Beginning in the 1940s, various educational institutions, both formal and informal, saw the value of including puppet theatre in their curricula. Art Centres for young people and Teacher Training Colleges were the first to explore the creative potential of this combination of the plastic and theatrical arts. Some University Drama schools followed in the 1960s – notably Stellenbosch University under the influence of the Contrijns of Belgium.
Puppetry in Schools fa1l into three categories: art as a teaching method; as a subject of study; and as periodic performances by key visiting groups and individuals.
It is possible to take puppetry as a school-leaving subject if there is a teacher qualified to teach it, although puppetry is currently situated within the fine arts curriculum and requires little more than a strident effort to make a puppet. In many primary schools across the country children have their first experience of live puppet theatre. Several companies and solo performers established reputations in this area including: Brenda Shafir, working with shadow theatre; Margaret Auerbach and Machfeld von Nieuwkerk with glove puppets; the ‘Puppet People’ –with all kinds of figures; Jenny Kirsch with mixed media; Jenny Marchand with a multimedia production; and Joan Rankin with tiny shadow figures and an overhead projector.
Many teachers and have enriched their lessons with puppets and developed the confidence of interested children through puppet performance. The African Research and Education Puppetry Program (AREPP) was established by Gary Friedman in 1987. This project promotes Aids awareness in the townships and in the workplace throughout South Africa, working with puppeteers who perform in local languages. This program and its techniques have been presented in Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, Kenya, Reunion, as well as in Canada, Australia, France and Germany. Friedman has also used puppets in a voter education campaign for TV during South Africa’s first democratic election and in a program encouraging imprisoned youth to express experiences of violence and abuse through puppets. AREPP is now run buy Gordon Bilbrough with artistic director Brigid Shutz. They continue to be an important force in SA puppetry and education.
Jungle Theatre creates puppetry and physical theatre based on educational themes of environmental awareness. Jungle Theatre also has a training program where they develop performance and puppetry skills amongst young performers.
Puppetry South Africa (UNIMA SA) runs year-round puppetry education and development programs. Active Puppets and Creative Hands (as the programs are called) teach puppetry skills to historically disadvantages children and young adults. The resulting productions are of professional standard and are often focused on raising awareness about social questions relevant to the communities of origin of the participants.
The Handspring Trust was re-established in 2010 to build skills in puppetry amongst impoverished children and youth as well as amongst young, emerging and professional artists.
The Living Landscape Project (developed by UCT and Magnet Theatre) based in Clanwilliam holds and annual spring lantern parade. For this event, Children from the community of Clanwilliam build puppets and lanterns based on San/Bushman iconic figures.