March 20 is the ASSITEJ World Day of Theatre for Children and Young People, an event that is celebrated in over 85 countries across the globe. One of the key initiatives of this celebration and of ASSITEJ's ongoing mission is the "Take a Child to the Theatre Today Campaign", a programme that is aimed at exposing all children and young people, no matter what their background, to the transformative power of the theatre.
In her World Day for Theatre for Children and Young People message, the current President of Assitej, Yvette Hardie, said the following: 'Recently I was reminded of the saying, "You can count the seeds in an apple, but you can't count the apples in the seed." The impact of the theatre experience on children and young people may be impossible to measure precisely, but I believe that it is potent in containing the seeds for countless numbers of apples.'
There are many productions running in South Africa that are capable of planting those seeds in young minds and theatregoers across the country are encouraged to check their local theatre listings and to take a child to the theatre, not only on the 20th of March, but throughout the year.
Just one of the many South African schools who took up the challenge to take their pupils to the theatre was Springfield Convent Senior School, a local girls' school that recently took their Grade 9 class to a performance of MASTER HAROLD... AND THE BOYS at the Fugard Theatre in Cape Town in anticipation of World Day for Theatre for Children and Young People.
A contemporary classic by Athol Fugard, the play tells the story of a 17-year-old boy, Hally, who comes to blows with Sam and Willie, two servants who work in his mother's tearoom in 1950s South Africa. The play examines some of the personal effects of apartheid, revealing the insidious nature of racism and bigotry as it is absorbed and perpetuated by those who lived in the midst of such oppressive and unjust socio-political systems. BroadwayWorld was there to capture some of the pupils' reactions.
The students were full of praise for the cast of three's performances. Laura Kelly admired Alex Middlebrook's performance as Hally, saying that 'his interactions, especially with Hally's mother on the telephone, were outstanding.'
Of Tshamano Sebe's performance as Sam, Claire Rankin said that 'Sebe contrasts the very serious nature and wisdom of Sam brilliantly with a very upbeat personality. His display of the effects of his cruel treatment due to his race later in the play is harrowing. But he acts out his hope for Hally brillinantly, as well as his comical relationship with Willie.'
Themba Mchunu's Willie proved to be something of an audience favourite with the Springfielders. Anna-Maria Hugo thought that he was 'exceptional,' also remarking that 'the actors worked well together on the stage and made it all look natural.'
Joëlle Verfaille also appreciated the trio's work, commenting that 'all the actors stayed in character throughout the entire performance - even when one actor was not involved in the action going on, he was still doing things with purpose.' Verfaille was particularly impressed that Willie never scrubbed the same part of the floor twice.
The girls also loved Julia Anastasopoulos's set design, with Jade Rowe Roberts offering up a typical reaction: 'The setting is captured beautifully on the stage, exactly how I imagined the tearoom would look like (when we read the play in class).'
A couple of the girls commented on Kim Kerfoot's direction of the play. One of these was Kaitlin Byrne, who observed that 'through excellent stage direction, the actors' interactions were authentic, and they looked like they'd been spending afternoons in that tearoom for a long time.'
Perhaps some of the most moving comments had to do with the pupils' experience of the themes that Fugard weaves into his work. Alessia Quercia said that 'watching a performance like this always strikes my heart and really changes my perspective on what an apartheid South Africa must have been like for both black and white people during this time. It educates you about how the system worked without making you feel like you're at school.'
Kayla Boulle though that 'overall it was truly an amazing play and really made you feel as it you were there in the St George's Park Tea Room in the 1950s and struggling with the effects of apartheid.' Visibly moved by the performance, Zimi Mpantsi commented that 'it was all so real,' while Julia Todd recommended that audiences 'should bring a box of tissues with them'.