Basic principles in editing and using ESAT
In order to undertake this project we needed to answer a number of questions and agree upon some basic principles. Some of the more important of these are briefly discussed here.
The South African focus
There are two aspects to this issue, both which required simple and pragmatic solutions:
For many years it was fashionable to claim to be focussing on the entire region (“Southern Africa” ) in both academic and popular works of this nature, to avoid a number of awkward distinctions and accusations of parochiality. Thus a broader sweep would include Lesotho, the old “homelands”, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Swaziland, Botswana, even Mozambique and Angola, etc. However, those days are gone and “South Africa” as a specific regional designation, without the stigma of the apartheid-divisionism, seems to be acceptable now. And this is just as well, for not only has the scope of the book originally planned proven to be vast enough without the need to go beyond the borders, but it has become very clear that over the past four centuries South Africa has actually evolved into a unique and distinctive cultural region, in many ways differing from the rest of the sub-continent. However, this can naturally not be all that clear-cut, and some references will be made to activities and personalities from the neighbouring territories.
The South African focus is also important in terms of the actual process of choosing the entries for this encyclopaedia. After long consultations it was decided that the database is intended to reflect as much of the South African theatre work as possible (i.e. concentrating on South African involvement as writers, dirtectors, performers, designers, etc.), while only the more significant and influential of the thousands of imported works and shows would be taken up in the Companion. This is sheer pragmatism for the short term, perhaps later versions could expand beyond these limitations to provide a more comprehensive list of visiting performers. What this means is for example that while every attempt will be made to list every South African generated theatrical work (as text and/or performance) and every South African performer or artist, not every foreign play produced would be discussed in the list of Plays, or every visiting performer listed in the Personalities section, though the visting companies may be listed in the Venues and Companies section.
Much as it would please us to include as much contextual information as possible, this was just beyond the scope of the project. So, though is would be delightful to provide facts about the forces and influences that shaped the theatricals system(s) and facts about the individuals and issues that serve as themes and characters for and in plays and performances, this was not normally possible. However we trust the essays in Part Two will be of some use. As may be the readings suggested in the Part Three, Section 6: Bibliography.
The period to be covered
This digital version of ESAT covers the period from the earliest records of theatre and performance in the country to the year 2010. In effect however, most of the available records, and thus most of the focus of the book, date from the 19th and 20th centuries. However the database part of the project is an ongoing activity, so these dates will naturally be extended into the next century and millenium as we progress, and possibly back into the past as new information is revealed about the pre-colonial period.
The cut-off point for inclusion
This is a thorny issue. Many similar publications and databases take the obvious and easy way out: no one is included who is still alive. However, that would mean that such influential individuals as Athol Fugard, Gcina Mhlope, Marthinus Basson and Zakes Mda , for instance, would not be included – which is patently ridiculous. So, we have decided to take only individuals older than thirty in 2010 as a general rule (but the occasional extraordinary exception could of course occur), which would make the general cut-off date 1980. Anyone born after 1980 would normally still be building a career, and will be considered for inclusion only later. However there is a flexibility about this, left to the judgement of the individual biographer and the editor. And besides, this is a living document, and the cut-off date will keep changing as we move along.
As for theatre companies and other organisations, here too we have a difficulty. Since the 1990s the number of companies and service organisations proliferated exponentially, but many have had equally fleeting careers (as an extraordinary number of theatre enterprises seem to had over all ages). Do we list them all? The existence of such directories as The Limelight and Contacts, and especially the appearance of the South African Handbook of Arts and Culture in 1998, has helped us here, since they do list most contemporary theatres, companies, etc. Since then, these services have shifted to mumerous websites. So a simple link to them would suffice. The emphasis in this Encyclopaedia is thus on historical events and the companies, organisations and venues that impacted on theatre and the entertainment industry, and thus only lists established contemporary companies and organisations. In this context therefore the word “established” would normally refer to a company that that has been or was in existence for 5 years or more, though it too may be applied flexibly, allowing for the appearance of a company etc. that seems to presage something more influential within the context of the times.
Dance, Opera, Musicals, Cabaret, etc.
Contemporary and post-modern practice internationally, as well as in the country has largely obscured what used to be very distinctive borders between the various forms of performance. For the purposes of this database there will be a general thematic entry on each of the forms listed (as well as others), but not all ballet’s, operas, and musical productions will be covered in detail, since this would take us well beyond the modest scope of this initial project. I can however foresee that a larger, more integrated database and/or publication will have to undertaken later.
