Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Educational Outreach

There will be an Educational Campaign to the project looking at Leadership & Citizenship through the prism of Shakespeare’s writing and the men on Robben Island who became the leaders of the democratic South Africa. This component will dovetail with the National Curriculum Citizenship module through the publication of Education Resource packs to be used as a resource for teachers, students, researchers or anyone wanting background information on this play. We are committed to making this work available for youth education. Our intention is also that young people – specifically those who are under-represented and who may otherwise have no interest in exploring Shakespeare’s works – be exposed to this story and its themes of leadership, social responsibility, courage, conflict resolution, anti-racism, anti-violence and other positive and transformative messages.
Many students from St. Mary’s University College at the reading in March who are too young to remember the Apartheid government in South Africa commented that, for the first time, they could understand & relate to Shakespeare and have now a better understanding of the Apartheid regime. These students, many of whom do not fully engage with the theatre, said that they could now understand the power that theatre can bring to social change. Judging from the increased level of engagement by both the student and non-student audiences (as exampled in the Q & A following the reading, the conversations that I have had face to face and on the phone with students and non-students about the project), the reading of The Robben Island Bible has promoted new ideas, helped people to see and use theatre in new contexts, formats & places. There will be an educational component to the project which will dovetail with the National Curriculum Citizenship Education through the publication of education resource packs. Within the education resource pack, we will highlight the Black South African leaders who serve as examples of role models and leaders. These packs will be in support with the policies and aims of the educational authority and other public organisations that target educational opportunities. During the interviews conducted last year, employees of the Robben Island Museum supported the project in a variety of ways. Currently, I am in negotiations with this public organisation to see how best The Robben Island Bible can further their mission to educate & engage not only South Africans, but also the thousands of people from the US, UK, Europe and the rest of the world who visit the prison

The Supporters & Contributors

The project has gained the support of many prominent South Africans and international organisations which have developed it into a strong network of partners, collaborators and promoters to help realize the goal of this project. They include the British High Commissioner to South Africa, Paul Boateng; the head of the Education Department at the Robben Island Museum, Dedrie Prins-Solani; the South African High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Ms Lindiwe Mabuza; Tony Award winning actor Dr. John Kani; Dr Sonia Massai, Reader in Shakespeare Studies, English Department at King's College London; the British Council in South Africa, the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund UK and the Royal Shakespeare Company amongst others.
All of these partnerships will greatly extend the reach of the project and are involved at an appropriate level.
Steph O’Driscoll, an award winning young theatre director and recent graduate from St. Mary’s said, ‘I thought it was a great concept, thought provoking, and powerful. It was the first thing I have seen for a while that I haven’t fallen asleep in and it has made me excited again about theatre. John’s views on Shakespeare (not caring for the literacy figure that England has created) should feed into the play which parallels telling the story of these men’s lives through Shakespeare. It was genius the way they corrected you and you do not come across as ignorant for not knowing the correct pronunciations. It roots the idea that this is these particular men’s stories and their history, no one else could possibly understand fully or get it completely correct.’

Contributors: John Kani -Theatre credits includes Driving Miss Daisy, Othello, The Blood Knot, The Island, Waiting for Godot, Playland, Duet for One, Sizwe Banzi Is Dead, and My Children! My Africa! Several of these productions and many others have been performed to audiences across the world. The Island, which won the Toronto Theatre Award 2001 for Best Production, was co-written by Kani, Athol Fugard, and Winston Ntshona – the same team also wrote Sizwe Banzi Is Dead. Kani won the Best Actor Tony Award on Broadway for his performances in these plays. In 2004 he performed in the Greek classic Antigone at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown and then at Baxter Theatre Centre. His films include The Wild Geese, The Grass Is Singing, Marigolds in August, Victims of Apartheid, An American Dream, A Dry White Season, Sarafina, and Saturday Night at the Palace, for which he won a Taormina Golden Award at the Milan International Film Festival. In 1993 he received a special Obie Award in New York for his extraordinary contribution to theatre. Kani’s accolades for his contribution to South Africa and culture include The Avanti Hall of Fame Award; a National African Federation Chamber of Commerce Merit Award; the Rotary Club’s Paul Harris Fellowship Award; an Honorary Doctorate of Philosophy from the University of Durban, Westville; an Honorary Doctorate of Literature from Rhodes University and the 2000 Hiroshima Renaissance Merit Award for Peace in Stockholm. Kani is a trustee of The Market Theatre Foundation and Chairman of the Apartheid Museum. In 2005 he was awarded the Order of Ikhamanga OIS by President Thabo Mbeki for his contribution through the arts to the liberation of South Africa.
Scilla Elworthy Ph.D - Scilla is founder of Peace Direct, and founder and Chair of Oxford Research Group, established in 1982 to develop effective methods whereby people can bring about positive change on issues of global and local security by non-violent means. Previously she was a consultant at UNESCO on women’s issues, a director of Minority Rights Group in France and has worked for ten years in southern Africa. In May 2003 she was awarded the Niwano Peace Prize and has three times been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1976 she helped organise the building and launch of the Market Theatre, South Africa’s first multiracial theatre and parent theatre of the Market Theatre Laboratory, partner with The Robben Island Bible project. In 2002 she launched a production at the Royal Opera House theatre in London entitled Transforming September 11th; in 2004 she provided the basic material for Max Stafford Clark’s acclaimed production of “Talking to Terrorists” at the Royal Court Theatre in London; and in 2007 her case study on the siege of Fallujah in Iraq was used as the basis for Jonathan Holmes production of “Fallujah” at the Truman Brewery in Brick Lane. Currently, she is advising Richard Branson, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Kofi Annan, President Jimmy Carter and Peter Gabriel on the creation of ‘The Elders’ an organisation created to address the current lack of independent moral global leaders.
Matjamela Motloung (Head of Market Theatre Laboratory) - Theatre administrator who has had extensive training in both performing and management. Has successfully working on Arts Alive for Soweto with MBS community theatre group as well as a part of Southern African Arts Administrators who set up the initial Southern African Theatre Initiative. Matjamela has also hosted and facilitated a number of workshops and co-ordinated a number of festivals and conferences in and around Southern Africa. Matjamela has trained with the acclaimed Royal National Studio (UK) and the Stockholm Stads Teater (Sweden), and the Peter Brook Company (France) as an actor and director. Matjamela directed four fingers by Makhosi Dlamini for the Lab Community Festival and is currently co-director of the Minuature Theatre Company for Kids in Pietermaritzburg Kwa Zulu Natal.Matjamela is one of the leading voices in the push for a transformed theatre industry in South Africa.
Tod Higginson (videographer) - Studied Drama and Theatre Arts at Goldsmiths College, where he was awarded a 1st Class BA Hons degree in 2003. During his time at Goldsmiths, he specialised in technical work, including audio, video, and lighting, as well as directing for live and recorded performance. Tod has worked extensively with DV and High Definition video formats since 2000, and has been employed at a leading DVD Authoring company, dealing with major releases for film and TV companies, since 2003.
Masie Mojela (researcher) – Has a Bsc Degree (Physics and Chemistry) from the University of Johannesburg and has worked in community development in Soweto.

Honouring the Unsung Heroes of the Struggle against Apartheid

Through this project, I want to honour the unsung heroes of the Struggle against Apartheid. Too often, Nelson Mandela is the only name people recognize. He has been looked upon as the sole contributor to the overthrow of the Apartheid Government. It is a perception that he has fought and continues to fight to this day. John Kani said at the reading, "There's a tendency to put Mandela in the centre, and call everything 'Mandela'. In my life, I have never met a man so humble. He's a leader that would never use the personal pronoun. Always, 'the people', 'the movement', 'the government', 'the ANC', 'the people of our country'; and thus he would be the first to say, ‘It's not about me.’ " It is my goal through this play to get the names Kathrada, Mlangeni, Daniels, Cooper and many other unsung heroes as familiar to the audience as the name Mandela.
Throughout the years that I have been developing this work, I have spoken to High Commissioners, rehearsed with a Tony Award winning actor and listened in awe to political leaders who spent much of their lives in prisons. I have met with charities, theatre companies and Universities who are interested in partnering with this play. Throughout this process, I have learned that you must be absolutely passionate, determined and tenacious to break through to them and get your voice heard. I have never worked so hard on a piece of art in my life. Through this play, I have had life changing experiences and have grown because of it. From a professional & personal point of view, this project will help develop the quality of my work in the future through the honing of my work ethic, contacts that I have established, respect that I have gained for pursuing this project and emotions this play has touched. The international aspect of this play will have a positive effect on my future work and provide opportunities for people in England to engage with my work both now and in the future through the establishment of contacts in South Africa and Southern Africa, a working relationship with the Market Theatre, new ideas for work surrounding Robben Island and positive relationships between artists in South Africa and in the United Kingdom.

