The benefits of theatre for children can be seen in the story of Till Heiwecke.
In 2018, 10-year-old Till joined Jungle Theatre Company’s Performing Arts Club in Muizenberg.
At that time, Till found it challenging to be touched by others and struggled to express himself, says Jungle Theatre facilitator, Naledi Tlailane.
Till’s mother attended the first few sessions until, in consultation with the facilitators, she left him there with his peers.
Although sensitive to his needs and allowing him to be shy, his facilitators kept inviting him to participate more and more. When it came to each child preparing a monologue, Till became very nervous about the character he was asked to portray.
“I’d rather die,” he says.
He was instead encouraged to choose a character he felt good about and to write his own monologue.
“Till chose a character he felt passionate about, and we spoke to his parents about the challenges. With their encouragement he wrote the monologue at home,” Naledi says.
Till is now shaking people’s hands and even learning to give hugs.
“I remember when I first met him,” says Naledi. “He was timid and kept to himself. He once said that he thought that ‘the world was not designed for him’.
“We, as facilitators, need to push our participants but also know when to pull back when needed. Till has grown into such a joyful boy. He laughs with the group, participates in every activity and expresses how he feels.”
Till still participates in the Muizenberg Drama Club.
He says: “I think it’s nice, there are fun games we play together, and we do shows, and I like to use my imagination.”
This result is one of many for the 20-year-old Jungle Theatre Company.
The non-profit organisation teaches children by improving communication skills and emotional awareness, promoting team work, self confidence and making connections to their identity, hearts and cultural heritage.
“We encourage young people to talk about and personalise issues, be understanding of others and to ultimately take action,” says Vincent Meyburgh, the artistic director.
He says they want original African theatre to inspire young people to understand and care for the community, culture and nature. Relatable African folk tales, he says, are often under-represented and undervalued, but they have important lessons which invite young people to get in touch with nature, emotions, culture, heritage and identity.
There are openings on the organisation’s board and applicants can email their CV and a motivational letter to: email@example.com The positions are voluntary and unpaid. Visit www.jungletheatre.co.za for more information.