Tag Archives | industrial theatre

Engen Phambili 2012

This year I decided to create a musical for my yearly industrial theatre project. Music and singing is a huge winner with our audience. So, here are one or two pics from Engen Smile – The Musical. My amazing cast are Ntombi Makhutshi, Daneel van der Walt, Larissa Hughes, Richard Tafane and Aphiwe Mensiwa.


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Recognition, thanks, honouring.

I am at the airport, waiting to fly home from a rather extraordinary time in the North (Pretoria, Brits, Potchefstroom) doing something really exciting for a client, and I want to write about it before I lose the amazing magic of the work we did.

I was asked whether I could come up with a way to train up a very particular group of workers who work in the service industry. They are women who work for a catering company that services a few private hospitals. To be honest, the importance of their job far outweighs its rewards, particularly financially. I imagine they are earning pretty much the minimum wage, on average. Yet, they have direct contact with the patients. They have huge responsibility. The scope of their daily duties is really wide. And, most importantly, they are scored every month by a survey company that does random calling to ask service related questions. It’s a tough, relatively thankless job.

I wasn’t sure what I could offer them. I specialise improvisation in the corporate sector, and in industrial theatre, used to deliver a specific message. Neither of these two options seemed like what they needed. And then it came to me. More than anything else, these women needed to be recognised in some way. They needed to be seen and thanked, not challenged, tested or trained.

And that’s exactly what I proposed. And it was phenomenal. I watched suspicious, negative, tired faces turn into faces of joy and delight. I watched the truth of the thank you sink in, and I saw as women relaxed and told their stories. I watched six times, on six different occasions, a change take place, without ever calling for it, or naming it, or demanding it. It was transformationnal.

What I heard and saw and was part of has changed me forever. It has turned me into an unofficial HR campaigner. It has reinforced my belief that people are a company’s greatest asset. It has powered my knowledge in team work. It has absolutely confirmed that most people are committed to their work, even in the most trying circumstances, and that acknowledgement and thanks does not have to be grand, or expensive or ridiculous, but heartfelt.

I am going to keep the ‘how’ of this project a secret, because I am definitely going to be doing it again, with other groups and teams and members of the mostly invisible. And, I will push hard for the bosses to go there. And I know for sure it will make a huge difference. If you read this, and are inspired, contact me. Let’s talk.

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Industrial theatre part 2

I had an incredible flash yesterday and I wanted to put it down and explain it. It was about why Industrial Theatre is so successful at communicating a message. Industrial theatre is all about understanding your audience, and creating work for them. It is about giving a particular (and very specific, in most cases) group of people exactly what they want to see. Characters are created with them in mind. The audience is mirrored on stage in terms of content, culture, language, aspiration and most importantly humour. Once the client’s message and brief is understood, it’s a case of finding the best way to put it across to the audience, making the performance inclusive in a way that traditional theatre often isn’t. Traditional theatre has developed a bit of a reputation (definitely in this country) for being rather elitist and inaccessible and most theatre makers perpetuate this by creating work that challenges and confounds. You have to be a ‘theatre buff’ to ‘get it’. I am; and I love it, but it is hard to grow that special audience. With industrial theatre you work the other way around. First find out everything you can about the audience and then make the show for and about them. Knowing your audience is what brings about success. Granted, it is an audience that doesn’t choose to arrive. It is a given that they will be there (unlike traditional theatre where most often an audience has to be found, coerced, nagged and dragged) so half the battle is won. But keeping their interest, and creating a connection is the sole focus of the work. And there is nothing more rewarding than when this works. I’m ready to get to rehearsals today!

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The Cast

One of the hardest choices to make is that of a cast. I am about to go into rehearsals for a big industrial theatre show and I had to audition and then select a cast of five to perform what will be a 35 minute play that will go around South Africa as part of a road show.

Auditions were three days of roller coaster. Some actors were brilliantly prepared and had given their audition some creative thought. Others had fits of nerves. Some were so good but not suitable, some were suitable but not good enough, others were plain useless.

The hardest part was choosing from those who were good, and making choices that have to do with group dynamics, balance, age, status, energy and size of performance. In this country colour still plays a major part. There are still jobs that are mainly performed by black people and white people are still the majority when it comes to being the boss.

After a weekend of deliberation and going through the permutations, I settled on my final cast and it is so exciting. Watch this space for pictures and updates.

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