The Art of War“This is my first trip to South Africa…indeed my first time on this mighty African continent!  There were many questions, some nervous excitement, wondering what the culture in South Africa is like and what the Deaf culture is like. Being Asian and now being based in Scotland (Europe) I am fairly familiar with most things Asian and European – but in terms of South Africa, I know/knew nothing!!

Communication was going to be a key issue. I’m becoming fluent in Swedish, British, American and International Sign but before arriving, I wondered how communication might work here: what styles of communication, what language the students I’m working with would be using.  I do work visually – looking at working with the children on developing visual narratives – so was imagining that common/shared language would work for us all. Then I began to consider the age of the group…they are young!

photo3So, meeting the three different groups from Dominican School, I realised there was little to worry about! The children appear to use a mix of Sign (British, American and International) and they have great imagination, and quickly began to think visually so all was good. This is now the 2nd week of my three week residency in Cape Town, working with three different groups at Dominican Deaf School, in Cape Town. Our time together is fairly tight and it is most rewarding to see the groups of children so focussed and engaged for the short time that we have.

At the moment we have begun to look at some skills, exploring how we can communicate visually (without the use of sign language). Following this short period of exploration we will work on presenting a short scratch performance – more like a presentation of ideas explored through improvisation, that the children might like to develop in the future. 

I have been impressed with the eagerness of the children to explore – they have no inhibitions and are confident to share thoughts and ideas. And of course, having some fun.photo1

We did have a bit of a giggle today – communication! I was signing to the children how I thought they were very funny, using American sign. The children found this comment very amusing, more amusing than I thought it was. I was then told that the sign I used for “funny” was the sign that was used here for “ugly”! I’m pleased that the children understood that I didn’t mean to call them ugly…and we all had a giggle at our miscommunication.

It is early days…but I look forward to more of these…

There is something fascinating about working with this age group: young people are so open to exploring and their minds work quite differently from that of adults. I’ve been surprised by the group’s self-assuredness in their own physicality – they were so confident that they could fully explore all ideas in their imagination.  

The groups seem keen and like me are excited about our next workshop together – they ask “When??”.

CWB learnersWe have told you about the new partnerships that FTH:K has launched, right, and one of the projects on which we are collaborating is our National Deaf Education Tour (NDET). We ran our first tour in 2006 and since then, have run one every year, reaching more than 25 000 youths, of which 70% have been Deaf or hard of hearing. Together with Clowns Without Borders SA, Dominican School for Deaf Children in Wittebome, Cape Town, and international Deaf artist, Ramesh Meyyappan, FTH:K is running its National Tour again sharing with Deaf learners across the country the magic of live performance and the fun of theatre skills.

CWB groupNow, you obviously know who FTH:K is, and we’re sure you’re familiar with our work at Dominican School through our Tell-Tale Signs Programme, but what about Clowns Without Borders? Well, they are a group of…clowns…obviously…but not just any old buncha clowns. They are a group that has reached over 200,000 children and adults in communities affected by violence, disease, natural disasters, and poverty, and by presenting free performances throughout Southern Africa, they use physical comedy, music, storytelling, and dance, to provide momentary relief to people in these affected environments. Yeah. They’re awesome.

The Art of WarAnd this Ramesh guy? Ramesh Meyyappan is a Deaf theatre practitioner, based in Scotland, who creates performances using an eclectic mix of visual and physical theatre styles. Despite using little to no language in his work, he creates strong narrative performances and recently even added circus techniques to his theatrical visual vocabulary. His works have been toured to Austria, Australia, Cambodia, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Hong Kong, Italy, India, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Singapore, Poland, United Kingdom and the United States to name just a few…and now, South Africa! And we met him through our American partners, Quest Visual Theatre.

The Tour itself

The first leg of the 2013 NDET runs until 24 May at the Dominican School for Deaf Children where Ramesh will be running a 3-week residency programme in visual theatre with the Deaf learners. He’s teaming up with long-standing FTH:K friend and collaborator Sjaka Septembir to create a work-in-progress which will culminate in a series of showcases at the school’s annual Arts and Culture Day on 1 November.

The second phase brings together new and old collaborators. The new? The fabulous Clowns Without Borders SA. The old? Previous FTH:K Artistic Director, Jayne Batzofin, and a number of schools in KZN and the Free State with whom we have both long-standing relationships and new, burgeoning ones. The clowns have devised a new production that they are taking around KZN and the Free State from 06 to 24 May.

But it’s important to note that the NDET is not just about performing a show and then leaving again. As our awesome CEO Ana Lemmer says, “One of our objectives is to give the Deaf access not only to theatre and theatre skills, but also to develop skills in areas related to drama, literacy, self-confidence and team work, as well as developing future audiences. We are particularly inspired about our new partnerships as these will enable us to reach new heights in line with those objectives.”

