NEWS | Michelle Hovane reports on the 2017 ASSITEJ World Congress

Posted by Cecile Lucas, June 20th, 2017

Sensorium Theatre Co-Artistic Director Michelle Hovane recently attended the 2017 ASSITEJ World Congress in Cape Town, South Africa, with five other Australian delegates as part of the Australian Council’s ASSITEJ 2017 Youth Arts Leadership Delegation. The nine-day long seminar comprised a Festival, a Conference and a World Congress, all dedicated to theatre for young audiences. As the only delegate from WA, Michelle happily answered to our questions about what she gained from this international experience, as well as sharing some great tips for anyone attending similar showcase events.


You just came back from attending the 2017 ASSITEJ World Congress in Cape Town, South Africa. Can you tell us a bit more about this event?

ASSITEJ unites theatres, organisations and individuals from around the world who make theatre for children and young people so that they can share knowledge and practice within the field of theatre for children and young people in order to deepen understandings, develop practice, create new opportunities and strengthen the global sector. This year the decision-making congress, performance festival and research conference were all included in the “Cradle of Creativity” – which took place over 2 weeks in Cape Town, South Africa. This was the first time ASSITEJ was hosted on the African continent.


As an Artistic Director of a small company and a performer, what are the benefits of attending such event, and what impact does it have on your personal practice?

What a privilege to be part of this feast of performance, conversation and networking! Coming from a small company based in an isolated city, it was truly mind blowing to take the pulse of theatre making for children and young people internationally and be included in a global community of people who are passionate about the cultural access and rights of the next generation.  I felt deeply nourished, challenged, inspired and affirmed – it was like soul food to keep going and doing the work that I do.


Zick Zack Puff by Cie Mafalda (Switzerland)


How prepared were you before heading to South Africa? What advice would you give to anyone attending a similar event?

The programme for the Cradle of Creativity festival, conference and congress was overwhelming. I was enormously lucky to be part of the youth arts leadership delegation and guided by other more experienced Australian delegates and our Australia Council host Kevin Du Preez. For a month prior to the conference I was drip fed snippets of the program and slowly identified the shows, researched workshops and events that were my priority. However, nothing could prepare me for the full glory and chaos of the event itself! I think it is a good idea to have a quick summary of who you are and what you do for the inevitable speed-dating aspect of the networking – having this meant I could quickly identify delegates who I wanted to deepen the conversation with and vice versa. As part of the arts leadership delegation we were encouraged to connect deeply with three people and have three deep learnings and this also helped to focus things a bit.


Did you see any amazing shows and/or productions that resonate with the work that Sensorium Theatre does?

I saw many amazing shows and productions, and part of my agenda in attending the Festival was simply to see as many diverse works as I could, even if they had no obvious connection with Sensorium Theatre.

My favourite show was an electrifying production of Animal Farm performed by black South African women and directed by Shakesperience Productions. I also met Karolina Zernyte, Artistic Director of Theatre of the Senses, a company based in Lithuania, whose work resonated with the work we do in Sensorium Theatre. I was intrigued by some of the work for babies and the very young. I connected with members of IIAN – International Inclusive Arts Network. I also discovered that in the majority world, children with disabilities are often extremely disadvantaged in terms of resources and community attitudes – and it has set me wondering what Sensorium could do to assist those working for change.


Animal Farm by Shakesperience Productions (South Africa)


For you, what was the highlight of your whole week there?

The opening night of the festival was an extraordinary showcase of work from Africa and the Festival Director talked about theatre making as an Act of Love. This was very affirming for the work that we do in Sensorium Theatre and for me personally as an artist. There was a huge sense of the centrality of arts and culture in that society and a feeling of being valued as an artist – in a time when we face an increase in populism, xenophobia and fear of otherness, there was a sense of urgency that we as artists and cultural workers have an important role in creating solidarity, inclusion and togetherness across and within our national boundaries.

Theatre of the Senses(Lithuania)