The RedFest at Redhill School in Morningside, Johannesburg kicked off with a Shakespeare workshop, and was followed by a panel discussion, on Friday 7 October 2016.

The panel discussion was an intimate gathering between teachers, students, and media representatives in the Arts & Culture sector, meeting to discuss various issues within the industry. The panel consisted of Khutjo Green who facilitated the process, Sylvaine Strike, Ismail Mahomed, Chris Avant-Smith, and Bernard Jay.

Issues raised, were the importance of subjects like Drama/Music/Arts at school level. Valid points were brought forward, such as how these subjects help shape students, even if they do not go into the Arts as a career. Introducing children to the theatre at an earlier stage in their life could assist in them establishing a better understanding, more interest in it, and an appreciation for the Performing Arts.

I still remember my school trips to the Playhouse in Durban where we watched many plays around our set books and sometimes were fortunate enough to be taken for other performances as well, like Far from the Madding Crowd.

Fellow students always looked forward to these trips, some because they were missing a few hours of school and others because of the genuine interest in the play. These trips played an integral part of shaping many of the students at my school and are amplified in their achievements in their different facets of life.

The industry as a whole has been frowned upon, simply because of individuals who are not educated in these fields. Parents who do not attend shows or are not a part of the Arts in any way, are reluctant to even let their children study these subjects. A teacher commented that her school had previously adopted a timetable where students would miss an Arts (Drama/Music) class every week and parents were fine with this as they felt that their children would not be going in that direction for their career anyway. As soon as the school changed the timetable that each subject (taken by students) would be missed in a six-week cycle, the parents became enraged with the school because their children would miss a Mathematics or Science class. Does this behaviour not teach our children that the Arts are less important than other subjects or careers? The drive now from schools to alleviate these kinds of problems is to move from a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) approach to a STEAM approach, with Arts representing the “A”.

The Arts plays a huge role not only in our economy, but also in our nation building. Ismail Mahomed mentioned that in 1976 with all the trouble in Soweto, we saw a rise in the movement towards the theatre. He continued that in 1986, students rebelled and the theatres were filled. Once again in 2016 with our current situation at universities and the #FeesMustFall campaigns, the correlation with the theatre is present once more.

The changes are happening and it starts with the students.

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