The Windybrow Arts Centre in Hillbrow has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Johannesburg Awakening Minds (JAM); a group of formerly homeless men and women who, through poetry and classes in acting and voice, have managed to improve their lives and gain employment.
The Windybrow Arts Centre will be the home of JAM for the next three years.
JAM was founded in 2012 by award-winning actress Dorothy Ann Gould. It teaches through voice, breathing, physical warmups, creative writing exercises, painting sessions and emotional release work.
Instead of begging at traffic lights they started reciting Shakespeare at traffic lights. They found that Macbeth, King Lear, Richard the Third and Titus were speaking about their pain, and that the plays were huge receptacles that could hold all the emotions they needed to release in a safe. The number soared to 40 people.
In August 2013, they performed for the first time at The Arts Alive Launch Luncheon.
In November 2013, they performed at Space.com at the Johannesburg Theatre and in December, at PopArt, Arts on Main. In December 2019, JAM became homeless and needed to find a new space from which they could work. The Market Theatre Foundation offered JAM a three-year residency at the Windybrow Arts Centre.
Market Theatre Foundation CEO Ismail Mahomed said JAM is a unique South African theatre company. “Founded and located in the surrounds of the Windybrow Arts Centre, it was the right thing to do to bring them home to the Windybrow Arts Centre.”
Supported by the Windybrow Arts Centre’s administrative team, JAM will be provided with marketing and technical support; and also be allocated a season in one of the Market Theatre venues for an annual showcase.
“We want the Windybrow Arts Centre to take JAM to new heights through this partnership. We would like to see JAM make their debut on the festival circuit next year with performances either at the National Arts Festival in Makhanda or the Pan African Creative Exchange in Bloemfontein,” Mahomed said.
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.
It was June Jardien who reached out to Dorothy Ann Gould to try her hand at providing skills training in drama to the homeless but with a specific focus on uplifting and improving the individuals’ communication and social skills.
This request was welcomed by the award-winning actress because she had a few encounters with people at traffic lights who were desperate just to be ‘seen’ instead of being ignored or feared.
“I always hoped to be hearing their stories in order to make sense of my own voice as a citizen of South Africa,” said Dorothy Ann Gould.
Windybrow Arts Centre head Keitu Gwangwa said the partnership will allow the 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,” Gwangwa added.