As lovers of the arts in general, and Shakespeare in particular (in this instance), CN&CO is the main sponsor of the Shakespeare Society of Southern Africa. We have helped the society with a number of projects since early 2018 and continue to support its president, Chris Thurman, and his team wherever we can.

One of the highlights on the society’s calendar this year was the recent trio of events that took place in Cape Town, namely “my shakespeare” (an arts education initiative aimed at school teachers and learners), “Making Shakespeare” (a theatre-makers’ platform encouraging experimental collaboration) and “Shakespeare and Social Justice” (an academic conference that attracted delegates from around the world).

my shakespeare

“my shakespeare is not just about helping teachers to improve their learners’ marks when it comes to assessment,” says Chris. “It is not just about Shakespeare’s place on the school curriculum.

“Like the Shakespeare Schools Festival – with which it is designed to intersect… the workshops took place alongside the Festival’s Cape Town performances at the Baxter Theatre – this is about arts education more broadly. It is about encouraging and equipping teachers to explore the connections between ‘stage’ and ‘page’, between the experience of performance (whether as audience member or as theatre maker) and the forms of literacy that studying English as a school subject is supposed to develop.

“It is also about promoting multilingualism and translanguaging: using the practice of translating Shakespeare as a means of empowering learners to employ their existing linguistic abilities, and incorporating different languages of learning and teaching into classroom practice, as well as theatre practice.”

Making Shakespeare

“Making Shakespeare is a gathering of theatre makers (actors, directors, writers, translators, dancers, musicians, designers) who are interested in performing, adapting, un-making and re-making Shakespeare’s plays in South Africa.”

The congress comprised workshops, masterclasses and opportunities for participants to experiment and collaborate on new work.

“Making Shakespeare my shakespeare”

“Playfully combining the names of these two events led to a manifesto of sorts,” says Chris. “It is a description of what SSOSA broadly aims to achieve, which is to make Shakespeare – both a colonial symbol and a global icon, both a source of frustration/boredom/anxiety to school learners and a sign of elitism among theatre audiences – into an accessible, relevant, performed, translated, challenging and interesting experience for South Africans, both in educational contexts and in the wider arts sector. That is: to make him less like ‘Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon’ and more like ‘my shakespeare’.”

“my shakespeare” and “Making Shakespeare” both fall under the banner of the Shakespeare Society’s triennial congress – the third component of which was an academic conference on the theme “Shakespeare and Social Justice: Scholarship and Performance in an Unequal World”.

The keynote speaker at the conference, Professor Ayanna Thompson of the University of Arizona, is a globally recognised scholar and president of the Shakespeare Association of America. Her work addresses the intersection of race, performance and pedagogy.

Legendary South African actor, director and paywright, John Kani, also formed part of the proceedings.

“Having CN&CO show its support for the society not only helps us to get South Africans to sit up and take notice (i.e. to start thinking about Shakespeare differently) but is also encouraging for those of us who are trying to change perceptions about Shakespeare in SA, and trying to emphasise how Shakespeare can mean and be different to what is generally assumed – whether on stages or in classrooms or in boardrooms,” says Chris. “Moreover, for those of us who are doing this work, being able to lean on the advice and experience of the CN&CO team is hugely valuable.”

Watch Ayanna Thompson’s keynote address (which is brilliant, by the way):

Watch Buhle Ngaba in conversation with John Kani (who is, unsurprisingly, a commensurate storyteller):