South African Theatre/Overview

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An Introductory Overview of South African Theatre and Performance

By Temple Hauptfleisch, Marie Kruger and P.J. ("Peet") du Toit.


Background and context

The Republic of South Africa lies at the southern tip of the continent, bordered by Namibia, Botswana, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Mozambique to the north. Encompassing the tiny Kingdom of Lesotho, the country is 1,2 million square kilometers in size and spans the continent, from the Atlantic ocean on the west coast to the Indian ocean on the east.

Formerly divided into four provinces (the Cape of Good Hope, the Orange Free State, the Transvaal, and Natal) and a number of ethnically based "homelands", the country was re-divided into nine provinces in 1993. They are the Western Cape, the Northern Cape, the Eastern Cape, the Free State, Kwazulu/Natal, Gauteng, the Northern Province, Northwest and Mpumalanga. The capital cities are Cape Town (legislative) and Pretoria (administrative).

The seat of some of the earliest human development in Africa, the region was settled by African peoples over the course of many centuries. The inhabitants included hunter-gatherer communities (e.g. the San or Xan) and herders and farmers (e.g. the Khoi, Sotho, Tswana, Zulu and Xhosa). These constituted tribal states, each with its own distinctive and rich visual and oral culture, including a vibrant performance heritage, despite the fact that none of the tribes had an orthography and therefore have left no written literature or history.

The Portuguese discovery of the sea route around the Cape of Storms (later the Cape of Good Hope) in the fifteenth century led to the first Dutch settlement in 1652 and a century and a half later the British annexation of the Cape (1814) and Natal (1843). The subsequent colonial expansion into the interior by farmers, missionaries, civil servants and troops extended British control over the outreaches of the Cape Province and Natal, while rebellious Dutch farmers trekked inland to escape the British influence founded the independent republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. In a century punctuated by military clashes between the European settlers and the African farmers, the latter gradually had to retreat to border areas to retain their autonomy, or else had to adapt to the encroaching capitalist life by becoming paid workers, often on their ancestral lands.

The discovery of diamonds in Hopetown (1867) and gold on the Witwatersrand (1886) accelerated the process of assimilation. The interior was immediately overrun by speculators, diggers, businessmen and - inevitably - politicians and imperialists from across the globe. Rapid urbanization, mechanization and more aggressive exploitation of labour followed, as did a myriad of secondary industries and Organisations. The evolving capitalist society also brought the touring theatre companies and entertainers from Britain and the Continent in its wake, a factor of crucial importance for the way theatre and the theatrical system were to evolve over the next century.

A direct result of this imperialism was the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902. An international cause célêbre in which the world rallied to support the "gallant little republics" of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State in their struggle against the might of Britain, the war was to become an important theme in Afrikaner and South African literature.

In 1910 the country was granted home rule as the Union of South Africa, with a Westminster-style democratic parliament. In 1961 it became the Republic of South Africa and seceded from the British Commonwealth - to which it only returned in 1995.

The compromise reached created a parliament which was predominantly for Europeans (Whites) in much of the country with the so-called "Coloureds" and some blacks being excepted in regions such as the Cape Province. Thus individuals of African and Asian descent were treated as second class citizens, as they were in all British colonies. As the new century dawned, there also came a growing sense of injustice and a clear drive towards resistance among the non-European population. Symptomatic of this was the founding, in 1912, of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC, later simply to become the African National Congress or ANC), which was to go on to become one of the more prominent voices of opposition, in conjunction with a number of similar Organisations founded during the course of the century.

Meanwhile Afrikaner cultural nationalism, a fully fledged drive to political, social and economic empowerment, stimulated the fight for the autonomy for Afrikaners (i.e. speakers of Afrikaans). This culminated in the 1948 victory by the National Party, a party which was to rule the country for the next 42 years and was to devise and implement the notorious laws and policies which have become known as "apartheid" (i.e. "separateness"). Apartheid thinking was to dominate all aspects of life, including the arts and culture of the sub-continent for decades.

The initial resistance to racism and discrimination tended to be predominantly peaceful, but between 1960 and 1976 a series of bloody confrontations between the protesters and the police (e.g. at Cato Manor, Sharpeville, Langa and Soweto), changed everything irrevocably. Affected by the post-war winds of change blowing over the rest of Africa, the struggle for liberation - backed up by international boycotts and pressure - became militant, while white resistance to change hardened into ever increasing political and social oppression. Between 1960 and 1990 this struggle was to inform every social, cultural and economic act, and give direction to the arts and artists of the country.

