Since inception, the Shakespeare Schools Festival – South Africa (SSFSA) has been a highlight on the cultural calendars of amateur dramatic societies and school drama groups, and being able to hold the event once again at Artscape theatre after a particularly harrowing year for the theatre industry, was welcomed by Shakespeareans.

The SSFSA is about strengthening the link between the Arts and Education and uniting and empowering children from across socio-economic spectrum using the transformational power of theatre and specifically the works of Shakespeare to achieve that goal.

Over the past decade the festival has become Africa’s largest Shakespeare youth drama program and to date has worked with over 490 schools, 9000 youth and 670 educators across the Western Cape, Gauteng, Kwa-Zulu Natal and the Eastern Cape.

Said festival Founder Kseniya Filinova-Bruton who is now based in St. Petersburg in Russia, “we are thrilled to be doing live performances- it means so much to us and our enthusiastic Shakespeareans who are able continue on their thespian paths of discovery, connect with other Learners and further develop their dramatic talents and associated skills.”

Due to limited seating as per national lockdown requlations the festival was simultaneously hosted at the Masque Theatre.

To those who could not attend, do not despair. All productions are filmed and will be streamed at a later date (to be confirmed) which gives theatregoers the option of enjoying the productions virtually. The online aspect is huge in terms of global accessibility for Shakespeare fans and SSFSA representatives managing the festival in the different provinces in SA and in Russia, Estonia and Malawi.

This year, the Artscape line up comprised of Hermanus High School, Fish Hoek Primary School, Reddam House College, Atlantic Seaboard, De la Bat School, Leiden High School, Wynberg Boys’ Acting Association, Worcester Gymnasium, Westlake Primary School, Hout Bay International School, Athlone High School, Erinville Drama Club and Rhenish Girls’ High School. Performing at The Masque this year was the Curro Sitari High School, Herschel Girls School, Curro Century City High School, The Settlers High School and Westerford High School Drama Society.

The way the festival works is that schools prepare and perform abridged versions of the Shakespeare play of their choice, approximately thirty minutes in duration, and year after year the interpretations have been incredible and innovative. Staging a Shakespeare play is a challenge and from start to finish the SSFSA provides guidance and resources, assisting with scripts, acting tips and directing and there are a number of educational programs that exist to benefit educators, emerging learner-directors and casts.

“The SSFSA is an ideal way for young people to explore their dramatic potential in a fun, developmental way and in a non-competitive environment”, said its project manager Stuart-Linger. The SSFSA is managed holistically and aside from the on-stage aspect the focus is also on the promotion of life skills with a spotlight on literacy, classic literature and the performing arts.

Importantly, the festival welcomes learners who, although facing different abilities and challenges, have excelled in their acting abilities and productions. The De La Bat School for the Deaf using South African Sign Language and the Pioneer School for the Visually Impaired have both delivered ground breaking and extremely moving renditions of productions at past festivals, such as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth. In exciting recent news, De La Bat learner Mxolisi Nodom who played Romeo in the 2018 SSFSA at Artscape, has recently landed the role of Thando in the eTV television series, Scandal, after being spotted onstage at the festival. He is the first deaf actor on the show and he made this comment about his journey to this point in his fledgling career: “The Shakespeare Schools Festival is amazing for the youth. It taught me and my classmates to be more confident, uninhibited, and to express emotions. I would lose myself in the performances, even forgetting about the audience, “ he enthused. Other exciting news is that the Pioneer School for the Visually Impaired was awarded second place out of nineteen entries in the 5th Dolgoprudnenskay Spring Open Festival for amateur drama groups that was held online via Moscow in Russia. They entered with a video presentation of Romeo and Juliet, the same production that they performed as part of SSFSA festival at the Fugard Theatre last year.