April 27th 2018: The Palaeontological Scientific Trust (PAST) marked this year’s Freedom Day with the South African launch of the new season of its groundbreaking Walking Tall Educational Theatre Project.
Taking place at the Origins Centre, the performance captivated the invited audience with its engaging narrative of three teenage friends, and the different characters one of them encounters in the future when just 999 humans remain alive and the sixth mass extinction is in full swing.
In 45 minutes, The Tree of Life sees the trio embark on a remarkable journey that traces the history and origin of life on earth – from the formation of the universe 13, 8 billion years ago to the extinction of the dinosaurs and the evolution of hominids, including Homo sapiens. Among the discoveries made by the characters are that human beings are genetically 99.9% alike and that skin colour and superficial, physical differences are simply adaptations to the different environments Homo sapiens encountered during its expansion out of Africa. Another potent message for workshop participants is the deep interconnectedness of all life on earth; that plants, animals and human beings are all part of one tree of life that must be sustained and conserved.
“Our core mission is to protect and promote the scientific evidence of our origins for the benefit of humankind’s future, and Walking Tall plays a pivotal role in that,” says PAST’s CEO Andrea Leenen. “One of the most important messages of the workshops is that we are all from one, and so it was fitting that our new season was launched on a day that saw the beginnings of the restoration of human dignity and rights for all in South Africa in 1994.”
Now in its sixteenth year, Walking Tall uses a combination of a physical theatre performance piece with a science session to tell the inspirational story of humankind’s shared origins. Since launching in 2002, over one million (mostly high school learners) have taken part in the Walking Tall workshops which powerfully confront misconceptions about race, conservation and science by sharing knowledge about the history of humans and life on earth. After each performance, pupils are taken through a science session that explores genetics, mutation, natural selection, deep time, skin colour and race, religion, science and more.
Each year the Walking Tall physical theatre script and messaging are carefully revised to incorporate new scientific findings, as well as the feedback provided by pupils and teachers. In this way, the educational theatre piece remains continuously relevant and is improved with each new season.
The monitoring and evaluation system for Walking Tall spotlights the programme’s effectiveness in improving pupils’ understanding of evolution and the history of life and humankind, as well as for teaching them about the broad social relevance of the sciences as they relate to humankind’s origins. It also shows that the workshops are highly valued by educators, and reinforces the efectiveness of using the arts to teach science.
A Pan-African organisation, PAST was founded in 1994 to fund palaeontological research and education in Africa and plays an important and ongoing role in unearthing the scientific evidence of humankind’s origins. It does this through three core elements – research, education and public understanding.
In a real endorsement of PAST’s All From One message, Naspers chairman Koos Bekker is sponsoring a free copy of new children’s book, Skin We Are In, for distribution in schools with every Walking Tall performance this year. Co-written by Nina G. Jablonski and Sindiwe Magona, with illustrations by Lynn Fellman, Skin We Are In uses science to show how humankind is more the same than it is different, and that skin colour really is only skin deep.