arepp:Theatre for Life began as The African Research and Educational Puppetry Programme Trust, which was founded in 1987 by Maishe Maponya, Oupa Mthimkulu, Ann Wanless and Gary Friedman as a community based educational trust, with the aim of using theatre and puppetry to provide social HIV and AIDS life-skills education to disadvantaged communities. arepp:Theatre for Life took to the road in 1988 after an eight month preparatory research period with its first long-term project Puppets Against AIDS, an educational puppet show about HIV and AIDS, with the aim of taking the HIV/AIDS message quite literally to the people in the street. At the time the approach was unique in the way that it travelled to the communities, and in the belief that simple dissemination of information about the disease was insufficient to bring the statistics under control.
During the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, arepp:Theatre for Life’s work was pioneering in the field of human rights and HIV/AIDS education, working against the constraints and abuses of the apartheid system, towards a free and democratic ideal where all South Africans would be able to access their basic human right to information, sexual reproductive health, freedom of expression and most importantly, to informed choice. In 1994, arepp:Theatre for Life was at the forefront of democracy education with its widely televised multi-lingual, non-partisan voter-education campaign, Puppets For Democracy, which informed the populace about their voting rights and the processes of democracy in the lead-up to South Africa’s first democratic election. Also in 1994 a Puppets Against Abuse project, originally called Puppets for Peace, went into development with the aim of creating awareness and education on the issues of abuse, rape and domestic violence.
arepp:Theatre for Life soon built a reputation for good quality, alternative supplementary education with significant, demonstrable impact, and the shows expanded in content and focus into schools and youth-focussed community organisations, incorporating interrelated issues of social concern, such as abuse and substance use, and focussing primarily on the broad area of sexuality life-skills education, in the home languages of the audience, developing self-efficacy for behaviour change.
arepp:Theatre for Life has since branched into life-skills and self-efficacy development for all age groups in schools, with four series’ of shows - the Look Before You Leap series (1994) aimed at 13 to 22 year olds, the About Us series (1995) aimed at the 10 to 13 year olds, and the No Monkey Business and monkey tales series’ (1996) for the 6 to 9 year olds and the 2 to 5 year olds respectively.
In addition, arepp:Theatre for Life has presented regional and international applied puppetry and theatre training workshops in Botswana in collaboration with the Botswana Ministry of Health; Canada in collaboration with OXFAM Canada, Kenya in collaboration with OXFAM and FPPS; Namibia in collaboration with the Namibian Government, Christian Aid and the Red Cross; Tanzania, one in collaboration with CIDA and HPDF, and another with UMATI – The Family Planning Association; Uganda in collaboration with PULSE; Zambia, one in collaboration with HCP and John’s Hopkins University, and another with the Zambian Department of Health and the Centre for Infectious Disease Research, Zambia; and Zimbabwe in collaboration with the Salvation Army.