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South African Youth Perform at GW
February 01, 2012
Latest collaboration between Professor of Theatre Leslie Jacobson and the Bokamoso Youth Centre premieres Friday.
A special performance at George Washington this evening explores some of the challenges facing youth today.
“Take Off the Mask,” which features performers from South Africa, will debut at the Dorothy Betts Marvin Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Friday. All proceeds go to the Bokamoso Youth Foundation and the Bokamoso Youth Centre in Winterveldt, South Africa.
Since 2003, Professor of Theatre Leslie Jacobson and Roy Barber, a performing arts teacher from St. Andrews Episcopal School, have worked with the youth from Bokamoso, traveling there each summer to develop plays and songs that address problems in the community through a collaboration called the South African Project.
Founded in 1999 by South Africans Steven and Marion Carpenter, the Bokamoso Youth Centre offers three-month programs that build life skills, including leadership and self-esteem building, teach HIV/AIDS awareness and provide educational scholarships.
Ms. Jacobson said tonight’s performance will chronicle some of the issues the youth face while they try to “stay the course,” and will feature traditional African songs and dances, with a special guest appearance by the GW Troubadours. Winterveldt is a poverty-stricken settlement northwest of Pretoria and has a 50 percent unemployment rate and 25 percent HIV/AIDS infection rate.
“I hope the audience will see strategies for staying focused on achieving their own goals and that they will be inspired by the determination of the Bokamoso youth, as I am,” said Ms. Jacobson.
Ms Jacobson said song and dance is a great way to connect with the Bokamoso Youth Centre.
“Performance is both a way of building confidence and self-esteem for these young men and women who often feel forgotten and voiceless and a way of giving respect and honor to their culture,” she said. “The acts of helping to create and perform these plays about the challenges in their community allow the youth to model behavior that can promote change, as well as exposing behavior that is self-destructive. Audiences learn through watching these situations and behaviors modeled as well.”
On their trip to Winterveldt last summer, Ms. Jacobson and Mr. Barber were joined by dramatic literature and theater majors Madeline Hendricks and Ariel Warmflash—who traveled thanks to Luther Rice Undergraduate Research Fellowships— and 10 graduate candidates in the GW Art Therapy Program, along with Program Director Heidi Bardot.
The trip exposed the George Washington students to the hardships South African youth face in their township, said Ms. Jacobson, as well as their unwavering spirit.
“The GW students have the opportunity to immerse themselves in a totally different culture with people who are the same age as themselves,” said Ms. Jacobson. “They also see the extraordinary courage, determination and resiliency of the Bokamoso youth in working to overcome these challenges, and the South Africans’ joy, warmth, generosity and sense of fun.”
“Students who have come with me have said the experience changed them profoundly, and they all want to return to Winterveldt someday,” she added.
The center also offers a cultural exchange to the United States. Every January for the past six years, youth from the center have traveled to the United States to stay with St. Andrews host families and George Washington students as well as perform around the region.
Ms. Jacobson said the students also attend George Washington classes, where they get a glimpse of the U.S. higher education system.
“The youth have consistently said each year how incredibly impressed they are by how hard the GW students work, how seriously they take their studies and how little sleep they get while at school!” said Ms. Jacobson. “The youth find this inspiring and try to keep that feeling alive when they return to Winterveldt.”
Ms. Jacobson and Mr. Barber are deeply committed to the Bokamoso Youth Foundation; they serve as vice president and president, respectively, and actively fundraise throughout the year for the foundation and the Bokamoso Youth Centre. Ms. Jacobson said she feels fortunate to be able to make a difference in the Winterveldt community through her “two passions”: theater and music.
“While life is definitely difficult there, the people are so determined to overcome obstacles that I find myself continually inspired when working with them,” she said. “I feel very fortunate to have found the Bokamoso Youth Centre and to have forged friendships with some remarkable individuals there.”
Tickets for Friday’s performance are available by visiting the box office, located next to the Dorothy Betts Marvin Theatre on the first floor of the Marvin Center. Admission is $10 for students and seniors and $30 for the general public.