In just seven years, the Bridgetown Theatre Company (BTC) has planted it roots so deep in the community that one would be forgiven for thinking they’ve been around for as long as the area has existed.
Screenwriter and director, Theo E Davids, a Bridgetown local himself, said he was motivated to start the organisation as there had been a “desperate need” for arts and culture in the area.
Mr Davids is the artistic director of BTC.
“Children have such a lot of talent, but there are not many places to go to. Just before we hosted our first audition, the Athlone News was the first newspaper to give us coverage, and because of that, we had more than 200 young people coming for the audition.
“Over the years, we have been privileged to travel to other parts of the country, and have performed in Grahamstown, at the Cape Town Fringe, the Baxter Theatre, Artscape, the Cape Town Carnival, at summer festivals, and we’ve done lots of outreach concerts, among others. Our mandate has always been to promote the arts, and many of our members have achieved great heights,” Mr Davids said.
His organisation is about more than just producing entertaining shows, though.
The efforts of all involved with the BTC have seen many young lives – whom few had hope for – transformed. This, Mr Davids said, is proof of how important the arts is. However, not many view this as so, he added.
“The arts are still frowned upon by many. Some see it as a bottom of the barrel thing. The common thought is that there is no future in the arts, yet the arts develop the child as a whole. Many of the young people who joined us have become more focused, and many have come off drugs.
“Those who wanted to drop out of school changed their minds and many are flourishing with their schooling. Art is discipline. Coming here is also something they look forward to, because they can socialise and feel free,” Mr Davids said.
BTC secretary Zelda Hintsa said the children received one-on-one attention when it came to dealing with social or domestic challenges, and despite the BTC not always being able to help them resolve matters, they feel emotionally better just because they could share their stories.
The BTC is not just for the young though – they are also inclusive of the young-at-heart.
They have 110 members from the age of seven to 83.
Fowzia Khan, the deputy chairperson, said when Mr Davids approached her to be part of a play a few years ago, she thought that he was “cuckoo”.
“He said he was confident that we could do it, so I gave it a shot. The production was called Four weddings and a janazah. Being part of that gave new meaning to my life. We were successful and it made me feel confident. We were quite a few older people who were all new in this game. We enjoy every second of it. Theo is not the easiest person in the world to work with, but we’ve come a long way and he helped make me a different person. He helped me to conquer something I never thought I could,” Ms Khan said.
Ms Hintsa said for three years she was “scared”, but then she gave BTC a try.
“Theo is a perfectionist. He taught me to believe in myself. When I went on stage, I felt good and enjoyed what we did. Other older people also always speak about how they enjoy themselves. You are never too old to dance. The BTC takes us out of our comfort zones,” Ms Hintsa said.
Carmen Mentor, a BTC trustee, said she had loved drama from a young age.
“Theo is hardcore. I never feared him, but he is very disciplined. He made me feel like an 18-year-old who is just starting out on a drama career. The first production I took part in, was called Blowing Candles, and I simply loved it. Theo reminded us that age is nothing but a number. I think we did well. It made us all so confident,” Ms Mentor said.
Mr Davids is of the opinion that middle-aged people have so much “life to live”.
“When people reach the age of 40 or 50, they think their lives have come to an end, and only live for their families, especially their grandchildren – putting their needs aside. When they see other older people on stage, they know that if others can do it, they can do it too. They all come from different backgrounds and their own challenges, but here they have a commonality of purpose,” he said.
Speaking about the role of the Athlone News in the community, Mr Davids said the articles reflect the lived realities of the greater Athlone community.
“Reading the Athlone News, often evokes emotion, and I’m sure in the 30 years of its existence, it has changed people’s lives. When children see other children in the newspaper, they aspire to be like them. And I’m not just referring to the arts – sport as well.
“It’s always balanced, and has its fair share of negative, as well as good news stories. It is not biased. My nieces and nephews do not like reading, but I always see them reading the Athlone News – that should speak volumes about how it caters for the community,” Mr Davids said.