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Johannesburg, SA – Controversy reigned this week as a school in Gauteng announced further cuts to its rugby programme in order to enhance its already bloated cultural department.
Puedam High School Headmaster Tom Arnold confirmed that in addition to the fully equipped recording studio completed last year, construction had already begun on the new performing arts auditorium. “This will be a state of the art facility with dance studio, classrooms, set design workshop, and two fully equipped stages that wouldn’t look out of place in the West End.” Arnold boasted.
Unfortunately the space required means that the already beleaguered rugby team loses the last of its outer fields leaving only the one main pitch for all eight of its teams to play and practice on. When questioned about the necessity of a second stage, Director of Theatre Victor Richardson explained that professional rehearsal space is vital in drama, claiming that the multiple stages approach means the school can seamlessly move from one production to the other. “At the end of the day this means more opportunities for more students.” Richardson said.
Disgruntled rugby parent Engela Pretorius sees it differently. According to Pretorius, whose son is in Grade 11, the school does not see the value of sport in general and rugby in particular. “I am worried that all the focus on arts and culture is going to take away the already limited opportunity from the more marginalised children”. Head of Rugby at the school, Jack Bolton, added, “Rugby can be a safe space for some of the less mainstream students, boys in particular.”
As if to add salt in the wound, the school’s cultural budget is set to be increased next year. While Arnold refused to be drawn on the figures he did concede that the school would be appointing an Assistant Theatre Director in addition to hiring both a dance instructor and voice coach to aid in future productions. The school is also looking to spend big in order to overhaul its prop and costume resources.
Meanwhile according to parents, the rugby team had to fundraise for kit and basic equipment due to an over spend by the music department. “Some of the preseason preparation even took place in the coaches own back garden because of building.” a furious Pretorius claimed. Coach Bolton acknowledged that there had been a session at his home but that it had been more of a team building time. “What we have been told though,’ Bolton said, “is that due to budget reallocations, going forward we have to raise our own income through ticket sales to our matches. Essentially we have to become a largely self-funding department.”
When contacted, Chairlady of the PTA, Enzokuhle Dlamini said she sympathised with parents who have to pay to see their own children play, but nevertheless agreed with the new vision. “Many parents place their children at Puedam because they know that if they can get into one of the major school productions here they can gain admission to top performing arts universities. Last year alone, along with UCT, we had students with offers from Tisch School of the Arts (NYU) and Julliard in the US, as well as The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.”
Richardson, himself a graduate of the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna, was unapologetic about the developments. “Aside from the university places, we know that partaking in the performing arts can really benefit a child’s growth and development in a way that few, if any, other activities can. Public speaking, team work, character development, resilience and sense of achievement are all benefits of being in a school play. That’s something all employers are looking for.”
It is clear that both the Headmaster and the Puedam School Board agree. “We do, both at management and board level, understand the concerns of the rugby fraternity”, said Arnold, “however we have to say that this school is not for everybody. There are other options for parents at odds with our approach.”
One way or another, it looks like the drama won’t end here.