In 1990 the situation changed radically when President F.W. de Klerk committed the National Party to negotiations by unbanning all political parties and eventually releasing all political detainees. This paved the way for discussions between all parties, the formation of the interim Government of National Unity and, in 1994, the first democratic elections and the inauguration of Nelson Mandela as the new republic's first State President.

Today South Africa is perhaps the most highly industrialized country in Africa as well as one of the most productive agricultural centres on the continent. Sociologically it is a mixture of underdevelopment (particularly in certain rural areas) and highly developed urbanization, with the major cities constantly growing, western-style metropoles characterized by high-rise buildings, high-density living and technological sophistication. The recent removal of the apartheid laws restricting free movement, has led to an unchecked increase in the urbanization process, leading to a major housing crisis and the development of vast squatter communities on the outskirts of all cities. The latter communities are reputed to contain almost seven million people.

As a legacy of the colonial and apartheid eras, every city and virtually every major town can boast well-equipped cultural amenities: e.g. theatres, galleries, museums, libraries. The country has twenty-one major universities - a number with excellent international reputations, eight influential scientific research councils, fifteen technikons and a hundred and twenty three technical colleges. The education, health and social welfare systems too are based on British models and worked excellently within the limits set for them under the previous government. However, for most of the century the amenities were provided for and built in areas reserved exclusively for the white population, with a fraction of the state funds being allocated for the black population. The effect has been catastrophic in most cases and rectifying these imbalances is a major priority of - and a major headache for - the new government.

The current population numbers over 40 million, speaking eleven languages (Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa, isiZulu, siSwati, Sesotho, Sesotho sa Leboa, Setswana, siSwati, Tshvenda and Xitsonga). In the 1910 Union constitution English and Dutch (from 1925 Afrikaans, the locally developed version of Dutch) were declared the official languages of the country, with all other languages seen as regional languages, but the new (post-1990) interim constitution recognizes all eleven as official languages, though English tends to serve as the lingua franca. This poses unique problems for the public broadcaster (the South African Broadcasting Corporation - SABC) and other such institutions.

This rich cultural mix has impacted heavily on the range of cultural expression in the country, particularly since 1970. In this period the restrictions of apartheid slowly lifted, African art forms have begun to receive academic and artistic recognition, and African artists have gained confidence and exposure. As a result, crossover art forms and styles have become more and more prominent, and multicultural and multilingual expression, eschewing the old European forms and conventions, has become the norm rather than the exception, leading to the creation of uniquely South African forms and styles.


See also the entries on the terms South African, South African Film and South African Theatre.

Theatre and performance

by Temple Hauptfleisch

From the beginnings to 1945

Indigenous African performance forms (dance, music, oral poetry and storytelling) have existed as prominent cultural and social activities on the continent for almost six thousand years. The coming of European colonization in 1652 brought many new performance forms and introduced the notion of theatre (as a formal and distinctly separate social system) to the sub-continent. In consequence two performance systems developed: on the one hand there are the indigenous forms which were initially largely found within tribal context, particularly in non-urban areas, but later developed a variety of more urbanized forms and styles. While they were a fundamental part of African cultural life and taken seriously by the African population, such forms were considered as nothing more than curiosities for tourists, not part of the colonial theatrical system and were manifestly ignored by all scholars and historians, except anthropologists and ethnologists, till midway through the twentieth century.

On the other hand, the European-style theatre that the Dutch, French, German and particularly British colonials introduced between 1790 to 1880 provided the basis for the formal theatre system in South Africa today. This came both in the form of amateur dramatics and through regular visits of touring companies from London and Australia, "playing the Empire". These events impacted heavily on all aspects of formal theatre: the physical form of the theatre spaces, the Organisational system, the fundamental principles behind theatre as a representational art, and so on.

By about 1880 this imported theatre was becoming "naturalized" and adapted itself to the regional circumstances. This occurred under the influence of such contradictory impulses as British imperialism, Afrikaner nationalism and African nationalism, as well as the socio-political and economic events of the time: the Anglo-Boer war, establishment of the Union of South Africa in 1910, the First World War, the enormous growth of the country as a commercial force and the devastating effect of the Great Depression in the thirties.

