Saturday 27 April 2013

St. Mary's student representitive celebrates South Africa's Freedom Day at the South Africa House, Trafalgar Square, London

An Applied Theatre student representative, Sophie Lacey, was invited back to the South African High Commission by The High Commissioner of the Republic of South Africa His Excellency Dr Zola Skweyiya and Mrs Thuthukile Skweyiya on the 26th of April to celebrate South African Freedom Day, a celebration of the 19th anniversary of the first democratic elections held in South Africa.

15 Applied Theatre students visited the High Commission on Wednesday in preparation for their trip to Durban, South Africa on the 10th of May 2013.  The students were given an architectural tour of the building as well as had the opportunity to speak with Cathy Moruke from the High Commission.  Ms Moruke was so impressed with our students and their trip, that she invited the lecturer and a student representative to return on Friday to meet South Africans who might be interested in our Theatre for Development module. 

Sophie says, ' It was such a great opportunity and one that I will always remember.  I am overwhelmed that I went.  I am so pleased that our course is so unique and gives us such great opportunities. I am looking forward to working in South Africa and revisiting South Africa House to present them with our experiences during our time there.  It was a day to remember, a great cause, event, music and people.  I will always remember the 27th of April for South Africa.'

Thursday 25 April 2013

St Mary’s Drama Students to Visit the South African High Commission in Central London

Drama students at St Mary’s University College, Twickenham visited the South African embassy on the 24th of April as guests of the High Commissioner Dr Zola Skweyiya.

The visit is part of the preparations made by students studying the Theatre for Development module on the Drama and Applied Theatre course. They will visit South Africa next month to run a series of Drama workshops with schools, community groups and students from the University of Kwazulu Natal in Durban.
Using the interactive theatre practice of ‘Theatre of the Oppressed’, the workshops will explore attitudes to gender assertiveness and HIV/AIDS prevention with young South African actors.

Both visits have been organised by Drama lecturer Matthew Hahn whose verbatim theatre play The Robben Island Bible has received international acclaim. The play explores the power of Shakespeare’s words as a site for political resistance and features interviews with many of the anti-apartheid prisoners incarcerated on the island in the seventies and eighties.

Mark Griffin, Academic Director for Drama, commented, “We’re incredibly pleased that Drama St Mary’s students are given these fantastic opportunities to work abroad and gain such an exciting international perspective to the radical  process of theatre making and storytelling.”

Thursday 11 April 2013

The Assessed Element of the Theatre for Development Module

The assessed element of the Theatre for Development module for the students consists of a performance of a piece of Forum Theatre and the delivery of drama workshops whilst on their workplacement in South Africa.  
The subject matter of the Forum Theatre pieces is ‘Gender Balance & Safer Sex.’  This devised play will include the students’ personal research of your own and friends' stories as well as seeking professional advice & guidance on the subject matter that is chosen.
The students have begun devising their pieces and are focusing on three themes that stem from ‘Gender Balance & Safer Sex’.  They include family relationships, work relationships and peer pressure around sexual relationships.  These plays are based on personal experience, research conducted via anonymous surveys and professional guidance.
The workshops will be created during their time in the workplacement and in consultation with the community in which they are delivered.  For instance, the students will need to speak with the principal of Amawushe School in Kwazula Natal to see what sort of activity will be appropriate for the workshops.  The goal of them will be a community performance on our last day of the placement with the full support of the community.

Last year, the performance included a wonderful intervention by the community chief who, during a piece of Forum Theatre, took on the role of the school's principal and tried to sort out the difficulties that were facing the students at the time.  He commented that it was an experience that he was not expecting and that showed him a side of students that he had never seen before.  It is our goal to have the same sort of awareness raising this year as last.

HIV Masterclass with George Casley - 10 May 2013

As a vital part of their preparation for their trip to South Africa, I felt it important for the students to be armed with as much information about the scourge of HIV which is ravaging South Africa [and on the rise in the UK].  This, like the topic of Apartheid, continue to shape the development of the 18 year old country.

George grew up fighting for the understanding and the myth breaking of HIV / Aids in the UK throughout the 1980's, 1990's, and into the 21st century.  He manner of delivery of the facts & myths around how one acquires HIV, the presenting signs of infection as well as the social, political and cultural affects was of great interest [and at times great shock to] the St. Mary's students.

George spoke of the early scare tactics of advertising awareness of HIV and Aids and how that affected those who were infected.  There was general ignorance around the infection which led to utter fear and rejection of men & women who had contracted HIV.

The students were generally unaware of the early campaigns but, even more worryingly, ignorant of the facts that surround HIV / Aids.  As treatment with ARVs have become more successful, a downside to this success is the lackadaisical attitude towards sexual behaviour.  The 'fear' is no longer there.

The students might see the devastating effects of the infection  in South Africa in much greater detail than in the UK due to the UK's stronger treatment regime but also because the communities in which we will be visiting will most likely be the most poverty stricken communities the students have ever encountered. 

George strongly spoke out for the greater need of better nutrition of those who are infected.  His work with The Food Chain in the UK highlights the benefits of a nutritional diet as one of the best methods to stay healthy.  This is certainly the case in South Africa, where acquiring and storing ARVs have proven to be expensive and logistically difficult for many in the rural community.  The government is not a university payer for the drugs and many of them require refrigeration as well as a strict schedule both which are difficult if you don't have the means of refrigeration or a stable schedule to take the drugs at the correct intervals. 

Prevention, then, is the best way to stay healthy and free from HIV especially in South Africa, but also in the United Kingdom.  Our students are preparing interactive forum theatre pieces that examine gender equality issues that they face in the UK sadly in the knowledge that these issues are universal.    The empowerment of women is the key to a reduction in HIV.

Preparation for the Trip to South Africa

As part of their training preparation, each student has had to deliver a twenty minute presentation on a variety of topics of importance when participating in a developmental workplacement.

The topics were:

Human Rights: Children’s rights / Women’s Rights (UK & Africa) [History (UN Human rights convention of 1948) & current events and whether or not Human rights are being successfully implanted in Africa, specifically, but not limited to, South Africa, including relevant laws supporting or undermining human rights] 

Gender Equality / Balance in the UK. What are women’s experiences of equality & balance in the UK? (Including, amongst other topics, Safer Sex negotiation). This must involve primary research into your & your friends’ knowledge & experiences in the subject matter as well as secondary research.  This might form the basis of our Touch Tag performance, so you will want to gauge your classmates’s stories & opinions as well. [This might include verbatim interviews to be presented as monologues]

The important political and sociological issues arising from ‘Westerners’ ‘helping’ and working in Africa specifically citing the work of Robert Chambers and NGOs working in Africa and looking at the BBC Documentary series 'Why Poverty?' and report back on those, amongst other examples].  What is  the effect on ‘Westerners’ as well as those in developing countries?  Give some examples of popular fund raising events and whether or not they were successful [ie LiveAid, etc...].

Drama in health education / Health education through drama (history, UK, South Africa, interactive theatre, radio or television programmes, etc...) [Does it work?  Cite specific examples from both countries (soap operas, etc....)]

Non Violent Communication [NVC] / Behaviour Change Communication [BCC] – practical examples of both [this should be quite interactive with the audience].  How does behaviour change occur?  How can NVC be applied in our everyday life?  How will both be used in our work placement?

Bottom-up policy making & Top-down policy making – examples and pros & cons of each.  Specifically citing Robert Chamber’s book ‘Putting the Last First’*  [I would also like an overview of this book / book report and how it can be implemented in our workplacement]

The effectiveness of specific development programmes in Africa (Does aid work?) [For example, watch the BBC 'Why Poverty?' Documentary series (especially the one that was on Sunday 9th Dec asking the question, ‘Does Aid work?’) and report back on those, amongst other examples].  Is what we are doing [‘development projects’] worth it? What are the differences between aid (monetary) and development (skills development)?

Overview on the country of South Africa (including languages also ‘Tourist Guide’ to Durban & its surrounds).  Find an up to date tourist guide and develop a presentation from there. [get exact locations from me on where we are going & what we will be doing to report to the entire class – present our itinerary]

Leadership Models– what do we (SMUC students & staff) need to ‘bring to the table’ to make our time in South Africa a true ‘exchange’ of practice rather than ‘Developmental Tourism’ / How do we avoid looking like rich Westerners wanting to ‘help ‘them’’ ? [leading from the front, from the middle and from the back]

HIV / Aids (history including myths / spread / etc...)

HIV / Aids (prevention (ABC’s) / treatment / testing)

HIV / Aids (societal effects & rights – including women’s rights / gay rights / etc...)

 HIV / Aids (UK v. South Africa; Europe v. Africa)

The relationship between Gender and HIV (UK & South Africa) specifically citing the work of Theatre for a Change amongst others and how this approach might work in our work placement.

Participatory approaches to Development and how it might contribute to Positive Social Change Specifically citing the work of Robert Chambers’s book ‘Whose Reality Counts?  Putting the First Last.’*  [I would also like an overview of this book / book report and how it can be implemented in our workplacement]

Apartheid - post 1948 / post 1994 [ will need pictures / short videos in a power point presentation]

Current political situation in South Africa / recent events to consider including reflection on 18 years of democracy after apartheid [important events in 2013 – read & watch SA newspapers and television news]

The relationship between Young People and HIV (UK & South Africa) specifically citing the work of Theatre for a Change amongst others and how this approach might work in our work placement.

The goal with these presentations are that each students then becomes an 'expert' on their chosen topic.  This along with an HIV Masterclass with George Casely on 10 May as well as a visit to the South African High Commission on 17 April will give them as good of preparation as possible.

The Itinerary - South Africa 10 to 20 May 2013

From the 10th to the 20th of May, 2013, 18 students will fly to South Africa on South African Airlines to fulfill their Theatre for Development module as a part of the Applied Theatre programme at St. Mary's University College.  They will be joined by two members of staff.

We will fly into King uShakea Durban airport and spend the first night in Umkomaas at a beach front B & B.  On Sunday morning, we will lead our first drama workshop in the local community before taking a mini-bus to our placement at Amawushe School near Port Shepstone in Kwazulu Natal.  During the day, we will work with their students and then in the afternoon, we will work within the community.  The goal will be to have a community performance on the last day of their placement, Thursday 16 May which will involve both the school children and the local community.

From there, we will return to Durban to stay at the Happy Hippo International Hostel in central Durban.  In Durban we will participate in and facilitate a number of workshops with local art / community centres as well as have an opportunity to speak with university students from the University of Kwazulu Natal and visit the local art scene.

We leave Durban on 19 May and arrive early back in London on 20 May.

Theatre for Development Module - South Africa 2013

Applied Theatre students will for the second year in a row fly to South Africa to participate in a 10 day Theatre for Development project.  As a part of the project, they will be placed in South African schools in Kwazulu Natal to facilitate drama workshops with the students, work in community centres in and around Durban and Magabheni Township as well as have the opportunity to work with university students at Kwazulu Natal University.

As component parts of their Theatre for Development training, students have researched the socio-political situation in South Africa, pursued funding opportunities, administer fundraising events & galvanise support.    Within the exchange, the students will 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 has been 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.  

It is a vital part of our 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 as an intrinsic part of the exchange as well.  Debate, discussion & reflection within the community are critical.