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From a Piglet to a Rat in the National Children’s Theatre

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GILLIAN KLAWANSKY

A practising lawyer, Bradley (31) found his true calling a few years ago when travelling abroad. “I saw a few productions overseas and realised that this is what I’d like to do as a profession. I had acted in a production of Charlie in the Chocolate Factory in primary school at the age of eight, but then I took a 20-year hiatus,” he says.

In pursuing an acting career, Nowikow completed an advanced acting course at the University of Johannesburg. Other than his recent animal experiences, he is new to the NCT.

The NCT, however, is an integral thread in the tapestry of South Africa’s arts and culture heritage, taking young imaginations on unforgettable journeys and honing the skills of young thespians and children who dream of being in the theatre. Established in 1989 by Joyce Levinsohn, award-winning pioneer of children’s theatre in the country, the NCT has always had significant Jewish connections.

Headed for the last five and a half years by Moira Katz, the NCT is known for the invaluable role it plays in developing a love of theatre, both in its young audiences and in the actors and actresses who start off their careers on its stage.

Katz, who holds a teaching diploma in speech and drama, is a training and communications specialist, having lectured both at Wits and later at Wayne State University in the US, where she lived for six years.

On her return to South Africa, she became the first secretary for the NCT Trust at Levinsohn’s request, while also running her own training and development company for supervisors and managers.

“When over 20 years later the Board of Trustees asked me if I’d be interested in becoming the new CEO of the NCT, I saw it as a new challenge – and it remains a challenge every day,” she says.

Under Katz’s leadership, new processes have been implemented, the company’s two “Heritage Houses” have been cleaned up, a second theatre has been started, a puppet theatre has opened and there are also plans underway for an outdoor amphitheatre.

Katz has also brought her passion for educational development to the NCT. “We do a lot of theatre in education,” she says. “I’m really a believer that children who attend theatre classes, even if they don’t want to become actors, do the most wonderful work and achieve so much.

“They learn critical thinking skills, to use their imaginations creatively, to integrate with all different kinds of children of all races, and to act out different themes; they really have an advantage over other schoolchildren.”

While Katz says that the NCT used to welcome large numbers of Jewish children to the theatre, but that’s no longer the case and she’d love to increase the numbers that come now.

“We have Saturday morning acting classes for about 150 children in different age groups from the ages of five to 17 and we’d love to extend these to classes during the week or to Sundays and offer them to Jewish children.”

There are many opportunities for children who attend these classes and want to become professional actors. There’s also a Shakespeare Club that meets on Saturday afternoons.

“We give people who are looking for a chance, an opportunity to act on stage. Along with Bradley in the cast of The Adventures of Mr Toad, we have a 19- and a 20-year-old who have never been in theatre before but show great promise; we give many actors that first chance.”

Nowikow says he finds children’s theatre particularly rewarding. “Kids don’t come with preconceptions and aren’t as critical as adults. Once they enjoy a production, they become so immersed in it and it’s great to have an audience like that – onstage you’re enjoying it with them and it makes your performance that much more effective and rewarding.

“But if they don’t like something, they’ll also tell you! Children’s theatre’s been a great learning curve for me, starting out.” Nowikow is also enjoying acting with the children’s cast of The Adventures of Mr Toad, which is based on the  beloved children’s book The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.

Asked what audiences can expect from the production, Nowikow says it’s ultimately a big adventure, as the name suggests. “It’s also a story of camaraderie, where characters all come together to help each other out.

“The set will be amazing, we have car crashes, a horse and cart and much more. It’s a very funny British scrip;, adults will enjoy it too – there are even a few Monty Python elements in it.”

Nowikow eventually plans to go to Canada and get into film. “Theatre is where you learn and get your grounding, though. I actually prefer it to film,” he says. “Attaining success in the acting industry is ultimately about being proactive and putting yourself out there.”

 * The Adventures of Mr Toad runs from until July 23 at the National Children’s Theatre. To book, call the theatre on (011) 484-1584/5 or mail bookings@nctt.org.za. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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