Local authors, including the farceurs Stephen Black (1880?-1931), Melt Brink (1842-1925) and C.J. Langenhoven (1873-1932) as well as the more seriously minded Louis Leipoldt (1880-1947) now began to write, publish and produce original South African texts for schools and the expanding amateur theatre movement.. In the case of Afrikaans writers there was a specific cultural imperative as well, the books being required use in schools to support the promotion of Afrikaans as a fully fledged literary language. These white writers would gradually also serve and be served by the emerging professional theatre system, led by producers such as Leonard Rayne (1869-1925), Hendrik Hanekom (1896-1952) and Andre Huguenet (1906-1961). Shrewd investors, including the powerful African Consolidated Theatres of I.W. Schlesinger (1871-1949) and Harry Stodel (1869-1951), seized the opportunity and constructed a network of impressive theatres throughout the country.

Thus by mid 1930s there were numerous professional companies operating in the cities, while more than thirty touring companies were servicing the rural towns, travelling by road and rail. The network of amateur groups was strong and prominent, leading to the formation of the Federation of Amateur Theatrical Societies of South Africa (FATSSA, 1934-1960), under the directorship of P.P.B. Breytenbach (1904-1984). Another important factor was the wide-spread publishing industry and the influential press, which supported the arts.

In the black community one now also sees the rise of amateur, church and schools theatre companies working in what one might term the “Western format” and the gradual appearance of European style plays (both in English and in local African languages such as Sotho Setswana, Xhosa and Zulu). The case of the remarkably prescient and influential H.I.E. Dhlomo (1903-1956) and the Bantu Dramatic Society (1932/33) is particularly well documented in this regard. The first translations of classic works in the various indigenous African languages began to appear now as well, the prominent example being translations of two Shakespeare plays in the 1930’s by Sol Plaatje (1876-1932). A few writers were also beginning to write plays in their mother tongues , usually for publication - specifically for the prescribed market in language courses at schools and unversities. Gradually, as the SABC intrioduced its series of dedicated African language radio stations, they also wriote radion plays. Even though such plays appear to have been seldom performed on stage, these two markets would develop into quite a substantial and profitable industry by the 1950s and later (enhanced by the demand for television scripts in the 1980s and later).

However, in the 1930’s we also see the beginnings of a much more important performance trend in the urban ghettos. Under such diverse and intercultural urban influences as African traditional dance and music, the evolution of urban jazz and contemporary dance competitions, and the advent of radio and film, a number of distinctive black performance forms began evolving slowly but surely, largely undocumented and for the most part unnoticed by the outside world. It would take another few decades for this to mature and blossom and have a revolutionary and radical impact on South African performance culture from the late 1960s onwards.

Then a devastating drought and the great depression intervened to be followed by the Second World War. It all meant the virtual end of the professional theatre, for the rise of radio and film caused many of the major theatres to be turned into bioscopes (movie houses) and the touring companies found themselves without audiences. So for almost fifteen years theatre largely became the province of the amateur or semi-professional again, as the more powerful societies (e.g the various Repertory Societies, Shakespeare Circles and Gilbert and Sullivan Societies in the major cities, as well as a number of large and dominant Afrikaans societies) provided occasional job opportunities for professional directors and actors.

This semi-amateur basis was - and would long remain - standard practice in the black community, deprived as it was of facilities and unable to develop its own performance traditions professionally because of the Eurocentric attitudes of the artistic and critical community. Temple* This situation continued through the war years, further complicated by the fact that the war effort tied up many talented artists in Europe and North Africa, both as military staff or allied workers, or as performers for the troops. Thus the theatre at home was largely kept going by a number of highly qualified and experienced women, including Marda Vanne (1897-1970), Gwen ffrancon-Davies (1891-1992), Margaret Inglis (1904-), Leontine Sagan (19*-), Muriel Alexander (19*, Anna Neethling-Pohl (1906-19*) and Hermien Dommisse (19*).

