Paul Boekooi schreef 22 sept in Mail& Guardian (SA)

SOWETO catches the limelight

PAUL BOEKKOOI speaks to Herman van Veen about building a community theatre

Two years ago, Dutch stage artist Herman van Veen met members of the Thesele Creative Society in Soweto. Their biggest concern was that there were no performance venues serving their purpose in the area. But when Van Veen heard that there are several prisons in Soweto, his canny reaction was: "If you hold a violin in your hand, you don't have the time to handle a firearm as well."
The result is that this Heritage Day, there will be a sod-turning ceremony for the Miracle + Theatre in Jabavu White City after a thanksgiving service is held in the Anglican Church, which owns the property.
During the service Van Veen will perform a couple of songs with the Imilonji Kantu Choral Society and Rhythmony (20 scholars from the Pretoria High School for Girls). During the afternoon more entertainment will be presented by local actors, musicians and dancers.
This Herman van Veen Foundation initiative will form part of the Ipele-geng Community Centre, while the Thesele Creative Society will initiate the types of projects that are most needed. Apart from a stage created for local and visiting performing artists, a facility will be established for children's workshops.
"When actors, acrobats and clowns representing Thesele and a number of Flemish theatrical people visited me ... in Pretoria, I was already aware of their skill in creating beautiful street theatre. During our talks they mentioned their needs and dreams: to have a permanent performance space where you can train young people in theatre techniques."
Van Veen returned to Europe, where he secured moderate funding and made contact with architects, here and in The Netherlands.
"We needed to develop an architectural profile on exactly how the theatre should look like to fulfil the wishes of the local community. To establish a European type of theatre would be nonsensical.
The young South African architect Fanuel Motsepe drafted a design taking the multi-functionalism of a theatre within this community into account.

"That is why the theatre has already been named the Miracle +.It's a theatre with something extra and our unofficial motto is: 'if aid makes people dependent, it is no aid," says Van Veen.
When I asked him when the theatre will be ready, Van Veen said: "A lot will depend on the plus-factor: how many more people will reach out with us to make this dream come true and will contribute to our financial needs."
The foundation's strongest focus is on the rights of children internationally. Van Veen says: "The whole world has signed these international rights, except two countries: the United States and Somalia. In contrast with human rights, the international situation on children's rights is rotten. There are a milliard children in the world who have no future, two die every second, and the world is apathetic about this problem.
"I don't want to moralise, but what we have to do is to map out the rights of children, which organisations are HIS Heritage Day (September 24), a cultural milestone will be celebrated in Soweto with a sod-turning ceremony for The Miracle Theatre.

busy with that, where the gaps are and how can we motivate people or foundations and create websites where people can log in. My dream is an institution named something like "lawyers for children's rights', so that certain countries can be sued..."
For Van Veen the Miracle + Theatre in Soweto is in many ways an articulation of children's rights - children should play, be educated and receive knowledge. The theatre is multifunctional: for professionals, but also for education purposes and social enterprises. Many schools in the region will be affiliated and some have already appeared on Dutch TV to explain exactly what their needs are.

After a 10-year relationship with South Africa and the establishment of a nature reserve, a clinic and a bakery sponsored by the foundation, Van Veen is optimistic about this country, its cultural life and the beautiful people who live here.