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ALEX SUTHERLAND WINNER OF THE VC’S DISTINGUISHED AWARD FOR COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT 2012

Date Released: Wed, 20 March 2013 16:55 +0200

‌It is with great pleasure that we announce MRS ALEXANDRA SUTHERLAND from the Drama Department  as the recipient of the 2012 Vice-Chancellor's Distinguished Award for Community Engagement.

 The award recognizes a sustained history of community engagement initiatives which Alex Sutherland has been instrumental in conceptualizing, activating and sustaining over the past eleven years.    On her arrival at Rhodes in 2001, Alex immediately focused her teaching and research energy on aspects of theatre currently described under the heading Applied Theatre.  Since that year, as part of the Applied Theatre curriculum, second and third years, Honours, and Masters students have implemented a diverse range of practical research projects in local schools and communities.  This has resulted in the Drama Departments sustained presence in over 12 Schools and Organisations in the Grahamstown community, under her leadership.

She has been active in extending the courses beyond ‘traditional’ drama teaching contexts, to include community contexts such as adult and women’s groups, prisoners, young people with special needs etc.  She deliberately aims to support students out of their comfort zones in order that they might engage with communities very different from their own. 

The Projects Ms Sutherland has been involved in include the Art of the Street Project, a developmental theatre project with youth at risk, with a special focus on street children.  The work resulted in 5 theatre pieces being commissioned and performed at the National Arts Festival.  It was then developed as part of an international exchange project between the UK youth theatre groups and youth theater groups world-wide, resulting in a UK tour of the play.  Subsequently the project has incorporated post-graduate students.  

Ms Sutherland has developed the use of life skills education in prisons with young offenders for the Presidents Award Youth Empowerment Programme.   This interaction has flowed into an extraordinary project called the  Fort England Hospital Theatre Project (FEHTP), a collaborative venture between Fort England Hospital and the Rhodes Drama Department.  The FEHTP forms part of the clinical and rehabilitative programme at the institution and has been running in the Maximum Security Unit (MSU), the only centre in South Africa which houses male, forensic psychiatric patients requiring maximum security, due to their respective profiles.

Ms Sutherland’s use of service learning as a methodology in the teaching and learning and research programmes of the courses in Applied Theatre has led to the establishment of the Masters in Applied Theatre.  This programme aims to provide students with diverse experiences of using theatre as a means of social and personal change in relation to different audiences, participants social and cultural contexts, and theatre processes. 

 Head of Department, Andrew Buckland writes that ‘the history and sustainability of the work carried out by Ms Sutherland  provides the department and the university with extraordinary kudos.  Her academic rigour, her vibrant creative energy and her capacity for dogged hard work make her a highly respected academic and practitioner in the country and we are privileged to have her practicing her craft in this community and under the auspices of this department and university’.

 We wish to congratulate and thank the other nominees for submitting their projects/initiatives for consideration and commend them on their excellent community engagement activities. Rhodes University is proud and privileged to have academic and support staff members with an elevated sense of social responsibility and a deep desire to make a difference in our community.

The Award will be made at the 2013 Graduation Ceremony and Ms Sutherland will be invited to give a public lecture on his work later in the year.‌

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