Film, Radio and Television
The same applies to the hugely influential electronic and filmic forms, i.e. Film, Television and Radio. Once again, each form has an entry of its own in Section 1, and of course performers tend to work in these areas as well. But for the moment the focus is kept quite strictly to live stage performance (see above under “theatre”).
While we have done our best to check all our facts, given the more than 15 000 entries included in this encyclopaedia, we are bound to make numerous mistakes. Again we would appreciate receiving corrections and comments, so as to rectify things in the database. (See the next point on names and dates, as well as “Updating ESAT” at the end of this introduction.)
Names and dates of companies, venues and performances
Just a brief note on a familiar problem to all theatre historians. All artists are notoriously sloppy and inaccurate in their day to day administration and documentation of events - and immensely creative in naming things. So much of the material - usually culled from a variety of sources - is rife with discrepancies, inaccuracies or pure speculation. For example: in the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as the work of notable practioners of the 20th century (Gibson Kente comes to mind for instance), the names of companies, theatre venues, and even plays would change from event to event, depending on whims of the people involved, circumstantional issues, or misquoting by those reporting on (or remembering) events. To take but one example: the British officers who performed in the barracks in Cape Town in the first half of the 19th century called themselves (or were known) by any of more than ten names, including the" Garrison Players", “Garrison Amateur Company”, “Garrison Amateur Theatrical Company”, “(Garrison) Amateur Players”, “Garrison theatricals” and “Gentlemen of the Garrison”, and so on. And the amateur (and professional) theatre was even worse, for they were constantly breaking up and reforming to found new companies. The motto "Door Yver Bloeit de Kunst" for instance was used by at least four companies over the course of the 19th century, some clearly related, some not. And then there were companies which used the motto as a name as well, while others had both a name and a motto - and some even two names or two mottoes. In Kente's case again, the names of his plays varied as he travelled, apparently determined by such circumstantial matters as the size of an available banner. (Thus Mamma and the Load became, at times, simply The Load.) It is the African equivalent of the appalling publisher (and film industry) habit of having American and British titles for books and films. There are reasonable sounding motives for it, but it makes the life of the chronicler hell.
In dealing with this we have tried to offer as many possibilities as we found, and tended to put them together as one entry, with sub-sections, where it seemed reasonable. But readers are asked to understand that what we have may just be a (hopefully informed) guess and a proposal of a possible scenario. So we would urge readers to also consult the references given and if they have information, to let us have it.
The same naturally applies to dates, since few programmes or posters, even today, provide dates of production, and people's memories are terribly unreliable, even about their most treasured experiences. And then, of course there are those who consciously change the dates to suit their own versions of their history or the history of a company or venue. So, once again, where we have found discrepancies or differences of opinion we have tended to provide both alternatives, except where the authority for one date may be overwhelming. In this respect then, this companion must be seen as a guide only, not a definitive source.
Because this is a general reference work, compiled by a very large number of authors and editors from an even larger variety of sources, there is hardly any possibility of a single, coherent and specific “critical perspective” in the publication, beyond a demand for excellence in research and accessibility of information. Each author would naturally have an own perspective, even an own “agenda”, and we have accepted this. However, the informational aim was stressed and the general principles of “inclusiveness”, “factual information” and “subjective objectivity” have served as guidelines when commissioning articles and editing them for the original Companion and hence also for ESAT. If any specific theoretical perspective may be said to invest the project at this particular point in its evolution, it would inevitably be that of the project leader and general editor, whose ideas concerning theatre in South Africa are contained in the article South African Theatre and Performance An Historical Overview by Temple Hauptfleisch and Marie Kruger
Another important point of agreement we had to reach was that of a set of working definitions for key concepts to be employed.
As if the English language itself were not inconsistent enough, the terminology used in discussing theatre is particularly complex and confusing at times, greatly influenced by regional and sociocultural context (E.g. European and American theatrical terms do not always correspond, while literary scholars and theatre practitioners employ radically different terms for the same thing, or may attach totally dissimilar meanings to the same term. Southe Africa has its own share of idiolectic variations.) Terms also change markedly in meaning over time.
The book does not set out to define general theatre terms. This is done excellently in a number of well–known companions and dictionaries. The new edition of the Afrikaans theatre dictionary does the same for Afrikaans. However, there are naturally certain terms that have specific relevance to or meaning in South Africa (e.g. “alternative theatre”, “township musical” , “kabaret/cabaret”, “ntsomi”, “bioscope”, “toyi-toyi”, etc. ), and there are some general terms which we have used in specific ways for our purposes. A number of terms are therefore briefly mentioned below and most of them will also be discussed more fully under their own heading in one or more of three sections in Part Three, namely in Section 1: Terminology. Without arguing the case for each one in this introduction, I do want to point out the specific decisions we made concerning terminology, are largely based on general contempary South African usage.