And as if that wasn’t enough, an additional coolness is that Deaf FTH:K graduates Marlon Snyders, Christopher Beukes and Sinethemba Mgebisa will also be working with Ramesh while he is in the country, benefitting from the exchange not only creatively but also in personal growth as Ramesh himself is testimony of what is possible in Deaf performance. You guys will remember Marlon, Christopher and Sinethemba as being Trainees on our Tell-Tale Signs training programme’s Integrated Professional Development Programme, dazzling audiences with their performances in OfficeBLOCK, before graduating from the programme in 2012.

So, there you go, okes. We’ll keep you posted on how the project is going so, as always watch this space!

Listen Eyes buttons white backgroundYes, everyone! South Africa’s premier Deaf and hearing theatre company is back on tour with new and exciting partnerships and programmes. As you know, from 2005 – 2012 we operated as the only full-time theatre company of its kind in the country. Well, in 2013 we decided to shake things up again and started a process of restructuring ourselves in recognition of the internal changes in the company as well as the changing environment of Arts and Culture both nationally and internationally. Huh?! In short, it means that we have ditched the bricks-and-mortar elements of the company in favour of broader, more exciting programming, and are focussing strongly on national and international collaboration. While there might not be groups out there doing exactly what we do, there are people who share the same artistic and educational goals. And with money in the industry getting tighter than a lug nut, it becomes almost irresponsible not to partner with like-minded organisations to share resources and maximise achievements. So, with satellite offices in Cape Town, Grahamstown, and Washington, DC, FTH:K has adopted the idea of a global village and truly gone mobile!

We had a good long think about what we do, what we stand for, and what inspires us to come to work every morning, and we realised three things: 1) that we want to make visual theatre, 2) that we believe we have a meaningful role to play in education, specifically within the Deaf communities, and 3) that 1 and 2 are not mutually exclusive ideas. In many ways it is a mirroring of how FTH:K started in the first place, just without the jugs of Bavarian Lager. So once more, we have adapted and are back on tour to bring the magic of FTH:K to the world and (with apologies to SAA) to bring the world to FTH:K!

We have some awesome new partners who have joined us this year including Deaf performer and educator Ramesh Meyyappan and Clowns Without Borders South Africa, while our international relationship with Quest Visual Theatre has strengthened significantly. Dominican School for Deaf Children – where we started our very first programme years ago – remains with us in a newly revised approach to our Tell-Tale Signs Programme, and Sjaka Septembir is heading up the teaching on that. Of course, SLED are still our go-to guys in so many language-based areas. And let’s not forget all the Deaf and hearing schools, organisations and institutions around the country that we work with every year.

So, has FTH:K changed? In some ways. Is it still innovating? Is it still inspiring? Is it still finding exciting ways to COMMUNICATE * EDUCATE * and FASCINATE? You better believe it! So here we go, guys. It’s time for a new and exciting FTH:K adventure!

Life is changing…constantly. Given that art should reflect life, it only makes sense that theatre companies should also be evolving constantly, and FTH:K certainly is. The newest change that we have taken on is in how we raise our money. You already know about Elred’s Epic Journey, but we have recently added a new tool to the FTH:K box of tricks: Vidamo!

FTHKiPhone4Vidamo As Auntie Ana says (that’s our super-cool CEO), “With the changing nature of the funding landscape both locally and internationally, we have to source new ways of generating income.” Not just a pretty face, hey? Following a call to our supporters to help us find exciting new ways to chase sustainability, we were overwhelmed when an individual sponsor not only introduced us to the Vidamo platform but also pledged to fund the service for us! So cool. “The Vida-what-mo platform??”, you ask. What this means is that, through Vidamo, FTH:K’s fundraising platform can be accessed from your mobile phone or desktop, and is a quick and easy way to support us as we finish off 2012 and move into a new 2013 phase. Yep – you’re just a few clicks away from helping us reach our fundraising goal from the FTH:K Family!

To make a donation, all you need to do is SMS “FTHK” to 45825*, or scan the code which will be available on the FTH:K website early next week. An SMS reply will be sent to your phone instantly with a url link to follow, giving you access to the mobile web platform. You are also able to select from a number of premium-rated SMS options: donate R10, R20 or R30*. Alternatively, you can opt to donate using your credit card. And as if this wasn’t cool enough, on the FTH:K Facebook page you can click on the donation tab to make a donation using the payment platform.

codeAccording to Paulette van Heerden, Account Director at the Vidamo Group, there are 46.4 million mobile users in South Africa, and 14 million people actively using mobile web and data services. She also says a further 6 million desktop users can access the application via the FTH:K website and Facebook page while international users are also able to donate by credit card or through the online platform. Now, if we can get a fraction of these fabulous people to come play with FTH:K, our future looks pretty damn cool! And the added bonus? Vidamo’s platforms also allow us to communicate with our database and manage other services like ticketing and event management. Huh? Huh?? Exactly.

