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NATIONAL SCHOOLS FESTIVAL (article first published : 2006-08-1)

As Grahamstown began to empty from Festival mania on July 9, over 900 Grade 12 learners began arriving to begin four days and nights of their very own "National Schools Festival". Within hours the posters, signalled and hostels were transformed to accommodate this excited group of 17 to 18 year olds and their teachers.

The programme began with great enthusiasm as Nicholas Ellenbogen and Scott Sparrow involved the audience in the hilarious Raiders of the Purple Panther. With excellent impromptu performances from the students, the mood was set and the vibe established! Throughout the week this built to a crescendo with energy exploding at the Festival Fiesta Party as hundreds of Matrics jumped and screamed to the live music provided by the Finkelsteins, the Parlotones and Undone.

The programme for the week included 13 different performances, 12 lectures and 21 workshops, as well as the announcement of the English Olympiad winners. Key note address was given by Deon Opperman who antics not only kept the audience alert and interested but emphasised the importance of the choices they would be making soon about their lives. The value of the Arts in forming a fully enriched person was a theme visited often by speakers throughout the week.

The Boy who fell from the Roof, an Artscape New Writing Programme proved to be a hit. It challenged the learners and for many of them, it disturbed their comfort zone and made them empathetic to the characters grappling with death, friendship and trust.

One of the highlights was Booitjie and the Oubaas superbly acted by Marius Weyers, Mary Daniels and Christo Davids. For many in the audience, this was their first experience of live theatre. What a privilege to have a Fugard play acted by such a professional cast!

Durban's "Ewok" managed to sustain his one-man Poetry programme in the Guy Butler Theatre and electrify his audience. Having seen this production in the intimate Kwasuka theatre during the Musho Festival, I wondered how it would work in a theatre which seats over a thousand, but Iain Robinson's charisma carried this performance to a new height. What a great experience.

Although the week's performances covered most genres, from comedy to tragedy, and many styles including dance, puppets, poetry and film, it was very heavily biased to local content. While it is great to experience local theatre, it seems a pity that some of the more "classical" English dramas were not included. This especially as some of these learners may never have another opportunity to attend live theatre. Previous years have included a few really good contemporary plays and I felt that an opportunity was missed by not including something other than South African.

The Highlights?? Most definitely First Physical Theatre's Bessie’s Head and Fugard's Booitjie and the Oubaas.

After this exciting explosion of the Arts, we left Grahamstown in the early hours of Friday morning with minds buzzing and bodies exhausted! New ideas, new challenges and new experiences will live with each and every learner and teacher.

Thank you, Standard Bank and, thank you, Louisa Clayton and the team. Once again, an unforgettable Festival comes to an end and we are enriched by the experience. - Dawn Haynes




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