Founded in 1987 by the then head of University of Cape Town Drama Department, Professor Mavis Taylor, the New Africa Theatre Association (NATA) was first housed in shop-sized premises in Observatory, one of Cape Town’s older districts. Driven by the urge to explore the talents and opportunities of young people from the townships, to teach them skills and to engage with them in the creation of relevant South African themed theatre, the pioneer members of NATA defied apartheid laws to create the space and means, informally, for this to happen.
The organisation has grown considerably from that time, closely aligning its goals to those of national transformation while maintaining a strong social justice focus. Now housed in its own building off Klipfontein Road, accessible to both sides of Cape Town’s apartheid created divide, NATA has adapted to the demands of South Africa’s educational and cultural transformations. NATA’s South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) accredited performing arts qualification still benefits young people from the same communities that Prof. Taylor targeted twenty-six years ago; black youth from the Cape Flats. In terms of opportunities for educational advancement or income earning activities little has changed for this new generation. Though highly motivated, their options for and access to higher education or vocational training remain critically limited.
Vision: Transformation Through Theatre:
To be: an opportunity for young people from marginalised communities to further themselves and become economically and socially active by providing a vibrant and innovative centre of dynamic performance skills training, excellent South African focused productions, and an inspirational heart of social and cultural activity.
NATA is devoted to the synergic goals of education, youth development and the growth of the local and national performance industry. It gives life to the premise that the young of today are destined to lead our society by creating the space for young people to learn, apply and pass on the hard and imaginative skills of performance art
- That the arts has the power to define being human and enable us to live our fullest possible lives;
- That today’s youth are tomorrow’s leaders;
- That democracy thrives on and social justice is advanced by the participation of all citizens, and that theatre is a mobilising force for active citizenship and engagement; and
- In a society that defends and promotes human rights and that demands a government that genuinely protects and enhances the welfare of the citizens.
Main activities and services
The NATA Academy
From the original informal course work started by Mavis Taylor in 1987, the training programme has now matured into a SAQA accredited Performing Arts Academy. The Academy offers a one-year accredited training curriculum focused on performance and life skills, as well as on connections with community and community organisation.
The Transit Workshop Programme
Inaugurated in 2009 when NATA had the privilege of a production and capacity-building partnership with the Royal Swedish Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm, the Transit Workshop is a programme of learning-on-the-job activities geared to reinforcing and developing practical and enterprise skills and experiences of post-graduate trainees. Many new plays and projects emerge from this source.
The NATA Company
NATA has frequently produced award-winning professional theatre as part of its exploration of relevant theatre objectives, The production focused NATA Company, however, was formed only in recent years with the deliberate intention of advancing the outreach capabilities, employment creation, artistic excellence and social contribution of NATA. With the anticipated extension of the theatre and facilities new objectives have become possible.
NATA owns its own building and the anticipated upgrade (2014) of the premises will result in a 120-seater theatre with an attached restaurant, a workshop space, two new classrooms, a resource centre as well as new office space, ablution facilities and recreation areas. Keeping the venue, particularly the theatre, live and serving NATA’s audiences and beneficiaries for the whole year will be a programme on its own. The intentions include managing it in-order to make a profit, which will be ploughed back into the organisation’s nonprofit work.
Challenges / opportunities
As South African theatre-makers and educators, NATA is both challenged and enriched by the diversity of cultures, languages and traditions represented by the organisation’s students, practitioners and audiences. NATA is aware that it works within a social environment containing historically entrenched inequalities and divisions, profound continuing trauma and unclear expectations. At the same time working creatively together NATA is aware of the endless possibilities for healing, strengthening and challenging ourselves and our society.
- Experience, knowledge of sector and education;
- Expertise within and available to the organisation;
- Clear goals and values;
- Known and respected brand;
- Financially accessible;
- Own building and theatre venue;
- Market and environment awareness;
- Located accessibly for students / audiences;
- SAQA accredited;
- Registered with the Department of Education;
- Clear processes and systems for academy and projects; and
- Industry competitiveness.
- Frequent resource/ cash flow stress;
- Donor reliant;
- Lack of cash reserve or endowment;
- Broad rather than specific expertise in key areas;
- Student vulnerabilities - financial and social;
- Need more focused marketing; and
- Minimal Board fundraising capabilities.
- Arts Focus schools;
- Expanding market;
- Dire need for HE redress;
- Cape performance industry; theatre, dance, film and television is growing;
- Theatre venue needs in industry;
- Political volatility; and
- Klipfontein corridor concept.
- Industry competitiveness;
- Majority Donor focus on science and technology in education;
- Political volatility; and
- Donor fickleness.
Impact / contribution to society
The findings of recent research into the predicament of South Africa’s youth are well known; it is an almost impossibly gloomy picture. The Department of Education’s Green Paper for Post-school Education and Training, for instance, maintains that over three million, or 62 percent, of young people between the ages of 18 and 24 are not engaged in educational programmes and are not employed. Many are unemployable. In the Cape metropolitan and rural areas, NATA’s target area, there are many communities where the percentage of affected youths is greater than the national figure.
NATA’s accomplishments must be viewed in the light of this alarming waste of human life.
Hundreds of successful performers and otherwise functioning young people owe their escape from poverty and ability to contribute socially and economically to their association with NATA. NATA’s records show over 87 percent of its graduates have studied or are studying further, are gainfully employed in theatre or other professions, are successfully self-employed or freelancing, have started their own companies or community groups and/or are still working with NATA on post-graduate projects .
NATA’s artistic record contains a number of Fleur du Cap and Naledi awards and nominations, and the organisational acknowledgements include a Provincial award for Best Contribution to Drama and Impumelelo awards for excellence in Development.
To view the New Africa Theatre Association in the Prodder NGO Directory, click here.