Theatre helps inner city youth

An inner city theatre project is helping children to develop an understanding of the world around them through theatre, performance art and public speaking.

The Hillbrow Theatre Project is run out of the Hillbrow Theatre – the old Andre Huguenot Theatre –and offers after-school performance art programmes to inner city children, either those who live in the area or attend school in the CBD. By teaching them about live performance, the project facilitators hope to build the children’s confidence along with their skills in public speaking, voice and acting.

Hillbrow Theatre Project 1 editedAn inner city theatre project is helping children to develop an understanding of the world around them through theatre, performance art and public speakingLiving in the inner city of Johannesburg is a daunting prospect, even for the most hardy and street smart of us. Children who grow up here often encounter hardships and are exposed to drugs, violence and xenophobia daily. The Hillbrow Theatre provides a safe haven for these children and an environment where they can build an understanding of these issues through play making and storytelling.

Its drama workshops give the youngsters the chance to express themselves and to develop their social skills by interacting with the facilitators as well as with their peers, and deal with these issues in a constructive manner.

About working with the children, one of the adjudicators in the 2011 & 2012 Inner City High Schools Theatre Festival, Napo Masheane, says: “It is amazing how young people, given a chance, start to speak about who they are and where they come from; all of us found pieces that made us part of their lives.”

Working as a team or part of a collective is one of the soft skills that these children learn through the theatre project. It is a skill that will undoubtedly make their lives a little easier as they grow older and become contributing members of society.

The project

Started in 1999 by a group of students, the Hillbrow Theatre Project was initially run from a theatre owned by the Lutheran Church in the inner city.The Lutheran Church decided to start outreach programmes to engage the new community in Hillbrow in 1999.

The students decided to share their skills with the community in the hope that they could make a positive impact on the youth living in the area.

The community was first approached in 2000 and Barnato Park High School and St Enda’s Secondary School were chief among the first institutions to benefit from the project. Since then, its Inner City High Schools Drama Festival has grown significantly, and now more than 28 schools take part.

Facilitators say they find great joy in interacting with the children and giving them a chance to express their views in an environment that is conducive to their learning, and at the same time teaching them about theatre and performance art.

How they make a difference

Gerard Bester, one of the facilitators, says: “Theatre is a different space; it’s a provocative space, an untraditional space where you can imagine, fantasize and provoke ideas that may otherwise be shunned in other areas of the community … This project is about self-esteem, confidence and for kids to think about the world in a different way, and also about team building.”

Teachers play a huge role in helping children to understand the world, he adds. “We all remember the great teachers that we have had in our lives, those one or two educators who gave something special to us and we here at the Hillbrow Theatre Project hope that we can provide such role models to the children involved in the programme.”

Hillbrow Theatre Project 3 editedWorking as a team or part of a collective is one of the soft skills that these children learn through the theatre project (Images: Hillbrow Theatre Project)Those involved in the Hillbrow Theatre Project believe that arts and culture are important because they enable children to express views, get to know themselves better, get to know the world and how they interact with it.

This sentiment is made clear in the mission statement: “The Hillbrow Theatre Project’s goal is to provide quality performance art programmes to inner city school going kids and youth to enrich their lives by developing resilience and creative thought.”

The facilitators of the Hillbrow Theatre Project have done an amazing job so far, but know there is still a lot more that they can do to enhance the lives of inner city youth. They appeal to anybody willing to help not to hesitate in doing so. The theatre is in need of funding to continue the work, as well as for a new lighting board and decorative materials such as paint.

To make a donation or to find out more about the Hillbrow Theatre Project visit the website, or contact it on telephone 011 720 7011, fax 011 725 2760, or email: hillbrowtheatre@outreachfoundation.co.za, or on its Facebook page, or by post to 14 Kapteijn Street, Hillbrow, Johannesburg, 2001.