15 African playwrights have been selected for the “New Writing for Young Audiences in Africa” programme run by ASSITEJ South Africa in partnership with the Kennedy Center’s New Visions/New Voices programme (US) and the Soweto Theatre.
The call for new script ideas opened at the end of last year and after a plethora of entries, the judging panel selected by ASSITEJ SA, have made their final selection. The playwrights are: Tsungayi Hatitye (Zimbabwe), Neo Kebiditswa (Botswana), Katlego Kolyane-Kesupile (Botswana), Jon Keevy (South Africa), Sophia Mempuh (Cameroon), Lereko Mfono (South Africa), Mojalefa Samson Mlambo (South Africa), Jennifer Bryson Moorcroft (South Africa), Koleka Putuma (South Africa), Khanyisa Sigwanda (South Africa), Mbasa Tsetsana (South Africa), Tamara Shultz (South Africa), Myer Taub (South Africa), Baeletsi Tsatsi (South Africa) and Tosin Tume (Nigeria).
“As we’re reading, we look for excellent plays that will thrive in a workshop setting”, noted Deirdre Kelly Lavrakas of New Visions/New Voices; “and the selected writers shared intangibles like connection with their audience, clarity of vision, and excitement – sometimes the words seemed to just jump right off the page.”
The programme will work with the playwrights to develop their ideas into fully-fledged scripts over the coming months, with the end results possibly being presented at the ASSITEJ World Congress and Performing Arts Festival to be held in Cape Town in 2017. Yvette Hardie, ASSITEJ South Africa director and President of ASSITEJ International, explains that “This programme is part of our Congress incubation… in this case, we are focusing on incubating new writers for theatre for young audiences. Good scripts are vital in connecting with our audience – we need scripts that speak to the context and culture of young people with authenticity, empathy, and immediacy!”
The first phase of the programme will bestaged-readings of the first drafts to be read at the inaugural African Youth Theatre and Dance Festival at Artscape on 22 – 27 June. This new festival has been supported by the Department of Arts and Culture’s Mzansi Golden Economy funding and brings together several partners who have a commitment to working with young audiences -a core function of ASSITEJ South Africa. Artscape and AITA/IATA – the International Amateur Theatre Association – are also partners in this exciting new venture. Participating programmes and organisations are Brouhaha UK, Magnet Theatre and Dance for All. The project coordinator is theatre-maker, Jaqueline Dommisse, whose groundbreaking productions have demonstrated a commitment to theatre which speaks truthfully and forcibly about current realities.
For the readings, the scripts will be performed by young people who form part of Artscape’s educational programmes. Through their active participation in the readings, these young people will be able to provide sound feedback to playwrights on their work, and in particular on whether or not the work is reaching them as the targeted age-group. They will also have an opportunity to engage with playwrights from different parts of Africa and with young people from neighbouring countries and communities. This is particularly important in the present context.
As the flames of the recent xenophobia attacks simmer down, the scars of the events will live on in the minds and hearts of South Africans and in the consciousness of those abroad. The festival comes at an unfortunate, but important moment, when artists need to nurture and develop young audiences through the power of live performance and storytelling to heal and reconnect the soul of South Africa and Africa.