Wednesday, 17th May, 2017 marked the official start of the 19th ASSITEJ World Congress and International Theatre Festival for Children and Young People, held in Cape Town, South Africa. Delegates from all over the world were in attendance to witness history in the making, as this was the first ever ASSITEJ World Congress to be held on the African continent. In fact, the 2017 event was also the largest ASSITEJ World Congress to date, with an impressive breadth of workshops, seminars and performances being staged in venues across the city.
Yvette Hardie, the President of ASSITEJ International and Director of ASSITEJ South Africa, spoke of her delight in being able to “showcase Africa to the world.” With African Practitioners taking centre stage at the Cradle of Creativity, she went on to express her desire for Theatre for Young Audiences in Africa to move out of the shadows onto larger, international platforms. As such, she hoped that the impact of this Congress and Festival would be bigger than the twelve days of activities planned in Cape Town, commenting that it should be seen as “the start of a new chapter.”
Marisa Gimenéz Cacho, Secretary General of ASSITEJ International, echoed Hardie’s sentiments by declaring that the event was “for children and we have to teach children to love.” This love, she stressed, should be at the core of all work in Theatre for and with Young People. To follow suit, Anroux Marais, the Western Cape Minister of Cultural Affairs and Sport, spoke of the importance of supporting and sustaining the Arts as a key means of enhancing society.
“To Learn to see the other. to hear the other. in the end it’s an understanding that is an act of love” – Marisa Gimenéz Cacho
Short scenes and skits from some of the Festival’s productions were presented over the course of the evening, including performances from Animal Farm (Dir. Neil Coppen), Phefumla (Dir. Thando Doni), Making Mandela (Dir. Jenine Collocott), Ekhaya (Dir. Koleka Putuma & Jennie Reznek), Mbuzeni (Dir. Koleka Putuma), Red Earth Revisited (Dir. Onny Huisink) and Jazzart Dance Theatre.
South Africa’s original bid video, produced in 2014 in support of their application to host the 2017 event, was shown. Some of the children who had been involved from Vrygrond Township followed this up with a live Physical Theatre Performance that had been directed by interns at ASSITEJ South Africa. The children expressed their hopes and dreams for the future of South Africa – “A country with change, where I can say proudly that I’m South African!”
Jaqueline Dommisse, Festival Director for the Cradle, was left in awe of the young Performers. She reflected on ASSITEJ as being a “spider web of love”, and commented that the connections and networks that would be built during the Cradle were the most important means for Practitioners and Organisations to continue their great work in Theatre for Young Audiences.
The Opening Ceremony also offered an opportunity for ASSITEJ to officially thank all of the sponsors, funders and partners who had generously supported the Cradle, as the event would not have been possible without them.
Finally, Rosemary Mangope, CEO of South Africa’s National Arts Council, concluded the ceremony by praising the passion, rigour and dedication of all of those working in the field of Theatre for Young Audiences.
The evening was a truly international celebration of Theatre for Young Audiences and the palpable feelings of solidarity, love and support for each other’s work was incredibly touching.