Barney Simon

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Barney Simon (1932-1995) [1] was one of the most influential theatre figures of the 1970s to the 1990s, a legendary artistic director, writer, copywriter, teacher, and co-creator of the Market Theatre in Johannesburg.

Biography

Born in Johannesburg, he began studying architecture at University of the Witwatersrand and later University of Natal, but dropped out before graduating. He had begun writing stories by this time. Went to London in 1959 to study photography and film editing. Inspired by working as a stage hand for Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop at the Theatre Royal, he returned in 1961 to join Union Artists, where he and Ian Bernhardt set up the Phoenix Players. Working as copywriter in the day, he helped at The Rehearsal Room at Dorkay House in the evenings.

Here he met Athol Fugard, helping him with The Blood Knot and directing Fugard in Krapp's Last Tape (Beckett) and the first production of Fugard’s Hello and Goodbye. He also did Phiri (19*) and Edward Albee's The Death of Bessie Smith.

In 1968-1970 he spent time in the USA, directing plays by Fugard. (e.g. Hello and Goodbye with Martin Sheen) and became associated editor of the New York Literary Review.

He returned to South Africa in 1970 on the death of his father, becoming involved with doing health education sketches in rural Transkei and KwaZulu (1973-4), while doing freelance writing and directing for the Space Theatre (e.g directing Medea, writing and directing Miss South Africa) and PACT, where he agreed to work on experimental projects in The Arena. (These included Büchner’s Woyzeck (1973). However, he did not enjoy working in the state funded system as his heart lay in non-racial theatre, therefore he and Mannie Manim set up The Company in 1974, The Market Theatre in 1976 (with Barney as Artistic Director) and the Market Theatre Laboratory.

Barney died in June 1995.

Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance

Besides his management and educational roles, Simon has written, workshopped/facilitated and directed an enormous number of plays, among them some of the most iconic South African plays of the 20th century.

Plays directed for The Space Theatre include Medea (1977), Call Me Woman and at People's Space Savage Love (1980).

Among the work he did for The Company were Hey Listen! (1974), The Maids and Antigone (by Jean Anouilh) (In The Blue Fox, 1975).

During this time he also did freelance advertising work for extra income.

In 1976 Simon and Mannie Manim opened The Market Theatre and his production of Weiss’s Marat/Sade (1976) opened the main theatre.

Simon became the Artistic Director and a trustee of the Market Theatre Foundation.

Besides his administrative duties he regularly directed and produced workshopped plays for the Market Theatre, including Cincinatti – Scenes from City Life through improvisation with the cast (1979), Vroue van Troje (“Women of Troy”, 197*), Woza Albert (198*), Born in the RSA (1985), Outers (198*), Black Dog-Inj'emnyama! (1984), Starbrites (1994), Singing the Times (19**), Eden and Other Places (198*), ***, *East (Berkoff, 1995) *The Island (Fugard, 1995), The Suit (Can Themba, 1995).

At the same time his continuing interest in community theatre and development programmes found expression in projects such as the Winterveld Project (1979*???) and the Market Theatre Laboratory, which he began in 1989. This was a training facility for young theatre practitioners which produced numerous new works and performers and worked with them till his untimely death.

His published works include a collection of short stories (Joburg Sis!, 1953), some of which were later dramatized as well, the widely anthologized Woza Albert! and Born in the RSA: Four Workshopped Plays (1997).

He acted as assistant stage manager, together with Percy Tucker on James Ambrose Brown’s Governor of the Black Rock which was directed by Leon Gluckman for the East Rand Theatre Club in 1953. He directed Jean Genet’s The Maids with Molly Seftel, Barbara Itzler and Maya Obel for PACT at the Arena around 1971. He used the Doornfontein Arena for The Company circa 1971.

He directed Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona’s workshopped play, Sizwe Banzi is Dead, starring Kani and Ntshona. It was brought to Johannesburg by Ian Bernhardt for the Phoenix Players and was staged at the Men’s Common Room at Wits University in November 1972. He directed Six Characters in Search of an Author at the Alexander Theatre in 1973. Together with Mannie Manim as administrative director he formed The Company as artistic director within the Arena Theatre. It had a core company of actors – Aletta Bezuidenhout, Vanessa Cooke, Leonie Hofmeyr, David Eppel, Judith Cornell, Janice Honeyman, Sue Kiel, Danny Keogh, Lindsay Reardon and John Oakley-Smith.

