Heritage on stage

Drama Club Kids, the Muizenberg Performing Arts Club participants.

The future of African folklore is in the hands of children across the far south, who are contributing – in real ways – to keeping their heritage alive. Their immersion into African folklore is through a year-long artistic programme with Muizenberg-based Jungle Theatre Company.

Here, the children learn not just the folklore and African tales, but they study in-depth, the different ways of telling these stories. They even learn some of their own stories, in the background.

In the first segment of the year, they are told the African tale they will be working with and they then learn how to tell the story themselves.

In the next segment, they learn how to show the story through mime, and then the same story is told through the use of masks and dance. The final part of the year brings all those skills together as the children become ambassadors for their country and the art of storytelling through theatre.

The children, aged between eight and 14, are a true reflection of their country, said Jungle Theatre Company’s artistic director Vincent Meyburgh. He sees them as a healthy microcosm of the country as a whole.

The theatre company, which was registered as an NPO in 2004, has three working groups, one in Khayelitsha, one in Kalksteenfontein, and one in Muizenberg.

The Muizenberg group has participants from Lakeside, Muizenberg, Kommetjie and Vrygond; and Vincent laughs that there is much interpersonal drama, behind the drama.

“It’s what the experience is all about.

“So these children from very different backgrounds are together, learning folklore and aspects of theatre, but they are also learning about themselves and each other.

“And of course, all the folklore stories have hidden messages in them, so we watch as the children access these through the process, too.”

He said there is a lot of honest discussion and discovery among the children as their perceptions and perspectives change, and he says this is thoughtfully balanced by what the play needs.

“Even the process of learning that the play only needs six lions and that means you may have to learn how to be another animal is a skill-set that stands them in good stead. Equally – if you are shy but we need a shy lion, maybe you’re the one for that part. It is all theatre and life,” Vincent grins.

These journeys are facilitated by VIncent and theatre maker Ntombifuthi Mkhasibe. This project is funded by The Rolf Stephan Nussbaum Foundation. The Foundation, set up by Rolf-Stephan Nussbaum to manage philanthropic giving, is a living charitable trust that supports arts and culture, sports, building projects and libraries.

The company is not for profit and when their funding runs out, they rely on the kindness of the public to help them continue their work or for help with transport and refreshment costs.

They also are incredibly grateful to well known illustrator Adam Carnegie, a Muizenberg local, who offers them his artwork as support. Miranda Tait started off as the company’s performance manager, but has expanded her role and duties and is now the overall manager.

She is being helped by Naledi Tlailane who is Jungle’s schools co-ordinator. Vincent and Miranda are at the helm of Jungle, but they say that the magic comes together, woven over the year long program, through the artistic team: Ntombifuthi Mkhasibe, Seiso Qhola, Naledi Tlailani, Joce Engelbrecht, Siyawandisa Badi Seiso Qhola Lukhanyo Langa Mfundo Hashe.

These are the people who keep the heartbeat of the African folklore alive. And their roles are constantly growing. The team has recently learned how to monitor and evaluate each participant in the Jungle shows, so that every child will have a form of progress report.

This was usually done by just Miranda and Vincent, but they have long wanted the team to have more involvement in this process.

“They are the ones closely involved with their children, they see far more the daily struggles and wins, it made sense to equip the team,” Miranda said.

“And while the children are learning the stories, they are also learning life skills; building self-confidence and creating opportunities,” says Miranda. Naturally although the stage holds the allure for most participants, the children are also welcome to be part of the team learning set design, mask building, stage production, directing and other behind the curtain skills.

She explains that Jungle partners with different educational, social and environmental organisations, as well as health and arts organisations and that their performances raise awareness in many of these fields.

Vincent knows the innate connection to expression, well. He says he began performing as a child on his family farm on the outskirts of Pretoria. His childhood presentations of shows to family led to participation in drama at school, and then on to him studying at UCT. From family shows on the farm, to launching his own theatre company.

All of Jungle’s groups were seen recently at the Muizenberg Festival Parade, where they performed together in the closing ceremony. And as year end nears, its performance time for the children.

Next Wednesday, November 29, offers another opportunity to see the future of folklore take its rightful place on centre stage.

On the stage at the Masque Theatre, Muizenberg, at 5pm, the children will be presenting a public performance – a showcase of the culmination of their hard work the past year and an introduction to the theatre company.

Anyone interested in joining next year’s intake is encouraged to attend. This event is open to the public and will be MC-ed by George Mkhululi Smith from the Blacksmith Entertainment Company. Jungle will also perform a preview of their show The Magic Shell. The Magic Shell is interactive storytelling theatre for young children and their families. It reveals the value of African culture, the vital importance of wild life conservation.

The story is set in ancient times on the Wild coast. It starts in a time before people had any stories to tell – a husband and his wife have many children, but no stories to tell them. The mother decides to go on a journey to find stories leaving her husband to look after the home and the children. On her adventure, she learns from various comical wild animals. The mother is challenged to be brave and determined, and to find stories in surprising places.

“The Magic Shell is a beautiful choice for Jungle as it explores how stories come from our connection to nature and the spiritual world. It encourages children to tell imaginative stories and to read. This work has value because it fosters pride in our heritage and language, connects us to nature, brings laughter and opens up channels of creativity,” said VIncent.

Due to their successful Thundafund campaign Jungle will be bringing 50 underprivileged children to the Masque Theatre to come and watch their show.

Beyond this, there is also the year end function to diarise. Jungle Theatre Company will also be presenting The Magic Shell at the Masque Theatre (foyer) from Monday December 18 to Friday December 22 at 11am. Tickets are R80. To book your ticket contact the Masque ticket line on 021 – 788 1898 or email: bookings@masquetheatre.co.za

For more information about Jungle Theatre Company call Miranda Tait on 021 788 5641 or email her at: info@jungletheatre.co.za