My appointment with Marlene Le Roux is scheduled for the day after her return from Sweden, where she participated in the ‘World Summit on Media for Children and Youth’. Marlene is one of those personalities who enter a room and fill it entirely; with their voices, the way they laugh, their body language and - last but not least - their outfits. At first glance she appears outstandingly extrovert.
Luck implies social responsibility
However, the moment the door is closed behind us, I encounter a woman who is contemplative, dedicated, pragmatic and very strong. Only in brief she mentions her poor background, her physical disability (caused by polio when she was still a baby) and her disabled son. It is obvious that these are ‘accepted factors’ in her life; there seems to be no need to become compassionate or redundant on these topics. Marlene understands herself as a ‘privileged woman’ who is thankful for what she has had the chance to achieve in her life. “We, the lucky ones, need to give something back to society.” For this mission she uses the Artscape Theatre as a vehicle.
Arts programmes can enhance self-esteem
“In my role as ‘Director Audience Education and Development’ I bring people to the theatre, and I take the theatre to them”, Marlene explains to me. Her main concerns are young people who live in the townships. She says that she firmly believes in promoting unity in South Africa’s present diversity by using arts programmes for the enhancement of self-esteem, encouragement of respect for each other, and for healing the divisions of the past.
Win-Win-Deals for potential partners
Gradually, she has succeeded in getting support from the business world. “Let’s take the transport companies; I make them understand that I offer them a win-win-bargain: By providing their buses for our social activities, they can ask for governmental subsidiaries. That’s how it works…” The performances, or respectively classes take place wherever there is a venue available, be it a church, a school, or some other municipal building. “You can’t be picky in these surroundings; we have learned to transform any place ‘ad hoc’ according to our needs and demands”.
South Africa isn’t yet a rainbow-nation
Some years ago, Marlene also used to be active in politics, but gave up her mandate in order to be totally independent. She elucidates why she is “seriously worried” about the social and political situation in her country. “The gap between the rich and the poor is getting bigger and bigger. And believe me, those who have nothing are very well aware of this fact, and they feel their lack of fair chances as a painful injustice. We still have not managed to become the rainbow-nation we thought we would turn into when we became a democracy in 1994.
It is obvious that most of us still think in racial patterns”. She admits that she discovers herself doing so, too, for example when she sees her little daughter amidst her circle of friends, all of them descendants from different cultural backgrounds. However, that very moment she also becomes aware of the fact that the thinking and behaviour of these kids are obviously beyond any orthodox patterns, and she gets confident that things will change for the better with this next generation.
Arts can build bridges
“We need a different consciousness in our ‘every-day-life' ”, she claims. “If you go to the ballet, do you think about the skin colour of the prima ballerina? If you go to a concert, do you judge the performance of the musicians or the solo artist by their race and/or the cultural background? No, you don’t, and this shows us that with arts we can build bridges across nations, cultures and races; and that is why their spirit is a healing and uniting one.
Honoured with numerous rewards
Besides her commitment to create opportunities for the less privileged, she uses arts for helping develop democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights. Marlene Le Roux is also passionately engaged in improving women’s social and business role in our society, not only in Africa but on an international level. Against this background, she was the main driver of the implementation of an annual Women’s Festival at the Artscape Theatre in 2007.
Only some weeks ago, there was another edition with the theme ‘Love Responsibly’. It consisted of four stage productions and 13 workshops, under the guidance of acclaimed Clinical Sexologist Dr. Marlene Wasserman. Marlene Le Roux has been honoured with numerous awards, among them the Desmond Tutu Legendary Award in 2001. In 2007 she became Honorary Member of the Golden Key Chapter, University of Stellenbosch, where she had studied 'Management'. Moreover, she holds an 'Education' degree from the University of the Western Cape.
The Artscape Theatre Centre, Cape Town was opened in 1971 as the Nico Malan Theatre Centre. In 2001 the complex was renamed to Artscape. Historically, the Cape Performing Arts Board (CAPAB) was instituted in the early sixties of the 20th century. The aim was to promote the performing arts. The CAPAB programmed and managed the Nico Malan Theatre Centre as a production house with orchestra, opera, ballet and drama. In 1994 all performing arts boards were transformed to playhouses, and the various arts companies had to become independent. In 1999 Artscape replaced CAPAB. Today, it manages the theatre venues and provides essential technical and specialised services on a semi-commercial basis. The emphasis is on sustainable theatre practice, education and development. The Artscape Theatre has the reputation to be the most progressive one of its kind in South Africa. For more information see www.artscape.co.za
Photo: Arne Grams