Theatre Interview: Eléonore Godfroy – Child’s Plays, Or Selling The Drama

September 7, 2022



Eléonore Godfroy is the CEO of the National Children’s Theatre in Parktown, Johannesburg.


With Covid causing so many problems in theatre generally, where is children’s theatre placed now, as we emerge from the pandemic?

Everybody is worried about the welfare of children. The last few years have been difficult. Also, growing up in the 2000s versus, say, the 1980s, there is so much more information to process. They’re exposed to much more via social media, which leaves them to deal with their self-image and much more. It’s important to create human links again. On television and beyond, everything revolves around screens. It’s a surreal relationship, with nothing happening face to face. Using children’s theatre, we can revive stories – on stage. This has the benefit of including all the elements: music, dancing, acting and more. It’s 3D. It’s real life. And the whole package is a bonding experience. It’s an outing for families, and interacting with nature at an outdoor theatre. We know also that adults sometimes need to awaken their inner child; to bring back lightness and to stimulate imagination – to not make everything so literal. Connecting with artists is also inspiring. It empowers children to want to do something themselves and to find their own voices. Through body expression, singing and drama, you can explore more ways of being yourself. You’ll meet people from different backgrounds, and stories can beget an appetite for reading, travelling and an expanded vocabulary. It keeps you active and exercised.


Many of the productions you stage are modern interpretations of classic folk tales, which contain lessons and characters that are familiar to a wide range of audiences.

The relevance applies to families again – many people who come to the theatre will have told or read these stories at home. Folk tales have been around for hundreds of years, but there are still lessons to learn, and kids can often find a character they can identify with. These stories are healthy escapism, but there is also a lasting effect. The show is just for a moment, but the lessons and the songs last. They can be memories for a lifetime. Education is such an important part of what we do, and we’re trying to appeal more to teenagers at the moment. This means including some serious issues, like child trafficking and bullying. We want to provide an effective way of communicating tough topics that involve participation that would be tough to make happen otherwise. We also engage with expert partners to help.


That’s such an important service to provide, over and above the entertainment value.

Yes, and we try to help elsewhere as well, with training and jobs. We’re always looking for more funding – that would help greatly to expand this part of the programme. There are health benefits, too. We have a music therapist who works out of the theatre, named Graeme Sacks, who is wonderful with the children. And we encourage kids to look around at what issues are important in the world at the moment. We’ve staged a play about rhino conversation, written via workshops by a girl who was 14 at the time – from her own self-published book!


What are the hardest parts of the job?

The main challenges are funding and making theatre that’s accessible to everyone. We invite 150 to 200 children for free during each run. Schools can also host a show, using it as a fundraiser and paying us a fee. The theatre gives employment to multi-faceted performers and crew. All of which helps us to deliver multiple layers of messaging.