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Active Puppets

“I felt very proud to be part of this project as I have learnt things that I did not think I can do, like sculpting, painting, more experience in drawing.” (Tshidiso Kolobe, Proactive winners 2010)

What is Active Puppets?

Visual performance is growing in popularity and impact in South Africa.  Puppetry is a powerful tool for social development and is under utilized in South Africa, partly because of a lack of skills in this area.  Puppetry has been used as a tool for social change all over the world, in countries like India, Iran, Australia, UK, Indonesia, Kenya, Tanzania and many more. According to Kruger, “socio-cultural message transmitted through entertaining puppetry performances can inspire an openness to change, experimentation and innovation, which has the ability to mobilise and educate.” (Marie Kruger, Stellenbosch University Lecturer) Furthermore Gary Friedman says: “Puppetry breaks down barriers – It can be used to break down racial, social, political barriers and stereotypes, because it represents the ‘neutral’ aspect of the human, exaggerating its ‘larger than life’ issues”. (Gary Friedman, International Puppeteer)  Active Puppets is one of UNIMA SA’s training and development initiatives that aims to use puppetry as mechanism for social change.  Active Puppets encourages a vital artistic, social and economic area of development in South Africa.

“My high point of this programme is the skills that we have learnt from Janni and now we are skilled because of her and we can create our own things by ourselves because we have learnt from a professional artist.” (Sandile Qagana, Giant Puppeteer, Proactive winners 2009)


Active puppets began in 2006 with the second Out The Box Festival of Puppetry and Visual Performance. As part of this project program performances were presented at the Langa community hall and workshops held at Guga S’Thebe Cultural Centre. Community youth groups participated as audience members and workshop participants through feedback we learnt that they wanted to learn more about puppetry and how they could use it in their work. Due to this interest in 2007 the program was expanded to include mentorship over a number of five months whereby groups of youth were mentored in using puppetry theatre, and to develop quality short works for Out the Box Festival. Then in 2009 the project was further expanded and restructured to alleviate poverty amongst the targeted participants and to assist them to translate their love of theatre into a viable and sustainable business opportunity through intensive training in puppetry specialist skill, design thinking, production development and marketing. Active Puppets now has three projects under its banner: Proactive 1,2, 3 , Activate and the Professional Apprenticeship Programme.

“Last year we went to Grahamstown Festival we were performing at Green Village. I cant even express my feelings in words. I felt like I was on another planet as I never felt so much love from strangers before. I felt so important and so alive people were taking pictures, kids were singing along and dancing with us, and I remember after the performance Janni and Cindy came to us and I could see the joy and pride in their eyes and at that moment I felt like for the first time in my life I finally found my true calling…I’m a giant puppeteer working for UNIMA SA. ( Nokubonga Ntlanganiso, Giant Puppeteer, Proactive winners 2009)


Proactive focuses training community theatre groups and equipping them with puppetry specialist skills. It includes a year-round skills development program in design thinking, specialist skills in puppetry, and well-developed product, which results in a showcase of new short works at Out The Box Festival of Puppetry and Visual Theatre as the Active Puppets Competitive Showcase.
Groups selected from the competitive showcase event are then trained to produce a full-length professional work and supported with touring and training opportunities. Relationships have been established with the National Arts Festival and the ABSA Klein Karoo Nationale Kunstefees which provide professional performance contexts for the groups and gives a context for them to teach others the skills learned. The members of these groups also become part of our giant puppets ensemble which are most popular with corporate events and happenings around Cape Town.
The programme assists the participants to deliver quality services to their identified market, and also offers a sustainable business opportunity to improve their livelihoods. As the skills of the participant increases, work opportunities including training opens up for them.


your brain and grow your skills!
Activate is a sponsored development program for historically disadvantaged artists and youth to participate in 5 days of Out the Box Festival of Puppetry and Visual Theatre, seeing shows and attending workshops and training. This programme aims to inspire, encourage and teach young artists and theatre-makers a variety of skills in visual theatre and puppetry.
“Very well organised, fun and educational…”  – Proactive participant 2008
Professional apprenticeshipsNew in 2008, UNIMA SA began placing Active Puppets participants in professional apprenticeships to learn high-end production skills.  This program will be continued in 2009 and will be further developed in 2010 and into the future.

Objectives of Active Puppets

To continue to develop Active Puppets as a recognised informal (non degree based) training program which supports professionalism and economic independence for its participating groups. We expect to see at least 6 Western Cape community based theatre groups to be using puppetry and visual performance as their key mediums and for these groups to be financially self-sustaining.
To provide effective modes of communication around HIV/AIDS awareness, environmental concerns, cultural identity and diversity among community based artists through the art of puppetry.To see skills developed amongst community based artistsTo promote economic sustainability in the artsTo develop a high standard of South African productionTo see uniquely African theatre developed and toured internationally

Confirmed Partners

The National Arts Festival, Proactive training and performancesThe KKNK, Proactive performances at Op Toer festivalPANSA (The Performing Arts Network of South Africa) for the development of managerial workshops and arts administration training materials

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