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A South African story – Creating a theatre with zero budget

(a story by Manuela Accarpio/S4C)

Sintesi in italiano

Kerryn Irvin e Ntshieng Mokgoro rappresentano due anime diverse del Sudafrica di oggi.

Dal loro incontro nasce il progetto di un teatro indipendente che vuole dare voce a giovani registe, e intrattenere con spettacoli il pubblico di Alexandra, la township “dimenticata”di Johannesburg.

Il sogno di queste due donne, che con fatica e passione ha preso forma, si chiama oggi Olive Tree Theatre e, tramite il Women’s Theatre Festival, permette ad autrici emergenti di far conoscere il proprio lavoro ad un pubblico che, in una realtà di estremo disagio sociale ed economico, non rinuncia alle proprie aspirazioni ed ai propri sogni.

Olive Tree Theatre, un progetto nato e creato a budget zero, e’ oggi una ONG registrata. Per saperne di più e avere contatti visitate il sito web:

Creating a theatre with zero budget

If I had to tell a story that could celebrate the twenty-one years of South African democracy, I would start with these two ladies, Kerryn Irvin and Ntshieng Mokgoro.

To me, they best represent South Africa.

They are born in the same year from very different backgrounds, different cultural heritages and they have had different lives.

asouthafricanstory - 16Ntshieng Mokgoro was born and grew up in Alexandra township. She was a former librarian who told stories to the kids at Alexandra library. She then started a community theatre group and began writing plays inspired by women’s stories. In 2009, she was the first black woman to be awarded the Standard Bank Young artist Award for directing.

Kerryn Irvin was born and grew up in Germiston – an eastern suburb of Johnannesburg, where the working class mainly live. She took a degree in Psychology at Wits University of Johannesburg and she works as a creative writer and organisational development practitioner. Like Ntshieng, she shares an interest in people.

I am proud to be the one who introduced Ntshieng and Kerryn. I love their ideas and their vision – Ntshieng’s biggest dream was to give Alexandra township residents a venue to express themselves, experiment, play and be entertained. Alex is, to all intents and purposes, Johannesburg’s forgotten township, because much of the money and tourism tends to be directed towards Soweto.

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“I was immediately taken by how much Ntshieng was achieving with very little, [and] … with no actual theatre. Here was this person who just did — no matter what. It was amazing to see someone following this passion, in the fashion of ‘if you build it, they will come’, said Kerryn.

What was just a dream of having a theatre in Alex just two years ago, has now come true, they actually have created the first theatre in Alexandra township.

The theatre is located on the 2nd floor of the Yarona Building between Alexandra and Sandton: the newest rich economical centre and the oldest township of Johannesburg.

asouthafricanstory - 06Now that the theatre has been created, it can be a place where these two worlds can meet and look into each other. It’s a place of observation and transformation. It’s their place. It’s a South African place.

Olive Tree Theatre was born with great difficulty, by the passion and the determination of these two ladies who really believe  that theatre can do great things: help people to feel better, save hearts from dryness, tell stories that can incrementally change our world.

asouthafricanstory - 15Ntshieng and Kerryn were able to launch the Women’s Theatre Festival  at the Olive Tree Theatre in 2013. The festival gave women directors a platform to showcase their work. It was not just about women’s stories, but rather about giving emerging women directors a stage for whatever productions they chose, as directing is mainly a man thing in South Africa.

It wasn’t an easy path, the fundraising didn’t go well the first year, in fact, two weeks before the festival they almost cancelled because they had not raised any money. But then something happened: Joburg Set Company, the Market Theatre and other organisations suddenly came to the party, donating lights, rostrums, rigging and so on.

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The theatre started to take its shape. It changed from an empty, big hall to a proper theatre where amazing stories were shown. It became a place where the journey of a soul takes can be shown… which is hard to for me to explain in words… it must rather be experienced.

asouthafricanstory - 04Many stories have been told in the Olive Tree Theatre now and many faces of South Africa have been represented there – family drama, politics, mythology, love and romance, indigenous spirituality, motherhood, women’s emancipation and tradition.

Once during an interview Ntshieng said “Opening your own space yourself is not an easy path to follow. You have to compromise … and it takes blood, sweat and tears. But I feel like the chosen one, willing to take the road less travelled”.  This is so true because all this magic brought with it hard times… very hard times… the hardest Johannesburg can bring.  Being hijacked, robbed, frustrated by bills and seeing how money can corrupt relationships… they even felt how the black and white issue can be alive in different forms at times…. seeing that actually, the past is not a foreign country.

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“This,” Nthsieng says, gesturing around the stage, “is where I pray when I’m frustrated — it gives me a sense of peace, calm and understanding. It’s a healing space.” 

I love Olive Tree Theatre. And still I cannot believe that they have created it with zero budget.

If you feel like helping to fundraise to support the dream of these two unbelievable women, you can, because Olive Tree Theatre  is now a registered NGO.

You can find more info on their website:

Manuela Accarpio/S4C


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