Schools celebrate Shakespeare

Kseniya Filinova-Bruton, director of the Shakespeare Schools Festival, far right ,handing out certificates to Hottentots Holland High School at the Shakespeare School Festival South Africa.

The eighth Shakespeare Schools Festival South Africa is taking place in Cape Town at the Artscape Theatre from Thursday April 19 to Saturday April 21 and then at the Baxter Theatre in Rondebosch from Monday May 7 to Saturday May 12.

For managing and creative director, Kseniya Filinova-Bruton, 41, who lives in Pinelands, it has been a lifelong passion to be involved in performance arts, to teach and mentor a young generation of actors to perform and act out the plays written by William Shakespeare.

She was born Kseniya Filinova in Siberia, Russia in 1977 and grew up in St Petersburg. Her love for theatre came at a young age when her mum, Anna Balandina was acting and her dad, Kirill Filinov, was a director. She made her brief acting debut at the age of three in Shakespeare’sTwelfth Night.

She attended the State Russian Art School, a school which teaches maily history and art.

A turning point in Ms Filinova’s life came at the age of 15 when she was an exchange student in Colorado, America. That experience allowed her to see that there was a much bigger world out there and from that point she was fascinated by travelling.

When she completed school in 1994, she decided to travel, which brought her to Namibia in 1995. In 1996 she moved to Durban, where she stayed for eight years, and then moved Cape Town in 2005 where she has lived since.

She settled down and married Bryan Bruton and had two children, a son aged 9 and a daughter aged, 6.

Her passion has always been drama and her first job was running the Stanislavski Acting Method workshops with her mother in Durban schools from 1998 until 2000. “The Method” is a system of acting developed by the Russian theatre practitioner, Konstantin Stanislavski, at the beginning of the 20th century.

Her first official school teaching role was at the Northwood School in Durban where she was drama teacher. She was there from 2000 until 2002, during which time she directed three plays, The Bear and The Proposal by Anton Chekhov and her own play, Dream Island, a pirate story.

For Ms Filinova-Bruton, it was important to get a tertiary education that would empower her to become a good director.

She obtained a BA degree in Theatre and Performance, specialising in directing from the State University of Arts and Culture in St Petersburg. It was a part-time degree that she completed in five years. She was required to go to Russia twice a year to deal with curriculum activities which also gave her an opportunity to visit her family.

When she moved to Cape Town in 2005, her career in creative arts started to develop. She was networking with schools, offering workshops in drama which in turn led to her interaction with NPO, the New Africa Theatre Academy (NATA) and the Arts and Media Access Centre (AMAC).

In 2008, she was appointed creative arts teacher for grades 8 and 9 at Wynberg Boys’ High School. At the same time, she formed an extramural society, the Wynberg Boys’ Acting Association(WBAA). Pupils from Wynberg Girls’ High School were also allowed to be part of the WBAA.

In 2009 she staged her pilot production of Twelfth Night during which she liaised with the Shakespeare Schools Foundation in the UK. This initiative would involve school children performing an abridged 30-minute version of the plays in the local professional theatres.

In 2010 Ms Filinova-Bruton directed a 30-minute production of Macbeth. The performance took place at Wynberg Boys’ High School, with renowned theatre director, Roy Sargeant, attending that performance and encouraging Ms Filinova-Bruton to launch the Shakespeare School Festival at Artscape Theatre the following year.

The Shakespeare School Festival SA started its official journey in 2011 with six schools performing at the Artscape Theatre and two schools in the Joburg Theatre.

The festival has grown over the years: in 2017, 86 schools participated from five provinces, the Western Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and the Free State.

The festival is also the flagship project of The Educape Trust, which was registered as an NPO in 2012. Due to the increased workload that Ms Filinova-Bruton had co-ordinating the festival, she left her position at Wynberg Boys’ High and took on a full-time role as a managing director of the Educape Trust in 2015.

To get more schools involved inthe Shakespeare School Festival, a call was put out to primary and high schools through the school databases. The Educape Trust provided training to teachers and extra support if it is needed.

Educape looks to promote diversity in its plays, where they would like to translate plays to isiXhosa, isiZulu and Afrikaans. This year one of the participating schools will perform a play in isiXhosa at the Baxter.

Ms Filinova- Bruton said in the 2018 edition of the Shakespeare Schools Festival, it will be the first time that a play will be performed in sign language by pupils of the De La Bat School for the Deaf. The festival has also worked with special needs schools like Vista Nova High School.

She said the Trust would be open to further expanding her services to other special needs schools who would like to perform Shakespearean plays.

Ms Filinova-Bruton would like this Shakespeare Schools Festival to be expanded internationally. Last year she had a pilot launch in Malawi with three schools performing Shakespeare plays for the first time.

This year she is taking the Shakespeare Schools Festival to her country of birth, where schools in St Petersburg and Moscow will perform this month.

This year the local audience can look forward to a diversity of schools performing their abridged 30-minute version of their chosen Shakespeare play, including Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night, Othello, Hamlet and The Comedy of Errors.

“I think it’s a beautiful celebration of Shakespeare and young actors who are conquering this complex text and complex stories in which they hopefully fall in love with Shakespeare and fall in love with theatre,” said Ms Filinova-Bruton.

These performances will take place at 7pm at both venues and it will be open to the public. Tickets can be booked at Computicket for Artscape and at Webtickets for the Baxter.

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