern for humanity, in the spirit of Augusto Boal. The individuals and companies I describe are engaging in forms of literacy (as Freire would have put it) through theatre process, or a kind of pedagogy of the marginalised, disadvantaged and oppressed. In the troubled times in which we operate this seems to me to offer an active response to nationalisms, protectionism, xenophobia, fear and aggression. Maybe it can help to create and sustain kinds of solidarity.

Here are a couple of examples, amongst many, from South Africa:

1. Magnet Theatre, Cape Town:

Magnet Theatre is an independent physical theatre company based in Cape Town, South Africa, and formed in 1987. Besides creating original theatre productions, Magnet Theatre is actively engaged in youth development work in the Cape Town area as well as in the Cederberg Municipality. The company’s founders and artistic directors are Mark Fleishman and Jennie Reznek.

In 1998, Magnet Theatre established the Magnet Theatre Educational Trust dedicating itself to training and developing skills for impoverished and marginalised youth.In 2001, Magnet Theatre initiated several youth development projects in addition to its theatre and performance productions. These include the Clanwilliam Arts Project (since 2001); the Community Groups Intervention in Khayelitsha (2002-2007); the Community Arts Development in Clanwilliam (since 2007, which grew out of the Clanwilliam Arts Project); the Culture Gangs Project (since 2011); and the Farm Schools Project (since 2014).In 2008, Magnet Theatre initiated a two-year Fulltime Training and Job Creation Programme. Since then, 58 trainees from townships in and around Cape Town have participated in the programme. As part of their training, each group of trainees has created several theatre productions. Among these are pieces in isiXhosa as well as a collaboration with the Cape Town Opera and young singers from the Cape Town Opera Studio (Heart of Redness, 2013).In 2013, Magnet Theatre initiated a creative focus on Early Years performance and training, developing performances for under seven-year-olds. Their first piece, TREE/BOOM/UMTHI (director: Jennie Reznek) toured the Cape Town townships, Italy, Germany, the UK, and the US. Since then Magnet Theatre has produced five new Early Years works that have been performed in crèches and aftercare centres in Cape Town, the Cederberg Municipality, and Okiep. One of the pieces, SCOOP: kitchen play for carers and babes (director: Koleka Putuma), was the first ever South African work for mothers/fathers and babies under the age of 12 months.

Mark and Jennie also teach in the University of Cape Town (UCT) Drama Department. A book has recently been published about Magnet’s contribution to theatre in South Africa: Magnet Theatre: Three Decades of Making Space. Edited by Megan Lewis and Anton Krueger, Intellect 2015.

2.Themba, Johannesburg

Themba Interactive is Southern Africa’s leading applied drama and theatre organisation that uses performance to engage with and teach audiences about sexual reproduction, health and wellness, HIV/Aids and prevention, human rights, social justice and diversity. Themba Interactive’s commitment to social change is embodied in its diverse staff, projects and outreach initiatives within Southern Africa. It comprises:

  • Themba Interactive Theatre Company
  • Themba Interactive Education, Facilitation and Training Programme

Vision and mission

Our vision
To be an effective model of interactive theatre that enhances participatory dialogue for sustainable social development and transformation.

Our mission
Themba Interactive uses applied theatre to develop sustainable community dialogue, training programmes, and participatory interventions to bring about social behaviour change. We focus on:

  1. Sexual health, reproduction and wellness
  2. HIV/Aids
  3. Human rights
  4. Diversity

Themba works with schools and young people. Both companies are based in cities but work extensively with outlying districts (townships). They use different theatre methodologies but both draw on rich indigenous traditions (dance, music, rhythm, praise-singing etc.) and are highly conscious of ethnic and linguistic diversity and of the historical disadvantages which still impact large sections of the population. Both attempt to engage and activate audiences and receiving communities with long-term ongoing forms of response and realignment.

– contributed by Ralph Yarrow, Prof. Emeritus, University of East Anglia,UK


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