The Educational Theatre and Creative Arts Division of Stellenbosch University’s Africa Centre for HIV/AIDS Management has become the first theatre company from Africa to participate in the annual international competition of the American Association of Community Theatre (AACT). The company’s debut appearance in the AACT Worldfest struck ‘gold’ and the group returned home with two coveted awards.
The two coveted awards were presented for 'Outstanding Ensemble Cast’ and ‘Excellence in Theatre for Social Change’. The Educational Theatre performers of the Africa Centre attended the ‘Olympic Games’ of community theatre in Venice, in the state of Florida in the USA in June. The South African group, one of only 16 theatre groups invited from across the world, shared the stage for ten performance-filled days, with actors from Latvia, Togo, Australia, Germany and the United States, among other countries.
The mini musical, ‘Lucky, the Hero’, written by South African author and actress, Vicky Davis, was developed and workshopped by the local actors. ‘Lucky, the Hero’ is the story of a young man, a resident Stellenbosch farm-worker, who has to learn that the use of condoms and practice of safe sex is to his own advantage, as well as that of others. What’s more, he finds it also makes financial sense to consider his own and the health of others. The AACT WorldFest has been held annually since 1986. Every year the American Association of Community Theatre creates an opportunity for American community theatre to meet with similar groups from across the world.
The AACT represents some 7 000 theatres and more than one million community theatre volunteers in the USA. Annually more than 45 000 productions are brought to life for audiences of more than 7,5 million people. International theatre and film celebrity, Ben Vereen (frequently seen on SATV screens), served as host at the festival.
Professor Jan du Toit, who heads the Africa Centre, says his organization’s theatre company – under the directorship of the renowned Professor Jimmie Earl Perry – has participated in more than 600 performances to nearly 800 000 people since its inception in 2005. Over 82 per cent of these audiences were tested for HIV. Perry, UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador to South Africa, is an established international singer, actor and director. He has been
part of high profi le productions such as Jesus Christ Superstar, CATS, Starlight Express (Andrew Lloyd-Webber), Miss Saigon and Dreamgirls.
Jay Handelman, theatre and television critic and President of the Foundation of the American Critics Association, pronounced singular praise for the South African production: “Theater also serves a purpose in ‘Lucky, the Hero,’ a life-affi rming musical produced by the Africa Centre for HIV and AIDS Management, which sends troupes to rural areas with lessons about HIV, Aids, condoms and altering sexual behaviors.
“Lucky is a man who reluctantly gets tested for HIV and is then shunned when friends learn he is positive, even though they continue their irresponsible ways. He responds by turning himself into an activist who becomes a super hero. This is a simple, yet powerful piece. It is a joy to watch people embracing a love of theater and the cheers that come from the audience.”