They call themselves ‘Well Worn’, but they’re bringing a hot topic to schools

| September 17, 2010

Kyla Davis, creator of the Well Worn Theatre Company, is a passionate, humble young activist who describes her theatrical endeavour in the following way:


“We are your favourite, most lived-in, dependable pair of jeans, the ones with the patch on the bum. We are a pair of sturdy boots that has taken you round the world and back and been repaired at least 500 times. We’re a scuffed door, a battered suitcase, a weathered wall with fading paintwork that, in a certain light, looks strangely beautiful.”

They may be as familiar as an old friend, but the Well Worn Theatre Company is relatively new on the educational theatre circuit. They are, however, increasingly in demand, because their plays – toured around Johannesburg to independent and state schools alike – deal with a ‘hot’ topic: climate change and related issues.

A seed germinates into a successful environmental play

Davis has had plenty of experience in her chosen field. “I’ve always been a ‘greenie’!” she smiles. A graduate of the National School of the Arts, she went on to study physical theatre in London, where she had the good fortune to be part of a commissioned play project about environmental issues. Back home in South Africa, that seed has germinated into a vibrant stage experience to energise (efficiently, of course!) even the most jaded teens to save the Earth.

Powerful partners

Ten years ago, observes Davis, ‘green’ activists were generally considered hippies. These days, it’s possible to hook into powerful green networks. “We consider many organisations our friends, and were lucky to partner with the Johannesburg chapter of Earthlife Africa. They help us with our administration, and we bring theatre to their activism.

“We were also extremely fortunate to receive funding for a full year from the National Lottery. This means we don’t have to charge the primary schools who book to see our play.”

A transformative journey is at hand

Said play is a sassy two-hander, enacted by the inimitable Craig Morris and a changeable cast of fellow thespians. “The central character is an ‘every child’, a typical wasteful youngster who’s visited by an energy character who appears magically out of a power socket. A 40- minute journey to a more enlightened consciousness includes a visit to a power station, the disappearing Amazon jungle, and the melting polar ice caps – as well as a harrowingly altered future landscape.

“My theatre experience has taught me not to lecture to young people. That’s not theatre. We keep up the pace, and cram in loads of physical theatre and interactive elements. Audience members can, for example, pedal our energy bike, to get a good idea of the exact nature and value of energy. We also show them our amazing solar cooker.”

Different schools, different priorities

The ideal audience for this experience are grades 4 to 9 pupils. Despite the team’s experience and expertise, however, every performance is a learning curve. “To do the same show at a well-resourced, wealthy school and a so-called township school is a totally different experience, and so our pitch must change depending on our audience. At the former school, the big challenge may be getting the electricity bill down, whereas at the latter, it may be more important to the school community to find and maintain a clean source of water, or to get rid of plastic bags.”

Extra support for teachers

One constant is that, wherever they go, teachers are grateful. “Green issues are now an important part of the curriculum, but teachers may feel overwhelmed about finding a way in.” To assist teachers even further, Davis and her team have put together an impressive resource pack, full of well-researched activities. “We acknowledge the input of groups like WESSA (the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa) and Project 90×2030 (more info at www.90×2030.org.za). “We’re also working on a booklet that teachers can use to refer back to issues raised at specific moments in the play, as well as evaluation forms to help us develop key aspects and themes.” Providing them
with a free resource pack doesn’t mean Davis and co are letting educators off the hook, however. “We’re all about fundamental behaviour change to save the planet, and that means everyone at school. It’s not a free period for teachers! Come and watch, and get involved in the future – yours and your pupils’.”

A bright, green future ahead

The future for the Well Worn Theatre Company includes a visit to the National Schools Festival in Grahamstown next year, the development of a play for adults, and a three-year programme that could tour to other provinces. But Davis is firm about keeping it small and simple. “We’re a go-anywhere, perform-anywhere group. I’d like us to get to the point where our performances don’t expend any unnecessary energy at all, so that we’re ‘walking the walk’, as well as ‘talking the talk’.”

Like theatre practitioners around the world, Davis knows that her chosen medium allows children to experience and interrogate a range of beliefs and feelings. And her final message to schools about the environment is to-the-point and powerful. “The time is now,” she says with another smile. She’s right.

Contact the Well Worn Theatre Company at Tel: +27 (11) 023 9440, Cellphone: 076 715 2414, Email: kylalliandavis@gmail.com or wellworntheatre@gmail.com Visit: www.wellworn.org.za

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Category: Spring 2010 Edition

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