Terms used in specific ways:
(Use link to see further discussion on the issue in the main body of the text)
Actor/actress To avoid problems of gender, the neutral term performer is generally used, except where speaking about a specific person. However, the use of Actor as a general term referring to both male and female performers has come into vogue in some circles since the late 1990's. It will ot be used in that way here, however.
African(as in “African theatre”, “African economy” and so on). The notion of "Africanness" is widely contested today, and we certainly do not want to become embroiled in a debate about it. As used here the term "African" is not an evaluative term, implying any kind of uniqueness or exoticism, but merely a regional indicator, referring to the entire geo-political area we know as Africa today and to all the indigenous cultural forms, processes and artefacts created and used in that region.
African languages. Traditionally in South Africa this refers to languages of African origin (more particularly Bantu origin) in South(ern) Africa. (Indeed they were formerly referred to as Bantu Languages). Lately this has come to include other local languages such as Afrikaans and San. However, we use it here to refer to all the indigenous languages of Africa, not jut those spoken in Southern Africa.
Afrikaans (on its own or in combination, as in “Afrikaans theatre”, “Afrikaans literature”, etc). Used as a noun, this refers to the indigenous language (a derivative of 17th century Dutch, under the influence of local conditions, notably the impact of other languages, such as French, English, German and a range of local languages and languages spoken by the slaves broguht out from the East.) Spoken by about six million people in South Africa, a large proportion of them not white. According to the 2001 census for example Afrikaans is the first language of over 80% of Coloured South Africans (3.1 million people) and approximately 60% of White South Africans (2.5 million). Around 200,000 black South Africans speak it as their first language. Large numbers of Bantu-speaking and English-speaking South Africans also speak it as their second language. It is also the most common first language in the southern section of Namibia. When linked to products or outcomes (e.g. “Afrikaans theatre”) it refers to work produced in that language or by people speaking Afrikaans – not necessarily to a social, ethnic or political entity of some kind (e.g. “Afrikaners”).
Afrikaners: The term has been much debated, but basically it is used to refer to a specific group of white South Africans who see themselves as a distinct cultural and ethnic grouping, identified by their language (Afrikaans), their European based social structures, religious affiliation (Calvinist reformed – one of the three “sister” churches) and political orientation. Also referred to as “Boere” (or “Boers” in English). See below.
Apartheid. Used in the politcal sense to refer to the political philosophy of the Nationalist Party and the institutionalised racism of the period 1948-1990. Of late it has become usage to spell it with a lower-case “a”, indicating that it is used as a common noun. This is fine when we refer to it as a form of general racism (e.g. “in Australia apartheid-style thinking led to the aborigines being hustled into inhabitable regions…” ) However, for the most part in this publication we tend to talk about a specific political movement, so in such cases have decided to retain former usage, which uses a capital “A”.
Bantu (Lit. "man"). The term used by colonials to refer to people of African origin. **?? It is back in vogue today, replacing other - more demeaning - terms. *****
Black (as in “Black theatre”, “Black South Africans” and so on): While this usage has been challenged in a variety of ways over the years, this publication utilizes the American usage which has generally been followed in South Africa from the middle of the 1970’s, namely to use “black” in this context as a political term to refer to anyone (or any activity undertaken by someone who would have been classified as) “non-white” or “non-European” in former years. This implies that the term is a blanket term for used to be referred to as Africans (Zulus, Xhosas, Sotho etc.), as well as the so-called “coloureds” and the Indians and other Asian peoples in the country. The individual groups are referred to as “Xhosa, Coloured, Indian, white, Afrikaans”, and so forth, as the need may arise.
Boer (literally “farmer”). A term used in the plural (“Boere” in Afrikaans, “Boers” in English) to refer to white Afrikaans-speaking South Africans. Originally a positive identification (especially during and after the South African or “Anglo-Boer” War), but later in in the 20th century, often used pejoratively by non-white South Africans, as an alternative to “Afrikaners”.
