Business Day

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.

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