Friday 20 April 2012

Undergraduate Drama students at St Mary’s University College, Twickenham, will be visiting South Africa next week to understand ways in which drama techniques can be used for social and political change by working with schools and local communities. The Drama and Applied Theatre students will take part in the two week trip, which will offer them the opportunity to work in local schools, run workshops and tour Durban with a forum theatre performance on gender equality and stereotype in the UK. Drama and Applied Theatre lecturer Matthew Hahn commented, “This trip to South Africa is a great opportunity for students who will have the exciting opportunity to reflect on how their learning in a British university can be further influenced and challenged by the active practice of teachers working in Africa. “I am sure that this year’s trip will prove to be just as successful as last year’s where students developed a verbatim play based on interviews with HIV positive people in London. The play was performed in Lilonge, Malawi and London last year and was later filmed at the Nickelodeon Studios as part of MTV’s ‘Staying Alive’ Foundation.”

‘Theatre for Development’ Exchange Programme at St. Mary’s University College

The Applied Theatre course at St. Mary’s University College is a new programme set up to explore ways in which theatre based research and practice might actively contribute to social & political change.  Currently, we work in partnership with Theatre for a Change (TfaC) in Malawi [though this year we have decided to go to South Africa due to the political instability, see next posts].  TfaC uses innovative strategies to stimulate dialogue, interaction and behaviour change through interactive theatre.  We are currently looking for new partners to expand our work throughout southern Africa to offer a variety of experiences to the St. Mary's students as well as to provide a sustainable basis for knowledge transfer amongst the various participants. The trip to Africa is the culmination of their training in the Applied Theatre course.   The trip will introduce the students to the key challenges in using drama to support national and international development programmes.  Students will work in local communities to understand ways in which Drama techniques can be used for social & political change.  As well as exposing them to a specific cultural context in their course, they will have the chance to reflect on how their learning within a British University can be further influenced and, if necessary, challenged, by the active practice of working in Africa.As part of the exchange, students will bring a performance from the UK to their placement. This performance would provide a stimulus for further explorations and workshops shared by St Mary’s students and others in the community.  Currently, they are creating a piece of Forum Theatre on the topic of 'Gender Balance & Safer Sex' to be performed in South Africa in April 2012.  Last year, the students developed a verbatim play based on interviews with HIV positive people in London.  It was performed in Lilongwe & London in May 2011 and filmed at Nickelodeon Studios in central London in July.  Each year, the topic can change depending on the circumstances of the placement and in consultation with the community. As component parts of their Theatre for Development training, students would also research the socio-political situation in the particular country, research and pursue funding opportunities, administer fundraising events & galvanise support.    Within the exchange, the students would lead drama workshops as well as participate in workshops, exercises & performances led by the community.  The content of the workshops & performances would be decided upon within the community with the drama students bring the form & structure of Forum Theatre, but not the content.  The students’ stay would be programmed in advance with opportunities to be fully engaged & emerged within the community with visits to local schools, hospitals, community centres, etc… all with the possibility of using drama within that particular community.  The programme would also look for opportunities for young people within the community to work closely with the St. Mary’s students. Costs to the communities would be kept to a minimum as the students fundraise in London for this opportunity.  No money comes from the University to support this exchange so a budget would have to be tightly followed and would be worked out in advance.  Funding would also be pursued to support the programme within South Africa and Britain.   It is a vital part of the exchange programme that the St. Mary’s students give as much as they receive.  It needs to be more than a ‘voluntourism’ opportunity, but an opportunity to leave a sustainable legacy with other St. Mary’s students returning for future opportunities.  It would be expected that the community be involved an intrinsic part of the exchange as well.  Debate, discussion & reflection within the community are critical.For more information about the programme, please visit or

South African Bound!!!

