The Festival for Excellence in Dramatic Arts (FEDA) is a one act play festival for high school students held every year in Johannesburg in May and adjudicated by professional theatre practitioners. CN&CO is an avid supporter of the festival and has been involved in various guises over the years. Our partners at EasyEquities assist FEDA with financial support and social media assistance.

We recently received this update from the festival’s Amy Sandilands:

The 2021 FEDA Pop-Up Festival took place in May. We could not be more proud of our students, who were unapologetic in their ideas, creative in their workshopping and courageous on the stage!

The FEDA and EasyEquities partnership has been one that has been growing over the last two years. It is so wonderful to have the support of such a dynamic business and to work with a team that is engaging, passionate and supportive. It is inspiring to see the energy that is created when corporate and creative spaces are shared.

FEDA sincerely thanks the EasyEquities Team for their support and guidance with our social media pages, for the financial support which allowed us to book our wonderful venue at the Lesedi Theatre, to pay our panel of expert adjudicators, and to organise workshops for the students where their work could be cultivated and their ideas explored.

The 2021 FEDA Festival received fantastic feedback all round, and we would like to share a particularly touching and eloquent response from Ismail Mahomed, the Director at Centre for Creative Arts at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal and the former CEO of the Market Theatre …

“There are very few schools theatre festivals in which a new script that is staged at the Schools Festival can go on to be taken by a group of professionals and with the play then returning as a setwork for high schools. BORN NAKED staged in 2016 at the FEDA Festival is one such play that has gone full circle.”

There are many more success stories to tell about the FEDA Festival. In one of the Festival programmes the founders of the Festival Janet Baylis and Philippa Sandilands write that FEDA “prides itself on encouraging young theatre practitioners to take risks and create cutting edge work and perform on a professional stage. The standard of work presented is quite extraordinary and each year more young writers, directors, and performers showcase their talent. Many FEDA students have moved on to Drama departments at UCT, AFDA and Wits and some are studying in L.A and New York.”

The FEDA (Festival of Excellence in Dramatic Arts) was initiated in 2005 with the specific aim of showcasing outstanding Drama Departments of schools in Gauteng. It began with five schools and now has over thirty schools entering every year.

At the National Arts Festival Makhanda the 2016 winning FEDA play, ECLIPSED written by Zimbabwean-born and New York-based theatre maker Danai Gurira was performed by St Mary’s School (Waverley). This poignant and gut-wrenching saga about five young women whose lives are enmeshed in the Liberian Civil War was an emotionally powerful play about helplessness and the human impulse to adapt and survive under the cruellest circumstances of war.

If there was one Fringe production at the National Arts Festival that year that offered a universal statement about the impact of war on young women — and which was performed by five young women with astonishing conviction and remarkable acting skill — then it certainly was St Mary’s production of Danai Gurira’s play ECLIPSED.

Over the years the FEDA Festival has also encouraged new writing by young playwrights. This was a necessary innovation because in most cases the voices of young playwrights is a testimony that when political leadership fails it is theatre that can offer young people a moral compass and a platform to express their political outrage.

Theatre gives them the insight to re-envision our society. In the face of profound failures by our political leadership, the original works component at the FEDA Festival has often given young people the bold courage to step right in front and to challenge us. It has given them the power to take ownership of how society can be reshaped.

The young creatives of original works at the FEDA Festival have grasped theatre as an architecture of our consciousness. More than just celebrating excellence in dramatic art, the FEDA Festival has offered us hope. It has raised the profile that young people who are exposed to the arts have a better chance of becoming socially conscious and socially responsible citizens. With the national lockdowns imposed in 2020 as a result of the National Disaster Act to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, the FEDA Festival, like all theatre festivals, could not take place. The national lockdowns have unravelled so many cracks in our society, which for the last 27 years have been swept under the carpet while greedy and corrupt politicians have broadened the wealth and poverty divides in our society. Young playwrights must surely be desperate to pour out on the stage their anger, disgust and vision for an alternative future. But as we battle the pandemic it became clear that in order to be safe, the festival had to be downsized this year.

More than any other years it is in this 45th year of our reflections on the powerful youth leadership of the Soweto Uprising of 16 June 1976 that we should have been hearing the voices of young people because corrupt political leaders are not only trampling on the graves of the June 76 generation but they are also robbing today’s and tomorrow’s generation of their futures.

The voices of young people who have created original works over the years at the FEDA Festival was one way for them to reclaim and reshape the kind of futures that they want; and they have been able to do it together with school teachers who have honoured and celebrated the values of Section 16 in the South African Constitution — Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Creativity.

Whilst the Covid-19 claims its casualties of theatres shutting down, companies retrenching artists and an industry not knowing when it will resume to normality, we must do all we can to ensure that the FEDA Festival survives this crisis. Perhaps one way to do so, as we hide, run, duck & dive from the Coronavirus, is for a generous benefactor to step forward and to fund a playwriting competition for schools so that those young voices who create those original works for the Festival can capture this time in ways that will allow us to more fully grasp just how Covid-19 has impacted on their lives and more-so. Because these young voices and young theatre-makers are our strongest allies who will let theatre rise again when we pass this phase.