ImpACT Award Winning POPArt

POPArt co-founders Orly Shapiro and Hayleigh Evans thrilled about ImpACT Award win for Theatre 2015

The world is changing, at a rapid pace, and South Africa is shifting with it. In fact, the country is now at the avant garde of the new movement. When the #FeesMustFall campaign took to the streets to fight against a rise in the cost of tertiary education and won a zero per cent increase at the end of 2015, it was clear that the young people of South Africa were actively engaged in developing their society. The ‘YouTube Generation’, as Hayleigh Evans (cofounder of POPArt) classifies them, took control of their news by reporting it themselves on YouTube and social media in a way that effectively reaches millions in minutes. It is these people that the POPArt theatre caters to: people who make an impact; people with business savvy and creative skill; and people who know their entertainment.

ImpACT Award Winning POPArt co-Founders Orly Shapiro & Hayleigh Evans
ImpACT Award Winning POPArt co-Founders Orly Shapiro & Hayleigh Evans

With Orly Shapiro as another cofounder, as well Shoki Mokgapa, POPArt has become a significant player in the booming creative business sector at the Maboneng Precinct in Johannesburg. Having officially opened in May 2011 when, as Shapiro puts it, ‘We were literally a room underneath a parking lot,’ the venue now has an additional space and a workshop room and POPArt is now not only a venue but a production company and casting agent too. It was whilst in preparation for the two cofounders’ creative project Unfair Lady that they received the news that POPArt was the winner of the special ImpACT Award for its contribution to theatre. The Arts & Culture Trust’s (ACT) ImpACT Awards are a unique acknowledgement in the South African arts sector because the funding body pays heed to young artists who make a notable contribution to their community and the industry at large.

In Johannesburg, where the streets are buzzing with actors seeking employment, POPArt is a breath of fresh air. Its focus on new work caters to a large fringe industry that usually only sees its work shown at festivals, where about a thousand other shows must fight for an audience in a concentrated period. POPArt is current, creative and also a little crazy. It beats to the drum of a future Johannesburg. ‘It’s that intention thing. It almost never feels like work,’ Evans says. In the pursuit of ‘a new culture of business’ in the South African arts industry, she and Shapiro run the business course at the Market Theatre Lab. Here they train the students to self-produce a show in every aspect of professional performance and the students eventually show their work at the Market Theatre and tour to POPArt.

Evans describes it as ‘really fun!’ Shapiro echoes her business partner when she speaks in excited stammers about winning the ImpACT Award:

When you do something that you love and there’s recognition from, like, a body or an institution that is recognised so highly in your industry… It sounds cliché but it’s such an honour!

The two cofounders are like the left and right brain of the same mind. The way that they run the theatre is the way that they live their lives and even create their own art: authentically. Their casual style is unassuming and at the same time invitingly business-oriented. They are aware that they operate in a male-dominated world as business people but ‘we are true to ourselves as creatives.’

Shapiro says that ‘we have such trust in each other.’ And the fact that they balance each other’s skills, with her as the business-minded one and Evans as the innovator, means that they feel free to take on the world. Evans says that they have ‘got something very clandestine in the works.’ They are already facilitating the touring of shows between Johannesburg and Cape Town with the Alexander Bar. They have a Storyteller series; outreach programmes; workshops and a YouTube channel that gives a face to the personalities of the theatre world. The two women, having started with donations of a few par cans for lighting, see POPArt as a mogul in the coming years. Their goal is to raise the profile of South Africa’s arts and artists on a global scale.

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