Production gallops to success
THE artistry and magnificence of the 2014 production of War Horse in SA has been compared to William Kentridge’s The Magic Flute, which enthralled local audiences in 2007.
Just as Kentridge’s threedimensional work of art left South Africans open-mouthed in awe, the “homecoming” of the global theatre phenomenon puppeteered by the South African Handspring Puppet Company about a horse called Joey exceeded the expectations of local audiences.
The local production was the result of wide-ranging collaboration between Pieter Toerien, Rand Merchant Bank (RMB), the South African Handspring Puppet Company, the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain, Tsogo Sun, Artscape, the International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People of South Africa (ASSITEJ SA) and Tokara Wine Estate. These partnerships were lauded last night when RMB won the Strategic Project Award and RMB, the Handspring Puppet Company and the Handspring Trust received the Basa Chairman’s Premier Award. The latter award is made at the discretion of the chairman of Basa in recognition of sustained and extraordinary commitment to the arts in SA.
The relationship between Basa, War Horse and RMB goes back several years. In 2011, Basa CEO Michelle Constant approached RMB to sponsor the guest appearance of Joey’s friend, Topthorn, at that year’s Basa Awards. It was a showstopper and thereafter RMB’s Carolynne Waterhouse told Toerien that if ever the full production were to tour SA, RMB would like to be involved.
“Pieter had access to War Horse, not us,” says Waterhouse (who is these days sometimes also referred to as “Ms Water Horse”). “RMB successfully brought the production to SA because of our partnership with him, his nerves of steel, his determination to bring Joey home to the average South African by making ticket prices affordable, and huge amounts of energy generated by him and everyone else involved in the collaboration.”
The success of War Horse in SA was not, however, only about wowing paying audiences. The RMB Fund, which is RMB’s corporate social investment vehicle, developed an extensive social development programme to supplement the staging of the event. One of the conditions of the business sponsorship was that the corporate social investment fund would integrate its focus on the arts and its network of partners. The objective was to make the production as meaningful and far-reaching as possible.
The RMB Fund partnered with Tshikululu Social Investments and ASSITEJ SA to run an eight-month long programme. With input and participation from National Theatre facilitators, the initiative trained up a network of artists in education mediation of theatre performances. The programme was also designed to promote the idea of theatre as an educational tool, strengthen the network of local practitioners with common practice and know-how, and to leave a legacy of improved engagement with schools, and increased sustainability for artists and companies.