Joburg theatre puts democracy in the spotlight

Actors are getting school children to think about what leadership entails

By Jabulile Mbatha

28 February 2024

Actors from Kwasha! theatre company in Hillbrow perform Vote for Me, a play about leadership and participatory democracy at the National Children’s Theatre in Johannesburg. Photo: Jabulile Mbatha

Ahead of the national elections, a young, Hillbrow-based theatre company is using performance skills to encourage teenagers to participate in South Africa’s democracy.

Commissioned by the Windybrow Arts Centre in association with the National Children’s Theatre, the interactive play Vote for Me aims to get high school learners thinking about their role and their influence in the democratic process, including their influence on their family.

The production, by Windybrow Arts Centre’s resident Kwasha! Theatre Company, gets the audience involved in questioning what it means to be a leader, and asking how we can get the leaders we want.

Written by Ameera Patel and directed by Lesedi Job, the play also explores issues of trust between the generations.

On 20 February an audience of grade six and seven learners - a younger audience than intended - was reserved at first but became increasingly eager to participate in the games the five Kwasha! performers presented.

Performer Xhamla Zaza Samsam said contributing to educating young people about democracy and voting was rewarding. “For us as actors it was a mental switch to say ‘how can we package the depth of what is happening in the country for people who care but don’t really understand the depth of it?,” said Samsam.

He said the play was about learning what leadership is, not who to vote for.

Director Lesedi Job said she had listened to many conversations about South Africa and the overarching theme was a lack of leadership. But Vote for Me was not about past or present leadership, she said, but about asking: “What now, and where to from here?”

Job said the production departed from conventional theatre forms in its interactivity and inclusion of the actors’ personal stories.

National Children’s Theatre CEO Tamara Guhrs said one of the most important points of the play is the influence teenagers have in their own right.

Guhrs said the Windybrow Arts Centre and the National Children’s Theatre had shared values. “We both work with young people and teenagers, and we both have a deep commitment to the city and what the creative arts can do to regenerate the city and create safe spaces for children.”

Vote for Me is showing at National Children’s Theatre in Parktown till 15 March. Tickets are available on Quicket from R100.