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Moving slowly, Lwasi Mayeki shifts his body to hunch over and dangles one arm uselessly. He fixes us with a squinting eye, then starts a soliloquy from Richard III. When he reaches the line that “dogs bark at me as I halt by them”, you know that Mayeki knows how it feels to have dogs bark at him, too. This is Shakespeare for the homeless, playing out in a shabby building in Kapteijn Street grandly marked Hillbrow Theatre. It no longer looks like a theatre, with flats above and hawkers outside, but magic is happening in the basement. A group of men are rehearsing to perform at St James Preparatory School in Jeppestown and for a paying audience at Piza e Vino restaurant in Melville. In the collective recitation of a poem, their strong voices beat out the rhythm in unison. Then they individually recite a poem or a piece they have penned themselves, powerful and emotive as they capture destitute lives on the city streets.

Their group, Johannesburg Awakening Minds (Jam), was formed...

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