Theatre allowed me to merge my academic and theatrical personas Nineteen-year-old Sanele Zwane, an Outreach Foundation Performing Arts Alumni, is a student at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg and is studying Biological Sciences. He is an energetic and confident young man who credits Outreach Foundation for a lot of the skills he uses daily at varsity. Having joined the performing arts project in 2013 after watching a performance with a friend, Sanele fell in love with the stage. Although he had been introduced to the stage when he was in primary school, there was something different about this space. About the people. About the vibe. “After the play, I joined the Outreach Foundation theatre and came back to the organisation almost every day. It was a safe space, and I recognised that I didn’t get involved in all the risky and stupid things I could have done after school because my time was better spent on stage. “I also found it to be a place that I could take my troubles to, where the facilitator would listen and help, or I could leave it backstage and take on a different persona. It was a place I could merge my academic persona and my theatrical one. “I worked hard and performed in many productions. I was with the theatre from grade 8 all the way to grade 12. I miss the stage, but I take all the lessons I’ve learnt on stage and from bra’ Mike – which was not only about acting I must tell you, but on life – and apply them to what I do at varsity”. Sanele said that when you take on a character or a new drama project, you have to do a lot of research and you have to be focussed and use your imagination. You become the character and see the world from their eyes or standpoint. You also become patient and listen. You learn to engage, to share and to be more confident. “As a scientist, I have to concentrate, focus and do research. I also have to communicate, engage and share. All of these skills I got from acting. “I also notice how the leadership skills we obtained from the theatre has come in handy as we often have to work together and share our findings, and I tend to get right in, get us working on what needs to be done, and then as I’m confident in speaking in front of audiences, present our findings. I would never have done that before”. Sanele recalls some of his highlights of being with Outreach Foundation’s theatre including being awarded the best actor in a lead role in his first performance in 2013 where he played an old granny who was blind. The blind grandmother monologue performance was taken to the Roodepoort Theatre as well. He was also a presenter at the Naledi Awards where he met loads of stars and went to the National Eisteddfod where he went all the way to the semi-finals. “The Eisteddfod was great. I met many children my age who are very talented. As I’d get back home each night after midnight during the week, my mother was concerned at what I was doing, but after seeing my performances and the talent around me, she was reassured, and she knew how important it was to me”. He also loved the workshops he did at Outreach Foundation in Hillbrow, with London’s Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in 2015 and 2016. “Both workshops were amazing! In 2015 we dealt with gender and sexuality, which was an eye-opener for many people my age. It was such an important topic as it’s normally a taboo topic. One never talks about this, and it’s something that needs to be spoken about. What I liked about these workshops was that it wasn’t just acting either: we danced too. There were children from other schools there too, so we learnt from them. “These were just my absolute highlights of the five years I was with Outreach Foundation Theatre. We did so much that I could list so much more. “It was a great experience. The only thing I would wish for the organisation is that it would expand the programme into the townships. There are a lot of children who aren’t able to get to Hillbrow and who would benefit from the experiences I had. Most children aren’t exposed to the theatre. “Personally I believe all children have the potential to act and if they are given the opportunity to at a young age, who knows what they would be able to achieve or get through in their lives. “I will always remember what bra’ Mike told us: ‘It’s about life, not just about acting!’ and we would spend lots of time speaking about life and using our experiences to become better actors and people. “So what I’ve learnt from acting doesn’t only help me at varsity, but in everything I do, as even when I watch a movie, I start thinking about what went into planning that movie, the story behind it, the research. It’s made me an inquisitive person. A person who thinks and isn’t afraid to ask or talk. “I would love it if more children could be introduced to the theatre and the experiences I had. I’m very grateful”.