STAR POWER: Winners of the National Acting Competition for High School Learners, back, from left, Du Toit Albertze (Namakwaland), Luke White (Paul Roos Gimnasium), Wian Taljaard (Cradock), Tshegofatso Mabutla (HTS Tom Naude), and, front, Jumaine Hansen (Durbanville), Sesethu Ntombela (Cradock), Carla Schmidt (DF Malan) and Nienke Geldenhuys (Durbanville).

For those pupils who want to study in the arts, the message from Karen Meiring, director of Afrikaans channels at DStv, was as sweet as music. “Drama is a career and there’s an industry out there,” she encouraged them. “Tell your parents.”

This flouted the old adage, so regularly quoted, which warns Mrs Worthington not to put her daughter on the stage.

But the contenders in the final rounds of the National Acting Competition for High School Learners, held in Cape Town recently, had no such qualms. They knew their stuff when it came to acting, and it was fantastic to experience the budding talent and know that theatre and the screen (big and small) was something that still played a huge part when career choices were being made by youngsters.

If there is criticism, it was with the choice of material, which sometimes seemed at odds with the young contestants. It might be teachers (school or private) who make these decisions, but perhaps it will benefit these young performers to work with material, preferably local, with which they can identify. How can someone at 16 possibly know what Salieri, Mozart’s tyrannical competitor, had on his devious European mind when battling his young charge?

Or even those border fighting stories? Today’s boys hardly see weapons, apart from on their computer screens when playing games. Those are the stories of their parents and it’s time for them to find their own voices and tell stories about who we are now – 20 years into democracy.

That’s exactly what the big winner, Jumaine Hansen, a Grade 12 pupil from Durbanville Hoërskool, did right. He told stories that felt close to home (and the bone) which is why the authenticity and honesty of his performances shone through.

Luke White (Paul Roos Gimnasium) was placed second and also received the prize for best junior (grades 8 and 9). There’s much to come from this young thespian. Carla Schmidt, a student of Zandra Duvenhage, was third, and with her comic flair, she has her market neatly targeted for the future.

Samuel Jumat from Hoërskool George received the bursary, which will help him fund his studies to become a drama teacher. And that is what this competition does so brilliantly. It shows pupils the way and if they have the talent and work hard, they’re also offered the opportunity.

A bonus of the competition is the staging of a professional production, Vaselinetjie, directed this year by TV director Henry Mylne (7de Laan), with the following contestants: Du Toit Albertze (Namakwaland); Patricia Baadjies (Porterville); Jessica Badenhorst (DF Malherbe); Jumaine Hansen (Durbanville); Samuel Jumat (George); Jeandré Jansen van Nieuwenhuizen (Martin Oosthuizen); Johan Jordaan (Brackenfell); Caleb Louw (Swartland); Sesethu Ntombela (Cradock); Carla Schmidt (DF Malan); Nicola van der Westhuizen (Zwartkops) and Brendan van Zyl (Duineveld).

Kobus Burger, head of drama at RSG (Afrikaans radio), also selected nine pupils who will be used in radio dramas and series.

All of these productions, as well as a stint on Binnelanders for finalist Sesethu Ntombela, means the young theatre aspirants are exposed to the reality of what might be their future. This kind of encouragement is priceless.

The national competition received a record 480 entries from around the country earlier this year and, following auditions in March, 70 finalists were selected. These then participated in the four knockout rounds. The eight finalists each had to present a programme of three solos on the final night.

Under the guidance of Herman van der Westhuizen, Hoërskool Bellville organises the annual competition. This passionate theatre patron started the school competition initially for his school’s drama students and developed it into a national competition. It has paved the way for many talented actors to get a foot in the door.

• For more information contact Herman van der Westhuizen at [email protected] or 021 948 1801.

• Diane de Beer was one of the judges.