In July 2012, award-winning actress Dorothy Ann Gould set about changing the lives of seven homeless men. Driving through Hillbrow, Gould was struck by the heartlessness most people have in relation to the homeless. She decided then to take over the creative programme initiated by June Jardine at St George's Anglican Church in Parkview. Serving tea and sandwiches to many of Joburg's homeless, this church became the starting point for Johannesburg Awakening Minds, a theatre troupe of former homeless men and women who have gone on to achieve great recognition, despite their humble beginnings.
Gould began teaching breathing exercises and creative writing to the group at the Hillbrow Theatre, shortly after recruiting them from the church's soup kitchen programme. Initially, many of them were reluctant to speak, having been voiceless for most of their lives. Gould's aim was to inspire these men and women to find their own voices through powerful, poetic language. And, where better to begin than with the sonnets and tragedies of Shakespeare?
As Gould explains, she has a special connection with Shakespeare. "I love Shakespeare... it healed me at the age of 14 when I came into contact with it," she said. For the men and women of Johannesburg Awakening Minds, Shakespeare's works provides an outlet for the experiences and emotions they have long had to keep to themselves. Whether performing as the ill-fated Hamlet or Lear, a buffoon like Bottom or even in local television series and films, these actors definitely have stories worth listening to.
At the end of 2019, JAM was without a permanent rehearsal space. Thankfully, the Market Theatre Foundation responded to their call for a new home, offering JAM a three-year residence at the Windybrow Arts Centre in Doornfontein. Restored in 2017, the heritage house at the Windybrow Arts Centre is roughly 123 years old! The centre is just a hop away from JAM's original work space, offering them further opportunities to engage with the local community and bring Shakespeare to the inner city streets.
Following the announcement of JAM's new residency on 27 January 2020, the Market Theatre Foundation added some exciting news for fans of this revolutionary theatre collective. JAM will be given a season run at the Market Theatre for an annual showcase of their work! The foundation is also working to get JAM on the road in 2020, hoping to take them to the National Arts Festival in Makhanda in June.
The Windybrow Arts Centre will also continue to work with the St George’s Anglican Church Parkview and St Michael’s in Bryanston, who for the past 20 years have provided tea, sandwiches and biscuits for the homeless every Monday, and a hot cooked meal on a Friday.
"We are ecstatic to be able to offer JAM a new home at the Windybrow Arts Centre. The partnership will allow the wonderful work that has been cultivated over the years to continue within the area of its inception. This is most valuable to the participants, the initial objectives of the programme. We look forward to working together and creating," said Keitu Gwangwa, the Head of the Windybrow Arts Centre.
It's your turn to play a part in keeping JAM alive and thriving. The actors keep all the earnings they make from performances, and for many, this is their main source of income. Audiences are often moved to tears by their brilliant delivery of Shakespeare's words, giving people a new perspective on the human capabilities of even the most rejected members of society. Johannesburg Awakening Minds is beyond just a theatre group, they offer an incredibly tangible and life-changing experience.
Kicking off their 2020 season, JAM will be performing at Foxwood House in Houghton. Joined on stage by award-winning acapella group, Inkulu Lendaba, JAM will deliver a glorious recital of Shakespeare and song beneath the lush trees. Surrounded by peacocks, swans and a babbling brook, they will transport you to the worlds of Hamlet, Macbeth and King Lear. There will be a beautiful buffet lunch prior to the show, so don't miss out!
Saturday, 29 February 2020 and Sunday, 01 March 2020, from 14:30 - 16:00.
Foxwood House, 13 5th St, Houghton Estate, Johannesburg.
Tickets cost R100 per person at the door (cash only). Book a table for the buffet lunch by calling 011 486 0935.
Follow Johannesburg Awakening minds on Facebook for more information about this event and future shows.
The Rand Club proudly presents Johannesburg Awakening Minds in performance this November. A group of ten homeless men perform Shakespeare to stunned audiences. Trained by acclaimed actress and director Dorothy Ann Gould, these men will astound you with their eloquence and emotional range. Don't miss the chance to show your support.
Saturday, 16 November 2019 from 14:00-16:00.
Rand Club, James Findlay Gallery, 33 Loveday Street, Johannesburg.
Tickets cost R100 per person. Contact [email protected] to book yours.
Follow the Rand Club on Facebook for more information.