Sine and Elred race 300 So, back to one of our awesome existing supporters, Elred Lawrence, and his Epic Journey. We’re going to use his cycle tour along an ancient pilgrim route in Europe to raise funds for FTH:K and test out our new gadget!

Give it a try. C’mon…you know you wanna…

*45825@R1.50/SMS | 38387@R10/SMS | 40447@R20/SMS | 42116@R30/SMS | Errors billed. T&C’s apply. SMS donations are subject to network and admin deductions.

Super Elred We are always going on about how lucky we are to have the family around us that we do, and that without them, FTH:K would never have been able to reach the heights it has. Well, once more we are singing this tune. Why? Because one of our most awesome Family Members is cycling 2000kms in August/September – and he’s doing it to raise money for us! You want to sponsor him…you know you do…

Elred is a Cape-Town based IT consultant with 23 year’s experience with Pick n Pay, who now runs his own company: Elred Lawrence Business Solutions. He is also one of our favourite FTH:K stories. One of his colleagues, Colin Scholtz, interviewed Tanya on what was then FreshFM – Pick n Pay’s radio station – two years ago. As a result, we invited Colin to the opening night of Pictures of You at the Baxter but at the last moment, something came up and he was unable to attend. He offered the tickets to Elred who came, watched and was instantly hooked! He says the piece was so different to anything he had ever seen that he immediately joined the FTH:K Family and has been an ardent supporter of the company ever since.

Ok. But the cycling stuff?

Well, Elred completed his first Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour in 1992, and has since finished a further fourteen. The idea of cycling a long-distance route came to him in 2002 when he was planning his next holiday and an article about the El Camino de Santiago in Spain caught his eye. At first he thought he might walk it but was worried that it would take longer than the time he had to spare – until he read the final line of the article which said that the tour could also be completed by bike. He had cycled this famous Pilgrim Trail (about 1000kms) in 2002 and enjoyed the journey so much he was inspired to start planning for the next one. Ta-dah!

Enter FTH:K.

At our most recent AGM, we took on the issue of the recession and the challenging arts environment that currently exists in South Africa. We called on our supporters to help us find new and interesting ways of bringing in resources to make sure we can carry on doing the work you love. After the AGM, Elred approached us with the idea of using an upcoming cycle to raise money for the Company, and we loved the idea, not only because of the fundraising potential, but also because it was a great example of how we like to put the fun in fundraising. Especially because we don’t have to do the cycling! The long and the short of it is that on 24 August 2012, Elred will leave for England, to embark on the 2000km Via Francigena, an ancient pilgrim trail that was regularly walked over a thousand years ago by clerics and church officials going from Canterbury Cathedral to the Vatican in Rome to visit the Pope. It has been officially resurrected today by the various Governments whose territory it crosses and designated as a European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe. And with every kilometre he cycles, you guys can sponsor not only his pilgrimage, but also South Africa’s favourite visual theatre company!

The Route

ViaFrancigenaThe Via Francigena is not a single road but rather comprises of several possible routes that changed over the centuries as trade and pilgrimage developed and waned. Depending on the time of year, political situation, and relative popularity of the shrines of the saints along the route, travellers may have used any of three or four crossings of the Alps and the Apennines. Unlike Roman roads, the Via Francigena didn’t connect cities but relied more on abbeys.

How to support us

Either you can make a direct deposit into our account, donate through our paygate, or email us with your pledge and we will calculate your donation once he has finished the journey! How easy is that?! He will be recording his travels through his blog, including linking his Garmin tracking system and heart-rate monitor to the site, so you can get a real-time breakdown of his journey and adventures.

So what’s not to like about this?? Support a brave cyclist on a pilgrimage towards great things and at the same time, support a theatre company on a similar mission.

When we talk about turning small money into big change, we mean it!

NAF logo colour on white Perhaps you have heard by now that FTH:K won’t be at the National Arts Festival this year. If not, now you know! This was difficult decision for us to take because we haven’t missed a Festival…well…ever, but something we have learnt along the way is that sometimes “No” is the right answer. And this realisation was particularly hard to come to – after all, FTH:K’s history is peppered with enthusiastic “Yes!”’s, which we’re proud of because they have taken us to places that we would never have gone to and offered us opportunities that we would never have had otherwise. But gradually, in our annual Strategic Planning sessions, this idea of “We need to learn how to say no” raised its head. First apologetically, but over time more insistently until we knew we had to listen! We weren’t that small group anymore than could pack up the whole company in an old kit bag and head on down the road. Moreover, as the company grew, so did our outputs which meant greater demands on our resources (financial and human) and we had to accept that we needed to start choosing our engagements carefully, strategically, and with respect to the people leading, supporting, and participating in them.