Due to the recent political instability within Malawi [though things have seemed to have settled since the death of the President], Drama St Mary's decided to pull the trip to Lilongwe for this year. It was not done lightly and after much reflection. Patrick Young, the director of Theatre for a Change, strongly recommended that we pull the trip due to the recent violence in the capital as well as the fuel and food shortages. We both agreed that as it stands, Malawi is not a place for 11 people who have never been to sub-Saharan Africa before to go. I have always said that Malawi is an excellent introduction to Southern Africa as it truly is the 'warm heart' of Africa; I truly hope that it regains that position soon. The late President had told Western NGO's to 'go to hell.' One of the vehicles that TfaC uses was stoned by protestors protesting the NGO's presence. There has been gun-shots near the TfaC compound. Clearly gunshots are a sign that the situation is changing in Malawi.  It is clear that the situation in Malawi is unstable, and can change very quickly. In this context, with the president telling donors and the international community to 'Go to Hell' as he did three weeks ago, and then encouraging his supporters to mobilise against what he regards as hostile interference from civil society in league with outsiders, it is not a situation that I would recommend taking the students from the UK into. Since making that decision, much has changed in Malawi and as I said at the beginning, I hope [and think] that it is for the better. I would have loved to have gone back to Malawi for a second year in a row. Our plans have now changed to going to Durban. We chose South Africa as I have strong links within that country. Very quickly, my contacts have been able to put together an excellent programme for my students. We are still away from the 26th of April to the 11th of May. We will be working with other young artists in Durban [We were asked to facilitate a workshop for 100+ participants which I immediately said, 'Yes, of course, no problem!!' We will also be performing out plays that we have been developing this term [one on Gender Equality & the other on Stereotype] to be performed at an arts festival in Durban. We will also be working in schools & FE colleges just outside of Durban. It is a wonderful package of opportunities and I am so excited for our students. This blog will really come into its own as we venture to Durban and I report back to it as regularly as possible. Durban is my favourite 'big city' in South Africa [compared to Jo'burg Cape Town], so I must say that it is no secret that I am happy to be heading there. In fact, my students thought that I might have engineered the political instability in Malawi just so we can go to South Africa. I do love the country, but I don't have that sort of pull. I hope that things are looking up for Malawi in the near future. Everything that I have read seems to be pointing in that direction. Certainly, one of my dreams for the Theatre for Development course at Drama St Mary's is to offer my students a choice of workplacements, so us diversifying into South Africa this year can only be of great benefit to the programme. I just wish that it had been under better circumstances. ---- From the BBC: 5 March 2012 Last updated at 11:44 Malawi's President Bingu wa Mutharika has told foreign donors to "go to hell", accusing them of plotting with local groups to topple his government. Mr Mutharika said he was "tired of being insulted" and urged his followers to prevent any protests against him. Civil society said there are no planned protests - and condemned the president for inciting his supporters. The UK and other donors cut aid to Malawi in 2010, criticising its economic policies. Last July, at least 19 people were shot dead by police during anti-government protests over the worsening economy. 'No more nonsense' Mr Mutharika said he has intelligence reports that some Western donor nations were working with local non-governmental groups (NGOs) to hold street demonstrations and vigils against his rule. "I will not accept this nonsense any more," Mr Mutharika said as he opened a road in his home tea-growing district of Thyolo in southern Malawi. The president should be tired of the problems on the ground, not his critics” End Quote Voice Mhone CONGOMA chairperson "If donors say this is not democracy, to hell with you... yes, I'm using that word, tell them to go to hell," he said on Sunday. He urged youth cadets of his ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to "do everything possible to rise up and make sure the demonstrations are thwarted". Malawi's NGO umbrella group, the Council for Non-Governmental Organisations (CONGOMA), says the president has the "wrong intelligence", and no demonstrations are being planned. "The president should be tired of the problems on the ground, not his critics," CONGOMA chairperson Voice Mhone said in a statement. "Unless he exerts all his energy and resources in finding solutions the criticism will not stop," he said. The BBC's Raphael Tenthani in Blantyre says Mr Mutharika has had several run-ins with foreign donors - with the most high-profile row ending in the expulsion last year of the UK's high commissioner after a leaked diplomatic cable quoted him as describing the president as autocratic and intolerant. He won a resounding second term in office in presidential elections in May 2009 - but has since faced criticism over his handling of the economy and his apparently growing intolerance of anyone who criticises him. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, with an estimated 75% of the population living on less than $1 (60p) a day. The country has suffered shortages of fuel and foreign exchange since aid flows stopped two years ago.