Children no longer silent...
Applied theatre takes
centre stage this year at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival with UJ Arts and Culture’s production of Dear Mr Government, Please May I Have a Meeting with You Even Though I’m Six Years Old.
Applied theatre occurs when a group of people working in a community use the disciplines of drama and theatre to address an issue of social concern.
Director, Jessica Lejowa, is interested in renegotiating and contravening accepted theatre practices as a way of creating theatre that is more inclusive and reflective of changing political and social currents.
Conflict and displacement have become common occurrences in southern Africa, raising a great deal of concern about human rights violations.
People have lost their lives, livelihoods, families and dignity. Others have lost the ability, impetus or willingness to intervene, as others have lost the ability or hopes of having their voices heard. Yet, throughout these episodes and over the years, the voices of children have been the most faint, the most silent.
Platforms upon which the experiences of children and their opinions about the mechanics of violence are prioritised, are rare occurrences and rarer still, are their experiences vocalised in the public or creative arena.
Beyond the horror that children experience when they are caught in these large scale adult-made disasters, the experiences of girls are often more fraught by virtue of sexual difference.
Girls navigate war, violence, poverty and displacement in specific ways. Dear Mr Government, Please May I Have a Meeting with You Even Though I’m Six Years Old presents these imperative concerns with the objectives of stimulating discourse and becoming implicated by awareness and choice, and in so doing, accelerate and amplify the transformational process.
A team of researchers, Lesotho-based director Jessica Lejowa and performers Bongile Lecoge-Zulu and Cherae Halley spent extended periods of time with groups of orphaned children in Joburg as well as children in Maseru, where they, through role-play, allowed the children the opportunity to address their governments.
For these children, the governments took on numerous faces such as the police, their teachers, those who provide for their basic needs and other significant people whose decision-making affects their lives.
The predominant and recurring concern raised by the children revolved around their homes. Where is home? When can they go home? Will they be taken care of at home? Will it be safe at home? Heartbreaking accounts of mistrust were observed.
“We’ve met so many children, heard so many stories, collaborated with so many individuals and organisations that we’ve come to a deeper appreciation of collaboration, theatre-making and change through theatre,” Lejowa says. “We need to ensure that the opinions, experiences and welfare of children become a central agenda in public policy. Children are citizens and the protection and advancement of their interests must become an urgent prerogative for all of us.”
Dear Mr Government, Please May I Have a Meeting with You Even Though I’m Six Years Old, produced by Grace Meadows from UJ Arts and Culture, is an initiative that boldly supports and promotes sustainable theatre and arts projects that are indicative of creative thinking, developing audiences and building collaborative partnerships and relationships.
Following the National Arts Festival, a return run is scheduled at UJ Arts and Culture’s Con Cowan Theatre, October 24-29.
Contact Lakin Morgan-Baatjies on 011 559 2690.
* First 10 readers to book get two complementary tickets.