Shakespeare in Africa: The Shakespeare Schools Festival South Africa (SSF SA), The Fugard Theatre, March 3 to 14, 2020 and then on tour in South Africa.

Around 34 schools are participating in the 2020 edition of The Shakespeare Schools Festival South Africa (SSF SA)- which is the 10th anniversary of the festival. The Cape Town leg of the festival is on at The Fugard Theatre from March 3 to 14.

Ten years ago, Kseniya Filinova-Bruton, a Russian born woman who at the time, was a drama teacher at Wynberg Boys High in Cape Town, heard about The Shakespeare Schools Festival in the UK. She was intrigued by the festival concept – staging 30 minute adaptations of Shakespeare with scope for learners to imprint their own ideas – for example; adding music and using local references. She contacted the UK organization which then provided her with materials and resources to stage Twelve Night with her students. 

This performance was staged in the school hall and was for family and friends. Inspired by the success of that first production, Kseniya Filinova-Bruton was spurred to establish a similar festival on the African continent and to stage performances in a professional venue – not in a school hall.  

The UK festival assisted her in the start-up phase with advice and materials. There was no funding or professional affiliation with that organisation which has since re-branded as The Shakespeare Schools Foundation. 

Kseniya Filinova-Bruton established a NGO, Educape to roll out the SSF SA. In a decade, she has not only developed the festival in South Africa but has taken pilot festivals to Malawi and Russia – under the umbrella of SSF SA. 

Core to her vision has been about inclusivity on every level. She wants school students to immerse themselves in texts by the Bard and stage shortened versions of his plays, in ways which resonate with them here and now, on the African continent. Learners may translate the text into one of our official languages. Scripts are available in isiXhosa, isiZulu. If a script is not available, the festival works with a school to generate a translation in another language. Learners may add music, dance, incorporate argot and local references or they can stick with Elizabethan settings. It is about taking ownership of Shakespeare – literally making the plays their own. The festival provides support to educate educators at schools, assisting them with adaptions.

All that is impressive- a festival making Shakespeare exciting, thrilling and creative for learners – but coupled with that is the fact that many schools in South Africa are hugely under resourced. It is not only about providing support to schools in crafting adaptations but assisting with transport to physically get schools to performance venues. Learners need to eat and drink and Kseniya Filinova-Bruton is the dynamic fixer who makes that happen. She is determined that every learner should be able participate. She has worked to ensure that physical and mental challenges are not a barrier to participation. Schools for the Blind and Deaf have staged thrilling productions at the festival. 

Dovetailing with the SSF’s 10th year anniversary, 2020 is the 10th anniversary of The Fugard Theatre, so there is terrific synergy all round. As part of its anniversary programme, The Fugard Theatre is staging Shakespeare’s Hamlet (from July 2020), directed by Neil Coppen. 

It is great to see the support for SSF SA, which Filinova-Bruton has driven with passion and zeal, with minimal funding. Last year, she told TheCapeRobyn that she was anxious as to how the 10th anniversary festival celebrations would pan out, because of lack of partners and support.

Kseniya Filinova-Bruton provides insights into the exciting 10th anniversary edition of The Shakespeare Schools Festival South Africa (SSF SA):

TheCapeRobyn: In previous years, you moved the festival performances between different venues.  This year, the whole festival will be staged at The Fugard Theatre. Exciting!

Kseniya Filinova-Bruton:  We are very excited about this new collaboration. We are bringing the festival to Fugard theatre for the very first time this year. There are a couple of factors that led to this new association. Firstly, The Fugard theatre is also celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, and will be staging a full professional production of Hamlet, which will be their very first Shakespeare production. The Fugard felt that this is a great opportunity to open their doors to SSF SA and give our schools a chance to perform on their stage.

TheCapeRobyn: Last year, the festival was battling for funding. Looks like The Fugard has stepped up to the plate in a big way? 

Kseniya Filinova-Bruton:  The Fugard theatre indeed has stepped up to assist us in much reduced cost for use of the theatre and assisting in some of the production cost and use of other venues for our workshops, which does help us great deal with managing our budget. Over and above, the theatre has made a special price for tickets for its Hamlet production for all our participating schools and we are running a fund raising campaign together with Fugard, where our audience coming to the SSF SA is able to make a donation towards the tickets for Hamlet production, which will be distribute to our under resourced schools who cannot afford to buy the tickets themselves. In term of our festival participation cost for schools, we still do cover the cost of outreach schools transport where needed, some schools are supported by the kind donations we received last year to cover their registration fees.

