Youth Theatre is Growing in Leaps and Bounds

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– More Theatre Centres Coming this Year By Frederick Philander WINDHOEK Various national youth theatre projects are to be implemented this year by Assitej-Namibia (Organization of Theatre for Children and Young People), it was announced by the executive committee of the organization. According to Assitej-Namibia’s national chairperson, David Ndjavera, nine other town-based theatre centres among school-going youth will be established this year. “We already have eight active and operative centres in the northern, eastern and southern parts of the country – thanks to the financial support of the Finnish Embassy in Namibia. These centres are strategically of great importance for our educational outreach programme to the nation,” said David Ndjavera in an Art/Life interview this week. The Namibian towns boasting Assitej-centres include Tsumeb, Grootfontein, Otjiwarongo, Gobabis, Okahandja, Rehoboth, Mariental and Gibeon. “Our facilitators have already resumed their pioneering work at Keetmanshoop this week and will proceed from there to Karasburg and LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz. Thereafter, they will move to the west, north-west, north and the north-east, thus completing the national structure of the organization which was started two years ago with the help of Assitej-Finland,” Ndjavera said. The other towns identified for the establishment of centres include Walvis Bay, Swakopmund, Opuwo, Oshakati, Rundu and Katima Mulilo. “Also of national interest is the fact that we will this year continue with the staging of the school section of the annual Youth Theatre Festival which, after a number of years, was reactivated last year. The school festival will be staged on June 21 at Keetmanshoop as part of our own decentralization programme. Everything cannot only take place in the capital. We have to involve rural communities in our activities as a matter of urgency,” said Ndjavera, who announced that the second general meeting of Assitej-Namibia will also be held at the southern town. “The six plays currently in the process of being created by youth workshop facilitators and participants, will compete with each other in June at the school festival. These plays are being considered for publication in an anthology, which is to be printed in November this year. It will be the first educational youth theatre book, which we hope to submit to the Ministry of Education for consideration as prescribed works for senior secondary schools,” he said. As part of its empowerment programme, Assitej-Namibia will send a representative to Lusaka in May this year to attend a three-week puppet workshop in Zambia. “It is important that we send someone to this and other workshops to learn skills for implementation into our system, especially aimed at involving the primary section of Namibian schools. We want to also introduce theatre in this section as part of our strategy to bolster theatre among all sections of the Namibian youth. Late last year we also sent a representative to a children theatre writers workshop in Kigali in Rwanda. We hope to create opportunities later in the year for this person to share her experiences with all our centres,” Ndjavera asserted. He also mentioned that his organization would be represented in March this year at the annual regional theatre conference to be held in Mbabane in Swaziland from March 16 to 21. “This is a very important conference at which African programmes are discussed with Assitej-International for implementation on the continent for the next year. We already have 16 African centres fully operative and 78 countries belonging to the mother body. Our centre is one of the most active in the African context,” Ndjavera said proudly. The Ministry of Youth, National Service, Sport and Culture last year also formally accepted and recognized Assitej-Namibia as a de facto youth organization. “Namibian youth theatre is on the right track and this momentum needs to be promoted, encouraged and sustained for the benefit of the youth in particular,” said the national coordinator of Assitej-Namibia, Richard Swartz, at the same interview. According to Swartz, cooperation with communities is essential for the success of promoting theatre on a national level. “I have been involved in these efforts for the past three years, efforts that are beginning to yield positive intellectual and creative dividends. Unfortunately, there are still those rural educational institutions hesitant about accepting theatre as a powerful educational tool. They still see theatre-promotion as a waste of time and a burden. Shame!” said Swartz, a dedicated theatre activist who has written a number of plays. In his view, theatre needs to be financially supported on a massive scale if it is to thrive in the country. “Largescale campaigns need to be launched to include all theatre stakeholders in all efforts, be it the National Theatre of Namibia, the government as well as the business sector. Believe you me, there’s a lot of untapped natural creative talent waiting to be explored and developed. Training needs to be provided on a more consistent scale by full-time facilitators in all regions,” he said passionately. He is optimistic, and sees a bright future for youth theatre in the country’s thirteen regions. “In my experiences working with school-going children over the past few years, I am really impressed and encouraged by the enthusiasm with which these young people approach theatre. They are dedicated and committed in everything they do to empower themselves, and this has nothing to do with the fact that very little intellectual development normally takes place in the rural areas,” Richard Swartz said with conviction.