Following years of planning and engagement with its graduate body around growth development and sustainability, the College Of Magic in Cape Town, South Africa, appointed Yolandi van Jaarsveldt as the organisation’s new CEO. Van Jaarsveldt, who has a background in theatre and drama and has worked in the NPO sector for the past eight years, assumed her duties in March 2018.
Having performed on stage at the tender age of six years old, Van Jaarsveldt has had a lifelong relationship with the theatre. “I am blessed to have grown up in a household with passionate educational and creative parents constantly showing us the magic in nature and life; and that not all is at it seems to be,” she says. “For me, magic is very real. It is all around us. It is in nature, it is in relationships, it is in everyday life. We just need to see it.” For Van Jaarsveldt, magic is not trickery. “Magic ignites excitement, the wonder. It triggers an inquisitive mind. It makes us feel ‘alive’,” she says.
From early childhood, not one month went by that Van Jaarsveldt’s parents did not take her to experience some sort of theatrical production; when she was nine, it was Janice Honeyman’s pantomime, “Cinderella”, starring Tobie Cronje as Cinderella. “Magic happened 20 metres in front of my eyes!” she recalls with enthusiasm. “On the stage, behind a painted gauze, the stepsisters were getting undressed and then dressed for the ball. Then it was Cinderella’s turn. One moment I could see them, the next moment they were gone (but I KNEW they were still there!), and a second later you saw them in their new gowns. Stage illusion changed my young life forever. I was hooked.”
“Magic ignites excitement, the wonder. It triggers an inquisitive mind. It makes us feel ‘alive’.”
With seeds such as these planted, the progression into a career in theatre is perhaps quite natural, as is Van Jaarsveldt’s attraction to the wonders of magic and her gravitation to the college.
“I am deeply touched by, and much excited by the work accomplished through the college,” she says. “I was seeking to expand my expertise to a senior leadership and managerial position, especially uplifting through performance art. The College of Magic ignited a vigorous spark in me – it combines all which I am seeking to expand in the next steps of my career and to which I can contribute my expertise.”
With an approach which is hands-on, strategic, intuitive, responsible and driven by a passion to uplift, Van Jaarsveldt believes the extensive experience she gained during her 23 years in the professional fields of theatre, NPOs, conservation, community outreach and leadership programmes has groomed and equipped her to contribute to the College of Magic in every aspect.
“As stage scenic artist and artistic director for almost 20 years I had to learn how to ‘climb into the designers’ minds’ to help bring their vision to reality on stage. It requires an open ear to listen. It requires an ego to step aside. Then to inspire a creative team, and to lead them while staying within restricted budget. Our dwindling theatre budgets taught me how to work creatively with a tiny budget and still get the desired outcome. “As CEOs, we need to lead, inspire, listen and to be humble. My background taught me to be just that.”
Van Jaarsveldt’s plans for College Of Magic’s future are bold but under her leadership, achievable. These include establishing long-term partnerships with existing organisations which will broaden the college’s network and funding opportunities, and bring magic to a whole new audience, she asserts.
“The College of Magic has entered a new era of growth. It is a marvellous organisation built from a sound foundation and love by David Gore, into whose shoes I will not even attempt to step. What he built over 38 years is astounding and inspirational! I have much to learn from him,” she says with admiration.
Her challenge is to find her own way of doing things, to be true to herself and to be comfortable doing it – thus “creating her own magic”. The vision includes finding ways to create lasting sustainability and stability to achieve our five-, 10- and beyond 20-year goals.
“Magic is the ideal tool for education and awareness raising,” says Van Jaarsveldt. “I’d like to see the college develop more themed projects, such as our existing Magic Classroom which teaches maths and science through the art of magic.
“Theme-orientated projects, such as recycling, not only stimulate our magic students’ creativity in creating new magic acts but also teaches others about recycling. The potential is vast.”
And to top all this: “I’d like to see College of Magic students staging their own show in Vegas in 2019,” she says.
Van Jaarsveldt’s background has taught her to be passionate, responsible, accountable, self-disciplined, strategic, but, above all, to love what she does. “You have to believe in what you do,” she says.
“I believe in walking my talk, and I hope my passion is visible through my actions to the students. Through love and endurance, anything is possible. I hope they can take something of that with them in life.”
The world of magic is a very niche one, and much like being part of an unspoken family says Van Jaarsveldt. “I find that one either knows a lot about this world or very little. And I’m the first to admit that I am not that familiar with the larger world of magic. Truth always opens doors to knowledge. It invites new doors to open.”