Theatre company breaks down barriers to communication

'We want children to imagine themselves differently and to engage in dialogue that is essential to their health and wellbeing.'

'We want children to imagine themselves differently and to engage in dialogue that is essential to their health and wellbeing.'

The Drama for Life Theatre Company project was launched in 2016 to change the way young people lived their lives through their understanding of sexual and reproductive health. The company set out to fight stigma and discrimination and encourage testing and communication in a way that was relevant to the language and attitudes of South Africa’s social realities.

“We want to use theatre effectively and in ways that enable the youth to engage with critical sexual and reproductive health issues,” says director Warren Nebe. “We were established 10 years ago, but we have spent a lot time trying to build the structures and resources we needed to have a resident theatre company that would be sustainable and stable. This finally happened when we formed a relationship with the Charlize Theron African Outreach Project.”

This relationship has done more than just cement the company’s stability; it has allowed the theatre company to really hone its focus on the youth and engaging with critical issues.

“We listen carefully to the new waves of culture among the youth and we ensure that we address them in a way that speaks back to them, accesses them, and inspires them to think differently,” says Nebe. “We want them to imagine themselves differently and to engage in dialogue that is essential to their health and wellbeing.”

The interventions menu developed by the theatre company includes self-esteem and self-affirmation for four- to eight-year-olds, bullying and friendship for 10- to 12-year-olds, social media and relationships for 15- to 19-year-olds, and sexual reproductive health, with a focus on consent, for 14- to 25-year-olds. So far, more than 10 000 young people have experienced the company’s work and it has become a highly specialised educational tool.

The programme places an emphasis on the development of a relevant and responsive approach that aligns with the concept of theory of change, and logic models that define key activities and outputs.

“Our team members are required to be conversant in up-to-date sexual health and wellness content, basic behaviour studies and education strategies,” says Nebe. “We also recently launched the ‘unzipped method’ along with partner organisations and educators that combines HIV-prevention, sexual health practice, arts education methods and applied theatre making. This allows us to deliver critical health work across a variety of contexts and youth.”