It's a secret! The 2012 National Arts Festival is one such time. We recently played the Main Festival programme with Benchmarks and have a major project in the pipeline for our next NAF appearance. We just realised that forcing it to happen this year would actually be a disservice to the whole event, that it could definitely benefit from more time and planning. So as much as we will miss you, we hope you will miss us too! But we believe that this is only going to make us all happier in the long run. As for what the project is? Heh…you’ll just have to wait and see. But it’s awesome. So, keep ‘em peeled for 2013 NAF…that’s all we gonna tell you right now..

OfficeBLOCK Poster web But hang on: does this mean that we are not going to be onstage until then?? *gasp* Don’t be ridiculous! We’ve decided to team up once more with the fabulous Baxter Theatre to present our newest work OfficeBLOCK from the 10th – 21st July in the Golden Arrow Studio Theatre. The work hasn’t been seen in the Western Cape since it was reworked in 2012 for its National Tour so it’s not to be missed, okes. Mark these dates down now, but details will follow soon-soon…

Clowns on the run 250 Those of you who follow us regularly (we love you) will know that every year FTH:K hits the road for a National Tour. The tradition was inadvertently started by The GUMBO Tour in 2007 that came to be through a grant from the now-defunct Conference, Workshop and Cultural Initiative Fund – at that point, our biggest sponsor ever. In so many ways, this grant was a learning curve for us: in how we budgeted, how we managed the money, how we reported on activities etc (working with the EU and its rules was quite something for the 2-year-old FTH:K!); but the tour also made us realise just how many organisations, institutions, schools, theatres, festivals, learners were out there. At first, this was a little demoralising: how was our little company ever going to be able to reach the people we needed to when we were so small and all the way down in the Western Cape?? It took us a few strategic planning sessions to find the answer: slowly and consistently. We didn’t realise that we had stumbled over an idea that would later be fleshed out in an Arts Management principle nicked from Michael Kaiser: not in a day, not without failure, not without discipline. So we decided that we would prioritise an annual National Tour, presenting a performance and education programme in at least three provinces – a goal we are proud to surpass almost every year.

Collecting the set in DBNAnd in typical FTH:K style, in 2012 we shot for the stars and took on our biggest National Tour yet. First KZN, then the Free State, Gauteng, and the Western Cape. (We were meant to go to Mpumalanga as well but the demand and interest there seemed so small that we couldn’t justify the expense of getting the team up there. However, this is a province we will keep working on in our endeavour to get into every province in the country. First SA, then the wooooooooorld!) Putting thoughts of world domination aside, the first leg of the tour has just been finished. Last weekend, we welcomed the touring team back and gave them a well-deserved week off. But not before our Artistic Director, Jayne, jotted down some tour impressions for you all:

KwaVulindlebe School for the Deaf “This has been my first ever FTH:K National Schools’ Tour and it was an eye-opening experience to say the least. And since at FTH:K we “listen with our eyes”, I have been doing a LOT of listening! This KZN tour was the biggest of our National Tours to date, with 5 hearing schools, 5 Deaf schools and 1 Deaf institute on our itinerary, and our chock-a-block 2-week schedule took us from Durban to Mooi River and back again.

KwaThintwa School for the Deaf - workshop At the Deaf schools, the learners were thirsty for drama knowledge, looking to Marlon, Sine and Christo as role models. At the hearing schools, the learners were thirsty for sign language and information on Deaf culture, looking to our Trainees as a welcome access point to something unknown. No matter which school we attended, the learners welcomed us with open minds and big smiles.

OfficeBLOCK - Promotion - DeafSA Without a doubt, OfficeBLOCK has been a controversial show to tour, questioning and unpacking the global threat known as The Corporation. Making the learners engage with uncomfortable subject matter is never a simple task, but using the medium of non-verbal performance we found them mesmerised. They laughed with Sinethemba. They covered their mouths in horror at Christo and Asanda. They sympathised with Marlon. And by curtain call all hands were frantically waving in the air: a sure sign that we had achieved what we set out to do.

St Marry's DSG - Deaf applause This is the beauty of Visual Theatre. It creates a singular and integrated experience for an audience member, engaging them in a conversation of images that requires their presence to complete the theatrical contract. And the learners got this, perhaps more readily than many adults who are so used to being “helped along” by words.

Our National School Tours are a bold reminder of why we do what we do, and we are most certainly looking forward to the next time we visit KZN!”

Here’s to 2013!