Thursday, March 20, 2014

Theatre for Children and Young People World Day : Message by DR JOHN KANI

I was born seventy years ago. I grew up in the township of New Brighton outside Port Elizabeth. Life for me and many of my friends was to wake up and if you are very lucky, you go to school. Otherwise you would just hang around the township and watch your life being wasted away by the very cruel Apartheid System. It was not compulsory for our parents to take us to school and they had to pay for our education.

One day our English teacher took us to see a production of Macbeth by William Shakespeare at the Opera House in the city of Port Elizabeth. We were all excited. Oh no, not to see the play; it was the opportunity to go to town. It was the bus ride that we were looking forward to. We sat in the theatre, the lights went off slowly in the auditorium. The curtain came up and magic happened. That was my first experience of being in a real theatre. From that day in 1958, my life was never the same again. I did not understand the play that much but being there in that theatre made me feel part of the magic that was happening on that stage. I could not stop talking about the play and the experience of that day. I even, for a moment, forgot about Apartheid; I even forgot that I live in a township where you could see and smell poverty. I was transported into a new world of not only my own imagination, but also into a bigger world of possibilities. I know that education is a key to everything. Theatre is a key that opens the door into your own imagination. From that day I promised myself that I will one day be on that stage telling all the stories that my grandmother used to tell us every night before we went to sleep.

Taking a child to the theatre is a gift that empowers the child to want to be heard. It makes the child believe that he or she also has a story to tell one day.

Bonsile John Kani

Born 1943, New Brighton, Eastern Cape, South Africa, is a South African actor, director and playwright.

Kani joined The Serpent Players (a group of actors whose first performance was in the former snake pit of the zoo, hence the name) in Port Elizabeth in 1965 and helped to create many plays that went unpublished but were performed to a resounding reception.

These were followed by the more famous Sizwe Banzi is Dead and The Island, co-written with Athol Fugard and Winston Ntshona, in the early 1970s. He also received an Olivier Award nomination for his role in My Children My Africa!

Kani's work has been widely performed around the world, including New York, where he and Winston Ntshona won a Tony Award in 1975 for Sizwe Banzi Is Dead and The Island. These two plays were presented in repertory at the Edison Theatre for a total of 52 performances.

Nothing but the Truth (2002) was his debut as sole playwright and was first performed in the Market Theatre in Johannesburg. This play takes place in post-apartheid South Africa and does not concern the conflicts between whites and blacks, but the rift between blacks who stayed in South Africa to fight apartheid, and those who left only to return when the hated regime folded. It won the 2003 Fleur du Cap Awards for best actor and best new South African play. In the same year he was also awarded a special Obie award for his extraordinary contribution to theatre in the USA.

Kani is executive trustee of the Market Theatre Foundation, founder and director of the Market Theatre Laboratory and chairman of the National Arts Council of SA.

Circulated by Indian Peoples Theatre Association in India

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