A performance of Romeo and Juliet with a distinctly South African flavour was staged by Westlake Primary School pupils at the Baxter theatre last week.
The school kicked off the second season of the 12th Shakespeare Schools Festival South Africa, on Wednesday August 10. The season runs until Saturday August 20.
The first season was held at the Precinct Homecoming Centre in District Six from Friday May 6 to Monday May 14.
Founded in 2009 by Kseniya Filinova-Bruton, the festival gets aspiring young actors to present innovative, abridged versions of Shakespeare’s plays of their choice in no more than 45 minutes.
The performers are encouraged to make the productions relatable to themselves and their peers, according to festival manager Blythe Stuart-Linger.
“It’s a non-competitive environment and kids have loads of fun while learning at the same time,” she says.
Throughout the preparation process, the festival team assists with scripts and provides acting and directing tips. They also run educational programmes alongside to benefit teachers, learner-directors and casts.
Westlake Primary School started participating in the Shakespeare Festival in 2016, according to teacher Thuliswa Halam.
In 2021, the Muizenberg-based Circle Productions came on board to help with directing the school’s productions.
“The Circle Production ladies come to rehearsals with the pupils every Monday and Thursday afternoon each week prior to the performance,” said Ms Halam.
“Shakespeare’s legacy remains alive and it is able to reach learners in primary school who don’t have it in their curriculum.”
Circle Production co-director Coleen van Staaden set the school’s Romeo and Juliet in the streets of a local neighbourhood with vendors selling their wares and neighbours bickering and taking sides (depicting the animosity between the Capulets and the Montagues).
“It’s very important to involve every single learner in our show and important for them to relate to the story and the setting,” said Ms Van Staaden. “We also use a variety of performance disciplines so everyone shines… from creating a new character for comedy – Babalazio – the gravedigger; a street party dance number for those who love dance; voice-over work that teaches storytelling techniques; and some retention of original Shakespeare script for the actors in the cast who respond to the language.”
Ms Halam adds: “The Shakespeare festival strengthens the link between arts and education. We believe in holistically developing our learners and this festival helps us achieve our school’s vision.”