What led to you starting Othello for schools five years ago?
The national Education Department decides on the set works the matrics study. They used to choose different ones each year, but in 2009 they decided on Othello and have not changed it since. We are thinking of entering the Guinness Book of Records for the most performances to the biggest audiences over the longest period!
With challenges such as funding for such travelling productions, did you ever think you’d see Othello’s fifth year? What would you say has helped keep this project afloat?
First, the enthusiasm of the teachers, who regularly book their students, and also the excitement of the students themselves. Both make us single-minded about overcoming the challenges. We have been very lucky for the past four years to have a small sponsorship from the University of Johannesburg that covers the transport costs of touring. Business in Arts have been wonderfully supportive with their assistance in terms of a supporting grant and mentorship.
The challenge is to keep the ticket prices as low as possible to enable all students to come.
Of all the feedback you’ve had from pupils, teachers and parents regarding the play as a study aid, what do you consider was your most touching?
There are so many magic moments of appreciation. The response of the audience at the end of every performance is always special. Often students go to the stage door for pics and autographs, and it is wonderful to see Shakespearean actors enjoying the celebrity status of rock stars!
This year we had a call from a teacher whose school has a yearbook for matrics. Last year they asked the matrics what the highlight of their year was, and 29 out of 32 said coming to the theatre to see Othello. Some teachers, who have compared the results of the students who have and haven’t seen the production, say the impact is remarkable, with the students faring far better in their exam if they have seen it.
We also have some students from outlying areas who come back every year to watch the public performance – and bring the rest of their families too!
What is your opinion on the effort the actors put in?
The work ethic and talent of our cast members is outstanding. They are like a family, and there is a sense of excitement when we all get together at rehearsals at the start of the season. They call themselves “The Little Cast That Can”, and that’s exactly what they are! Nothing is too much to ask of them.
And director Clare Mortimer?
Clare does a wonderful job of ensuring that the work is accessible to the students. She is also a matric English teacher, which assists enormously in directing the production so that all the themes are portrayed in a manageable and entertaining two-hour production. Over the years she has refined the script, taking into consideration suggestions from the educators.
Is there any way the public and business could assist in getting disadvantaged pupils to see Othello, such as sponsoring tickets or transport costs?
We do have a sponsorship programme in place, but it would be wonderful to get more support for indigent students. There is a great need for assistance, as many of the learners come from disadvantaged schools. They often study English as a first language, but it is not their mother tongue, and they benefit enormously from viewing the production. Theatre 4 Youth have an initiative called “Bring a Child to Theatre” that aims to get corporates and individuals to sponsor tickets for learners who would otherwise not have an opportunity to attend. I can be contacted on 083 251 9412 for further information in this regard.