A perfect pro-bono partnership

 Richard Hahlo, Dramatic Resources Director, in workshop in 2014

Richard Hahlo, Dramatic Resources Director, in workshop in 2014

At Dramatic Resources we have the privilege to work with our corporate clients all over the world. What you might not know is that sometimes this work enables us to offer our services pro-bono to remarkable projects in underprivileged areas of the region we are delivering in. This summer, for instance, after delivering a Personal Branding course to a global client, one of our trainers delivered a workshop on Shakespearean drama to the students of Johannesburg’s Market Theatre Laboratory.

This was, in fact, the fifth year that our trainers have been able to work with the Market Lab in this way. Our pro-bono partnership with the theatre is something we at DR are immensely proud of, so I decided to have a chat to a couple of our trainers that have delivered there, Richard Hahlo and Lara King, to better understand this alternative side of Dramatic Resources.

Chatting with our Director, Richard, who has visited the Market Lab ten times over the last twenty years, the excitement about the project is infectious. He uses the word ‘vitality’ about 20 times. His remarks on the students’ "lack of academic filter" are fascinating, as he notes that they are not as “intimidated” as UK students - their Shakespeare seems “freer.” As an English Literature graduate myself, I find this particularly interesting, and inspiring.

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I was in fact struck by the portrayal, by both trainers, of Shakespeare “coming alive”, with fresh energy and enthusiasm, so unlike any Shakespearean experience in UK theatres. It became clear that this ongoing project is lauded not only for the stimulating effect is has on the students, but also, for our trainers.

The Market Theatre opened its doors in 1976. Its educational arm, the Market Theatre Laboratory, was founded in 1988 by Barney Simon and Dr John Kani, who stood in defiance of the disintegration of race relations in the country at the time. In Dr Kani’s words, “we insisted that our stages and auditoriums be open to anyone, whatever their race or colour. We created work that was a mirror of our society in which our different cultures might find an image of themselves and each other.” [1]

They faced huge backlash from the government, in a time where strict segregation laws were in place. However, when they were investigated by the Secret Police, it was discovered that because they were in an industrial zone (the Market Theatre was, literally, a converted produce market) the players were legal.

We created work that was a mirror of our society in which our different cultures might find an image of themselves and each other.
— Dr. John Kani, ‘Theatre in South Africa’

The Market Theatre was instrumental in encouraging local playwrights and performers to showcase their work, to explore and express the increasing anger and frustration felt among communities. Even before the end of apartheid in 1994, the Market Laboratory was providing theatrical training to people unable to afford or attend university. Again, in the words of Kani, the Market Lab was there to “create a platform in South Africa for young people who had fallen through the cracks of apartheid and who have been victims of Bantu education, to find their voice to speak out about issues that concerned them and their communities – and give them the skills to do this.” [2] Now, they also work with field workers, who use theatre skills to encourage unity groups such as youth theatres, to initiate conversations about issues such as sexual health and domestic abuse.

...a platform in South Africa for young people who had fallen through the cracks of apartheid and who have been victims of Bantu education, to find their voice to speak out about issues that concerned them and their communities – and give them the skills to do this.
— Dr. John Kani, History – The Market Theatre Laboratory

With the end of apartheid came the end of the cultural boycott, representing new challenges for South African arts: how to maintain the raw energy and creativity of its theatrical origins. Instead of sending out a show in 1994, the UK’s National Theatre approached this by sending a team of 30 actors to work alongside the Market Laboratory, creating workshops on Shakespeare and theatre training. Together with Sir Antony Sher, Sir Ian McKellen and Richard Eyre, DR’s Selina Cadell, Helen Chadwick and Richard Hahlo continued to work with young the drama students and field workers from surrounding townships for a number of years.

When funding started to diminish, all three looked for ways to maintain this relationship with the theatre. As Dramatic Resources grew, Richard incorporated this project into our pro-bono work, delivering the workshops whenever DR was working for corporate clients in South Africa. Consequently, over the last few years, delivering these workshops to the township participants has become a cornerstone of Dramatic Resources’ pro-bono portfolio.

All of the DR trainers that have been involved remarked upon the inspiring energy of the students and field workers, and the impact of that vitality on the words of Shakespeare. Lara King, who traveled to the theatre last year said that it was “refreshing to have such enthusiastic participants - they were already warming up as I arrived!”

Speaking to the trainers, I could see that these workshops are clearly a space where both workshop leaders and participants learn from each other. Richard commented on the texture and richness of the performances and Lara saw her workshop ignited by the introduction of “as many languages and dialects as there were participants.” The participants bring their own song writing and choreography to their pieces, adding dynamic elements to Shakespeare’s words, often in response to the trainers and each other’s input. Lara remains in contact with some participants over Facebook, where they keep each other updated on plans and creative ideas. For her this “says it all, really.”

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As you can see, we at DR feel privileged and incredibly rewarded by this ongoing project with the Market Theatre Laboratory. We manage to sustain this relationship by linking to corporate work in the region and by the generosity of our partners that support this. It not only provides a service to a renowned and important mission within South African Theatre, but also gives our trainers an enormously interesting and to some extent, life-changing experience. We hope we can continue this partnership for many years to come, as well as welcoming many other similar opportunities.

Freddie Cooke

Charity WorkMiko Coffey