We recently celebrated Youth Day and with this fresh in our minds we sought to find out more about working at an organisation directly involved in youth development. Magnet Theatre, located in Cape Town’s vibrant suburb of Observatory, is one such organisation and we chatted to Jennie Reznek, a director and trustee at Magnet, about its beginnings, impact and why Youth Development. We also spoke with Babalwa Makwetu, an alumni of Magnet Theatre’s training program.
How did it all begin?
Magnet Theatre started in the dark days of Apartheid. We are over thirty years old as an organisation. What drove us was the need to give back and to contribute to making South Africa a better place – a more just, moral, peaceful place.
In the beginning, we started teaching wherever we could but at a certain point we decided that we wanted to formalise what we were doing and so we focused on Khayelitsha. We spent 8 years working in Khayelitsha with young kids after school focusing on drama groups that already existed, supporting them in what they were doing and trying to further develop youth drama and community theatre in the area.
As we grew, we really wanted to adopt some groups and work with them over a longer period so we developed the Community Groups Intervention program, which was the forerunner of the Culture Gangs projects, as they are referred to today.
After 8 years, we found ourselves sitting under a tree in Clanwilliam, we run a big project there, and we started to talk about another possibility. Yes, we’d achieved a huge amount with the Community Groups Intervention in Khayelitsha but we were seeing that there were a lot of people post matric that were lost and floundering if they didn’t manage to get into tertiary education or find employment. There was no place to go to for any kind of formalised training, so we decided to initiate the Full Time Training and Job Creation Program, a two-year program, where young people could have consistent and thorough training. Since starting the program in 2008, we’ve managed to get 23 first-time-university-attendees-in-their-families into the University of Cape Town, 10 of which have graduated, 9 who are still studying, and 71% of the rest have been employed professionally in the industry.
Why Youth Development?
What drives me is that I hate waste; waste of time, waste of potential, and waste of human capital. It felt like young people’s lives – talented, bright, resourceful, resilient young people – were just being wasted. This program is an attempt not to waste that but to really develop the potential of young people.
There are a lot of people whose lives have been changed. It’s proven to be a system that works. Magnet becomes a home for young people and a space where they can really grow.
We have a professional theatre company and it’s important in the way that it talks to the training. The young people who come in can see the quality of the work and it opens the door for professional productions to also employ these young people.
How do the arts play a role in Youth Development?
I studied in Paris with Jacques Lecoq and what I feel I learnt there was that he gave me the gift of myself. He made me feel that my own stories, my narratives, my histories, all the things that made me who I was, was the basis on which I could make theatre. That was the gift that I came back from France with and it is very much at the basis of the training here.
The training is not about just teaching people ‘something.’ It’s about empowering young people to understand the value of their own stories and their own lives. It’s a different take on teaching – it is learning through doing.
When I look at the things that young people learn here I feel that it’s things that will stand them in good stead in every aspect of their lives. They are learning self-confidence, resilience, how to be articulate, how to communicate with other people in a group, how to lead, how to follow, how to listen, how to trust, how to be trustworthy. These are life skills. They are embedded in the training of what it means to be an actor but more importantly they are life skills and whether they go on to become a teacher or a doctor, young people need those things.
Rising Star: Bulelwa Makwetu
Bulelwa experienced first-hand the impact of Magnet’s program. After auditioning she was accepted into the two-year training program and since graduating has gone on to work with Magnet, Artscape, Market Theatre, and Baxter Theatre on a number of productions. She has also had the opportunity to travel to Italy and Switzerland to perform.
Bulelwa now works as a freelance professional artist and is actively involved in youth mentorship at the Future Line Arts Academy in Khayelitsha and in teaching music at Magnet.
The impact it had on her life…
I have gained myself. I got to be me. I realised that this is my path. If I never came here I think I’d be lost because I always thought I’d be an electrical engineer. Maybe I would be happy with that but I wouldn’t have found myself.
Advice for young people…
For young people wanting to go into the arts, it’s all about believing in yourself. Open your mind and go for opportunities.
Most rewarding part of working in Youth Development…
I started here as a trainee and now I have become a teacher. I am experiencing the things my teachers experienced and I feel so proud of myself that I can share the information I have learnt with other kids. I never thought I’d be a teacher!