Anthony Sampson biography on Nelson Mandela

In 2oo1, I read the Anthony Sampson biography on Nelson Mandela. Tit mentions the existence of Sonny’s ‘Bible.’ From that moment on, I was intrigued by the theatrical possibilities of this ‘Bible.’
In 2oo6, the ‘Bible’ left South Africa for the first time to be a part of the ‘Complete Works’ Festival in Stratford-upon-Avon. I viewed the ‘Bible’ for the first time there and from then on, I knew that I needed to do this project.
Since 199o, South Africa has intrigued me. I see in it huge potential as a young & struggling democracy. After visiting South Africa and, in particular, Robben Island for the first time in 2oo3, I fell in love with the people, the landscape and the culture. I hold the country in high regard because of the difficulties it has faced and are currently attempting to overcome.
My South African friend and fellow researcher, who grew up in Soweto, said that he was so proud to be working on the interview project with me because of what it meant to him as a South African man. When we interviewed his leaders, he could not help to hide his absolute glee and respect that he had for these men. The pride welled up in his chest when he spoke with them. That pride & respect is of huge import to me as a human being. Through the Phase 1 research, I found Shakespeare’s work to be an expression of the character of these former political prisoners and something that holds great resonance within them. I was told by one former political prisoner that, in order to be taken seriously, a South African leader must quote Shakespeare in each speech he gives. This impact of Shakespeare’s words when read by men under the oppression of Apartheid reflects its resonance beyond the English culture.

Process to Develop the Script

I plan to use the interviews (transcripts & video recordings) from the first phase of this project, the chosen Shakespearian texts & the artists’ research as sourcework to script the multiple stories that surround Sonny’s smuggled copy of the ‘Complete Works.’ I have received a commitment from the Market Theatre Laboratory in Johannesburg for rehearsal space and artists.
My method of working has close resonance with the method that John Kani and Winston Ntshona developed with Athol Fugard in their plays, The Island & Sizwe Banzi is Dead. At the recent reading of The Robben Island Bible, John Kani said, ‘When we created, in 1972, Sizwe Banzi Is Dead, we didn't have a script, it was being improvised based on personal experience of what was happening around us and the news that we heard.’
This play needs to be developed in South Africa in order to give audiences in the United States as close to the theatrical ‘truth’ of these stories as possible. We want this play to achieve a ‘truth’ that the artists, the former political prisoners who were interviewed and the audiences will find resonance in. We are very aware of past colonialization by whites in South Africa both in the political and theatrical worlds and want to do everything to avoid even the appearance of another one. This second phase of script development represents the further progression of 8 years of work on this project.


Sonny Venkatratham was a South African political prisoner held on Robben Island in the 1970’s. The Robben Island Bible is based on his copy of ‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare’ and interviews with several political prisoners who were also held there. Venkatratham smuggled his copy of the ‘Complete Works’ into the prison by persuading his warders that it was a religious Hindu ‘Bible.’ He then surreptitiously passed the book to a number of his fellow political prisoners in the single cells. Each of them marked his favourite passage in the ‘Complete Works’ and signed it with the date. It contains thirty-two signatures, including those of Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki, Ahmed Kathrada and Mac Maharaj, all luminaries in the struggle for a democratic South Africa. These men signed passages within the text, which they found particularly moving, meaningful and profound. The selection of text provides fascinating insight into the minds, thinking and soul of those political prisoners who fought for the transformation of South Africa. It also speaks to the power of Shakespeare’s resonance with the human spirit regardless of place or time.

February 2o1o

In February 2o1o, I aim to continue the development of my play, The Robben Island Bible at the Market Theatre Laboratory in Johannesburg with a three week development period.

The project is divided into three phases:
Phase 1 – Interview Stage (October & November 2oo8) – This phase consisted of interviewing former Robben Island political prisoners. These interviews, along with selected texts from ‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare,’ will form part of the foundation for the play. This phase culminated in a staged reading at the Richmond Theatre in March 2oo9 featuring John Kani and other members of the cast from the RSC’s The Tempest.
Phase 2 –Script Development (February 2o1o) – This phase will consist of working with South African actors, a South African dramaturge, a South African researcher, a videographer & a producer to develop a script based on interviews and chosen texts and an educational outreach campaign. Further interviews of the former political prisoners will also be conducted and recorded on video for a multi-media exhibition of the play – which will be featured in the reception area of the theatre in which the play is performed. This phase will culminate in a staged reading of the play at the Indiana University Union Board. It will also produce a script for Phase Three.
Phase 3 – Rehearsal & performance of the play along with the presentation of the multi-media exhibit in the foyer of the producing theatre and the launch of an education outreach programme.

I want to showcase Shakespeare’s work to a new audience and to expand the range of Shakespeare’s work in a way that has rarely been explored. I also want to expose the rest of the world, many whom may only recognize the name ‘Mandela,’ to the unsung heroes of the Struggle against Apartheid in South Africa. Each of these most gentle of men has so much to show the world about leadership, citizenship, resistance and reconciliation.
The central idea behind this project is to honour the stories of the former political prisoners who have given of themselves in their interviews. It is the driving force behind my insistence on working in South Africa with South African artists to validate the development of this play.