TheCapeRobyn: A snapshot of the 2020  festival: 34 schools participating over 11 days. You have always been an all access festival – encouraging all learners to participate. You have had schools for Deaf and Blind involved. The same this year?

Kseniya Filinova-Bruton:  Our showcase at the Fugard theatre will be longest yet, taking place over eleven days with 34 schools participating from Cape Town and surrounds, including suburbs like Khayelitsha, Mitchells Plain, Westlake, Delft, Bishop Lavis, Pinelands, Athlone, Claremont, Zonnebloem, Wynberg, Swartland, Hermanus, Strand, Hout Bay, Stellenbosch and Worcester. 

Once again we open doors to any interested schools to take part in an all-inclusive and non-competitive environment. The ages of our learners on stage will vary from 7 -18 years old and schools like De La Bat school for Deaf, Pioneer school for visually impaired and Vista Nova HS for learners with physical and other learning difficulties will be performing at this year’s festival. 

TheCapeRobyn: In addition to the festival in South Africa, SSF has been involved with initiatives in Malawi and Russia, with plans to extend elsewhere?

Kseniya Filinova-Bruton:  The 3rd SSF Malawi was hosted in end of November 2019, with 12 schools based in Malawi performing the 30 minute productions at their local Kamuzu Academy, which is their hosting school venue, as there isn’t a proper theatre available in Malawi. SSF MW included two school for Deaf learners, who in fact were communicating with cast of De La Bat School from our participating schools, each cast sent each other a video greeting in their sign languages encouraging learners to make new friends remotely. In terms of exchange, Kamuzu Academy in fact is busy raising funds in hope they might be able to join us this year at the Fugard theatre. I cannot say much more on this for now, in case their funding might fall through. However, we continue working with our colleagues in Malawi on further developing their festival and exchange programmes. Things have been little more difficult with SSF Russia due to lack of any funding there, but we are networking with relevant organisations, governments and individuals in hope to host 3rd SSF RU later this year, and fund the ways to have the exchange programme in the next two years.

TheCapeRobyn: Russia is your home country and you made South Africa your 2nd/adopted home. Here you are, heading up a youth Shakespeare festival in Africa. That is incredible! How does that feel to have built up this incredible event?

Kseniya Filinova-Bruton:  As a little girl in St. Petersburg, Russia, my home country, I grew up within a theatre family. The experience of being in the theatre space; observing from the wings my mom rehearsing; roaming the corridors of the back stage; popping in to the wardrobe department to look at magical creations of costume designers; acting on stage at the tender age of three – are special moments, which installed my life-long love, and passion for, theatre. 

My life’s mission is to give these same opportunities to as many children as I possibly can, in Africa and beyond. I want the theatre to become a special home for them too, and the stage a place where they grow their confidence and self-belief.

To be honest, I don’t think I am fully aware yet of this truly remarkable milestone for SSF SA, while being so busy preparing for our festival marathon at the Fugard theatre. When I started working on the festival concept in 2009, I could not dream that it will grow to such level and see the 10th year unfolding in this special way, this is truly a humbling experience for me. I cannot emphasize how deeply-moving every SSF SA festival is for me and this year it will be a very special festival indeed.  I am also humbled and deeply grateful to be blessed with the support of my amazing festival team, the funders, supporters and beneficiaries – all of whom playing a massive role for the festival growth and development. 

Image credit. Photo supplied by The Shakespeare Schools Festival. The photo is from a production at the 2019 festival.

Theatre/travel✈ advisory

Cape Town: The Shakespeare Schools Festival 2020 is on at the Fugard Theatre from March 3-14. Performances start at 7pm.

The Fugard Theatre address: Corner Caledon and Lower Buitenkant Street, District Six, Cape Town, 8001

Book: or call 021 461 4554 The direct link for the festival:

National tour South Africa 2020: The Shakespeare Schools Festival South Africa (SSF SA). Other cities the festival will tour to up until September 2020 include Johannesburg, Durban, George and Makhanda.

✔ Information about The Shakespeare Schools Festival: see or e-mail Kseniya Filinova-Bruton on 

Related coverage: