This morning I rushed off to Steve's Spar in Cresta, grabbed a basket
full of brown wrapping paper, some glue, and some wax crayons, and sped
through Hillbrow to Berea to the New Life Centre. There I met
Linda-Michael, one of the dudes who works at the Hillbrow Community Theatre
in Edith Cavell Street.
We met on the Augusto Boal
FORUM THEATRE training workshop
I participated in last year, and again when a group of us decided to
take the training forward. He asked me if I'd like to volunteer to do
some work on a project he's involved in, and I said yeah.
So we enter a block of flats, and the security dude eyes us
suspicioulsy. What's the white dude doing parking a sports car out on
the street in the Bronx? What's he doing entering this building??
Linda says to him, 'New Life Centre, my bra,' and we get nodded
through. Some of the buildings in Berea and Hillbrow are having their
foyers refurbished to make it impossible for overcrowding to take
place. This is one of those places. So we have to be individually
scanned through the single-person-only turnstile. Then we're trotting
up the stairs carrying the stuff I bought, and a kitbag filled with
We're in. A huge space with massive windows. Bright. A view of the vast
block of flats across the road. And if I crane my neck, I can just see
the tail light of my car. The room is filled with laughter. And women.
About 35 of them. And three or four children. On one end is the
kitchen. The other has five computers and some couches. In the middle,
comfie chairs filled with ex- and current-prostitutes.
Babalwa greets us. She's one of the ladies who runs the place. We sit
down cross legged on the floor to have a quick briefing session. She
says, 'This project helps to rehabilitate women and children who have
become involved in selling sex in the human trafficking trade.' The
ladies come voluntarily becaue they want out, and the project provides
counselling and safe houses for them to live while they rehabilitate.
Babalwa says many of the ladies present no longer work as prostitutes,
but that some of them are forced to carry on in the business.
One of the things the project does for the women is teach them skills
that they can use to get out of prostitution, and into more regular
jobs. These are NOT high-class prostitutes earning millions and
spending it all on cocaine. These are ordinary women from rural areas
who can't read or write, lured to the city and enslaved by hectic guys
who probably get them hooked on crack.
I outline what I've prepared for the women, and both Linda and Babalwa
like what they're hearing. Of course, I'm improvising as I go, cos I
couldn't reallllly prep properly without this briefing session.
We stand, and Linda calls for attention. The women gather in a circle,
and we all hold hands. Linda says, 'I have brought a guest with today,
and he will be doing some exciting work with us. His name is Roy. And
I'll leave him to introduce himself.'
Linda teaches the women at this centre drama, and he often invites guests to facilitate workshops.
The ladies are mostly smiling, but one or two of them look like they're
having a rough time in the world. About four of them are around 13
I introduce myself. 'I'm a writer, director, producer, and actor. I
also lead creativity seminars. Today we're going to have some fun, and
learn a little bit about ourselves so that we can become better actors
and also improve ourselves.'
So we start off with a nice warmup exercise that I learned in Danile
Buckland's class at the Actors' Centre, and soon everyone's engaged.
Then we go into an Augusto Boal game in which pairs of people act as
person/mirror partners. Then we go into a game where I ask everyone to
make a picture of their inner beauty. They attack the magazines
enthusiastically, and soon, everyone's making pictures.
We end my two-hour workshop with another Boal game... one at a time, we
each leap into the centre of the circle and announce one word
describing our emotional space, accompanied by a physical gesture.
Everyone in the circle repeats our word and gesture twice, and the next
person goes. Most of the women are excited and joyous. Two or them are
quite down. This stuff stirs up hectic emotions.
Babalwa comes up to me after and asks me if I'd like to stay for lunch.
I've just finished reading ACID ALEX
, so I know that it's extremely
rude to refuse food, so I accept, timidly looking over at the kitchen
to try and work out what the food might be. If it's offal, I'm going to
be in trouble deluxe. But I've accepted, so there's no backing out ot
Luckily, the food is a delicious lamb curry with pasta.
Linda says, 'I'd like you to come and do another workshop, Roy. This was excellent.'
One of the ladies overhears him. 'I agree,' she says.
And I say, 'I agree too. I've loved being here.'