He directed Lysistrata for The Company at the Arena Theatre in 1974. He directed Arthur Miller’s The Crucible for PACT starring Marius Weyers, Patrick Mynhardt, Michael McCabe, Aletta Bezuidenhout and Michele Maxwell in 1975. The Company was awarded a premises for The Market Theatre in 1975.

He directed Pleasure and Repentance, a fund-raising show, which was staged at the Market Theatre in a back room of the unfinished theatre on 4 January 1976. The cast comprised Michael McCabe, Ron Smerczak, Keith Blundell and Janet Suzman. His production of Chekhov’s The Seagull starring Erica Rogers, Vanessa Cooke, Sandra Prinsloo, Bill Brewer, Marius Weyers, Danny Keogh, Lindsay Reardon and Bess Finney was the opening production at Upstairs at the Market on 21 June 1976. He then staged The Crucible later that same year.

The official opening of the Market Theatre was on 19 October 1976 and Simon directed The Company’s production of Peter Weiss’s Marat/Sade starring Kenneth Hendel, Wilson Dunster and Sandra Prinsloo. The Company presented his revival of People are Living There with Yvonne Bryceland, Wilson Dunster, Vanessa Cooke and Danny Keogh at the Market Theatre in 1977. He directed Brecht’s Mother Courage with Yvonne Bryceland and Aletta Bezuidenhout in 1977. It was staged in the main house at the Market Theatre. He then directed an Afrikaans translation of The Women of Troy starring Aletta Bezuidenhout, Jana Cilliers, Grethe Fox, Sandra Prinsloo and Wilna Snyman at the Market Theatre later that same year. He directed Murray Schisgal’s Broadway comedy Luv with Wilson Dunster, Janice Honeyman and James White. It was a co-production by The Company and the Academy and staged at Upstairs at the Market in 1977. His production of Albee’s The Death of Bessie Smith starring Janet Suzman, John Kani and Winston Ntshona was staged at the Market Theatre in 1979. He directed Vivian Solomons and Wilma Stockenström in Fugard’s Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act at The Market in 1979. He directed Cincinatti – Scenes from City Life starring Vanessa Cooke, Marcel van Heerden, Danny Keogh, Lesley Nott, Barrie Shah, Thoko Ntshinga, Bo Petersen, Sam Williams and Robin Smith for The Company at The Market in 1979.

He directed Stephen Gray’s Cold Stone Jug for a Market Theatre-Baxter Theatre collaboration in 1981. He directed Woza Albert! developed by Mbongeni Ngema and Percy Mtwa at the Laager in 1981. Together with Janice Honeyman he directed Marico Moonshine and Mampoer, inspired by certain Herman Charles Bosman stories, at the Market Theatre in 1981. His production of Marsha Norman’s 'night, Mother starring Janice Honeyman and Julie Follansbee was staged at the Laager in September 1983.

The Company presented his Black Dog-Inj'emnyama! at Upstairs at the Market in 1984 before going to the Edinburgh Festival.

Together with his cast which included Fiona Ramsay, Vanessa Cooke, Timmy Kwebulana, Gcina Mhlophe, Terry Norton, Thoko Ntshinga and Neil McCarthy he wrote Born in the RSA which opened at Upstairs at the Market in August 1985 before moving to the main theatre.

The Company presented his production of The Dybbuk in 1986. He directed Athol Fugard’s The Blood Knot for PACT in 1988. He directed David Lan’s Flight at the Market Theatre in 1988. His fable, Starbrites, was staged at the Market Theatre in September 1990. He directed Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden at Upstairs at the Market in 1992. He directed Mothobi Mutloatse’s adaptation of The Suit in 1993.

Awards, etc

He won best director at the DALRO Awards for Cincinatti – Scenes from City Life.

He was honoured with a Vita Award (National), award year 1994-1995. (Moyra Fine Award for Outstanding Contribution).

Barney Simon Exhibition, Barney! produced by NELM in 1996 in commemoration of Barney Simon [1932 - 1995].

Sources

F.C.L. Bosman, 1928. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel I: 1652-1855. Pretoria: J.H. de Bussy. [2]: pp.

Mona De Beer, 1995.

Mary Benson, 1997.

Tucker, 1997.

Stephanou & Henriques 2005.

Numerous entries in the NELM catalogue.

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