Homeless actors in Jo’burg tak

Homeless actors in Jo’burg take Shakespeare to the streets

A talented group of homeless people has found their calling in performing Shakespeare.

Homeless actors in Jo’burg tak

The group is using Shakespeare’s words to tell their own stories.

The theatre group called Johannesburg Awakening Minds (JAM) was founded in 2012 by South African actress and acting coach Dorothy Ann Gould and is made up of homeless men and women living on the streets of Johannesburg’s inner city.

Gould explains on her website that the group began as a therapy class in Hillbrow to allow “individuals [to] feel that they had the right to speak, the right to be seen and the right to tell their stories in a city which has been very cruel to them.”

The classes Gould conducts include vocal training, theatre stagecraft and even creative writing exercises.

Gould found that shortly after the classes began, the students found their voices in the works of Shakespeare, as the men and women began to recite some of his most famous soliloquies on street corners around Jo’burg city centre.

Of Shakespeare’s works affecting the actors, Gould writes, “[The words] of Macbeth and Titus were speaking about their pain and that the plays were huge receptacles that could hold all the emotions that they needed to release: the rage, the feelings of abandonment; they began to flex again their intellectual muscle, to debate, have opinions and to become a team that support each other and watch each other’s backs, not only on the streets, but on stage.”

The group has performed on stage since 2013, although intermittently, at performances at the Johannesburg Arts Alive festival, at the Space.com event and as part of the Shakespeare Society of South Africa festival on radio station Classic FM.

Donations and sponsorships have helped the JAM members slowly get back on their feet as they re-enter society. Some actors have opened bank accounts and begun small businesses to help themselves and their families. Some members of JAM have had small roles as extras in television productions or worked in short student films.

Of her students, Gould says, “[They are] dedicated and passionate… the talent and growth they have displayed is truly inspirational. Proving that Shakespeare is not for the old, stuffy academic types and has a home in Africa.”

  Video courtesy of Youtube/ Shakespeare in Africa/ Roy MacGregor

Check out the Johannesburg Awakening Minds Facebook page for photos and videos of the group in action, and to support the initiative, contact Dorothy Ann Gould via her Triple Take Studios website here.