Magnet Theatre heads to Italy festival

Children’s theatre is important as it can boost children’s literacy and develop their creativity to “imagine the unimaginable”.

Theatre helps cultivate children’s curiosity and allows them to connect it to the importance of reading. It helps young minds learn how to be flexible and how to “connect the head to the heart”.
(Images: Mark Wessels)

Founded by leading artists Jennie Reznek and Mark Fleishman, the Magnet Theatre Company has been acknowledged globally for its contemporary, cutting-edge, socially conscious and engaging productions.
(Image: Bernard Bruwer)

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The pioneering Magnet Theatre Company has been creating unique physical theatre since 1987. Founded by leading artists Jennie Reznek and Mark Fleishman, it has been acknowledged globally for its contemporary, cutting-edge, socially conscious and engaging productions.

Now, five Magnet theatre performers have been invited to perform at the Festival of Theatre and Culture for Early Childhood in March 2014, in Bologna, Italy. This will be their first foray outside South Africa.

Imagining the unimaginable

Reznek, co-director for the company, says that about six years ago the directors designed and implemented a full-time physical theatre training course. The two-year course facilitates university entrance, and entering the professional performance industry as students pick up theatre skills and are prepared for further study.

She says: “There are thirteen people who are now full-time university attendees.”

For the past few years Reznek has been a travelling minstrel in pursuit of artistic knowledge and creative insights. She has been exposed to people and performers from all around the world and is now focusing on theatre for children.

“It is vital to encourage theatre for the youth. There is a huge gap in the market for this niche specialisation and we are expanding our training module to include ‘baby theatre’.”

She says children’s theatre is important as it can boost children’s literacy and develop their creativity to “imagine the unimaginable”.

Theatre helps cultivate children’s curiosity and allows them to connect it to the importance of reading. It helps young minds learn how to be flexible and how to “connect the head to the heart”.

A play has the ability to pull a story off the page and bring it to life. In theatre, a child’s world is changed for the better, she says.

Last year, as part of their training, Magnet Theatre students wrote TREE/ BOOM/ UMTHI, for three- to five- year-olds in Cape Town’s township child care centres. The project received support from the International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People (ASSITEJ) and Roberto Frabetti, the La Baracca theatre festival’s artistic director. La Baracca extended the invitation to the festival in Italy. Founded in 1976, the group works in theatre for children and young people and organises the Festival of Theatre and Culture for Early Childhood.

TREE/ BOOM/ UMTHI involves a tree, a man and a peach. It gently sways through the seasons and shows how the tree, and the man, transform. The 20-minute production is performed in English, Afrikaans and Xhosa, depending on the audience’s language, and uses song, imagery and performers’ bodies to tell the story.

After the production, children are invited to create their own stories, and perform by imitating animals.

A phenomenal opportunity

Reznek says that theatre for the very young is a new performance area in the country, and is supported by ASSITEJ South Africa. She adds that it is extremely important to nourish intelligence in the very young.

She says the festival invitation is a phenomenal opportunity for the performers to watch other theatre productions and to have a platform to perform their own work.

“It’s an amazing experience as the challenges in the townships are great and levels of confidence are low. This is an amazing confidence boost for all of them. It opens up and shows the other worlds and other opportunities out there. They have never been exposed to this before.”

The trip will allow them to observe and learn from other baby theatre projects, and help them learn, grow and access the inspiration to follow their dreams to return to South Africa and grow theatre for the very young in their own communities.

The Magnet Theatre founders believe all South Africans have a responsibility to develop a more just, free and peaceful society.

“Transformation can never be only about developing skill. Fundamentally it involves developing creativity, the ability to imagine alternative realities and dream different futures.”

To contribute to the Magnet Theatre Company travel fund visit their website