Director and Producer: In South African usage we tend to follow the American rather than the British convention, and do so in this publication as well. Thus the director is the person responsible for the general interpretation of the play, for the conduct of the rehearsals, guiding and advising performers. (Referred to in Afrikaans – as on the European continent – as the regisseur.) The producer is the person responsible for the financial and management side of a production. (In British usage: the manager)
Drama, Theatre and Performance: The word drama is used in its narrower literary sense, to refer to the body of written and printed texts, and not as a general equivalent for theatre (see below). Thus, “English drama in South Africa” would refer to the texts of plays written in English in South Africa, not to the performance of such or other English plays in the country. (The latter would be termed “English theatre in South Africa”)
The word theatre, on the other hand is used as a broad, non-specific term (eg. as it is used in the title to this work), this would refer to the entire cultural activity (everyone and everything involved in all the theatrical events – i.e. live stage performances done before audiences in order to amuse, instruct or as part of a ritual event). Thus “South African theatre” refers to all theatrical events or performances taking place in South Africa – formal, informal, traditional, African, European, musical, tragic comic, etc., and all aspects of it: management, artistic, technical and receptive processes and participants. (It is therefore inclusive of “drama” and “performance”). Similarly “British theatre” would to all such performances and events done in Britain, etc. It is however one of the (many) quirks of the English language also traditionally used in a more specific sense, to to refer to the building or space in which performances take place (as in The Market Theatre). Inevitably it is used in this way here as well, where the preferred term (venue) is inadequate or misleading or it appears in the name of a venue (the Market Theatre, the State Theatre).
Performance can also be used in multiple ways. The basic and familiar sense of the term – and the sense in which it is employed in this work - is a reference to the act of performing as a performer (on stage, in a performance space). E.g. “He gave a good performance as Hamlet”. A second, equally conventional use of the term refers to a particular presentation of a work of theatre before a particular audience. (E.g. “We went to see a performance of Hamlet.”) This would be a reference to one specific theatrical event by a given set of performers, at a given time, place and in a given venue. (A series of such performances by the same group of performances would be referred to as a production of the play – see below) A third meaning, which has become prominent during the second half of this century, derives from the theories and practice of Victor Turner and Richard Schechner, notably their important and influential writings about what they term performance theory. They use the term to refer to something much larger and more encompassing than the second meaning of “performance” described above. It points to the entire theatrical event, i.e. the sum of all the processes involved in performing before an audience (including social, political, contextual, performative, ritual and ceremonial acts leading to and shaping the actual performance on stage, as well as its reception during and after the event.) This would naturally also include many performance forms that may seem unconventional in European thinking about theatre forms. In many ways these ideas must (and do) underlie the thinking of this book and contemporary writing on African and South African performance forms. (See the chapter entitled Theatre and Performance in South Africa: An Overview of Major Trends). However, to avoid confusion, the basic idea of this expanded interpretation – i.e. “all the processes and influencing factors involved in a performance before an audience” - will normally be expressed by the more conventional term used above, namely “the theatrical event” (see below).
English (as in “English theatre”). The reference is to the language, which has its own distinct vocabulary items and pronunciation, referred to as South African English. However, much of it is originally Standard British Pronunciation, though with regional variations. Since the 1970's the influence of American English is on the increase. Also, there is a great deal more mixing of the various languages in the country. (See Jean Branford: The Dictionary of South African English, **). In combinations the reference is to writing in English by any South African, no matter what his or her ethnic or linguistic origins.
European (as in “European drama”, “European conventions”etc). Simply any drama or theatre practice deriving from Europe. The notion of Eurocentrism (and the rejection of that) featured quite strongly in the 1980-1990's, but seems to have dissipated a little by 2000.
South African (as in “South African theatre”, “South African languages” and so on): This refers to the geo-political area we know today and to the cultural forms, processes and artefacts created and used in that region.
Production: This refers to the play as prepared for performance and put on over a period of time, and consists of the entire process of planning, rehearsal and performance.
Theatrical event: This refers to the entire complex of activities, processes, influencing factors and individuals involved in the presentation of a single performance before an audienceat a particular time under particular circumstances. (See Performance above.)
Theatrical system: This refers to the whole network of activities that go into the making of theatre in South Africa – starting from the creative activities of writers, performers, designers, directors, etc, through administrative and other basic and support activities, such as marketing, ticket-sales, agencies. It also includes external matters (Censorship processes, copyrighting, publisheing, sponsorship, etc). The notion is a simplified version of the more complex ideas espoused by general systems-theory. (For further discussion of this see Part Three, Section 1: Terminology and Hauptfleisch, 1997.)
The ESAT Entries
The entries for ESAT have been grouped in 7 categories, managed and edited by one of the research editors. To access database material on the relevant category, and choose the item by clicking on the link.
- South African Theatre/Overview
- South African Theatre Terminology and Thematic Entries
- South African Theatre Personalities
- South African Theatre Venues, Companies, Societies, etc
- South African Theatre Plays
- A Chronology of South African Theatre and Performance
- A Bibliography of South African South African Theatre and Performance
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