A positive aspect of the war effort was the founding of the Union Defence Force (UDF) Entertainment Unit, set up by Major Myles Bourke (19*-19*) to entertain the troops in the African and European campaigns with vaudeville-type shows. After the war the entertainment industry could thus draw on a much larger pool of professionally experienced men of the theatre when setting up the new professional theatre which was to dominate the industry for the next twenty years.


Theatre after 1945

After the war professional theatre in English resurrected itself quite rapidly. Directors such as Brian Brook (19* -), Taubie Kuschlick (19* -19*), and others mounted superb productions of the West End and Broadway hits of the season, while others (Leon Gluckman (19*-19*) and Leonard Schach (1918-) did the more risky literary work of Tennessee Williams, John Osborne and the like, and even the occasional local play.

Formal classical theatre and Afrikaans theatre were slower in getting going again, but a superb Afrikaans Hamlet in 1947 brought a major breakthrough. After years of pressure from cultural Organisations, the government relented and established the first state supported theatre Organisation in the British commonwealth: the National Theatre Organisation (NTO 1948-1962). Directed by P.P.B. Breytenbach, NTO was a bilingual (Afrikaans and English) Organisation, centered in Pretoria, and intended to provide professional theatre for South African citizens, provide work for local performers and to provide an outlet for local writing. In the course of its existence, this Organisation was to undertake many tours through the country, perform over a hundred plays, of which a large number were classical works, but also included works by a wide range of local authors. By the late fifties NTO had employed and trained a vast number of the performers, technicians and authors who were to go on and create the dynamic theatre of the sixties and seventies.

However this "national" theatre was NOT national in any real sense: it was intended to serve the interest of whites only. In later years attempts were made to cater for and involve black needs in the planning, but this was largely tokenism and ignored the needs and desires of the black communities. As a result the townships surrounding the cities gradually strengthened and expanded their own cultural style and industry. Ironically, a significant influence was once more the UDF Entertainment Unit. A number of the best township jazz artists had worked for the unit and on their return some of them formed a variety company which was to pioneer black entertainment in the cities. Touring with an enormously popular variety show called "Zonk", playing for white and black audiences, they paved the way for a whole range of such shows over many years. Imbedded in a broader artistic explosion that occurred in Sophiatown during the fifties, a renaissance led by the artists, writers journalists, singers and musicians of the time, these performances paved the way for one of the most significant theatrical events of the period: the enormously popular indigenous musical entitled King Kong. Put on in 1959, the production was a collaborative effort of black artists and white entrepreneurship which gave the local story and local performance styles a legitimacy they had previously lacked in the world of fashionable show business.

By popularizing a vital and distinctively black urban style of performance, these productions spurred a new industry in the sixties and seventies: the so-called "township musical", perhaps best represented by the work of the extremely successful Gibson Kente (*unknown). These writers adopted the musical comedy style and the melodramatic content of the King Kong format for purely commercial purposes.

By the mid-fifties however, a growing wave of resistance had also developed among the majority of prominent writers and artists - Afrikaans and English. This led to the first real break with the received tradition of the British colonial theatre heritage and the beginnings of what was to become a long-term rift between the artist and the state. Much of this work shared a basic set of ideas: that theatre has to be politically relevant, that it has a right to be oppositional, that it should have its own voice.

This all started off rather slowly as a whole world of non-institutionalized and serious theatre began to evolve, revolving around such diverse Organisations and individuals as Leonard Schach and the Cockpit Players, Athol Fugard and the Serpent Players, Ian Bernhardt (19*-) and the Union of Southern African Artists and the Natal Theatre Council in Durban. This period saw the appearance, for example, of a large number of so-called "try-for-white" plays, including Athol Fugard's Bloodknot, Lewis Sowden's (1905-1974) Kimberley Train, Basil Warner's (* -) Try for White and Bartho Smit's (1934-198*) Die Verminktes (The Maimed).

As it settled into power, the government gradually imposed segregation at all levels of social, political and cultural life. The 1960 clampdown on political Organisations and resistance movements made segregation a political issue, but the promulgation of a series of acts intended to seperate the races, culminating the 1965 Group Areas and Separate Amenities Act, directly affected the performing arts by effectively banning the presence of racially mixed casts on stage and racially mixed audiences in the theatre. Conversely, national and international pressure brought to bear on the government and the artists working in the country also impacted on the theatre. At Athol Fugard's behest, for example, an international playwright's boycott was in place by 1963, followed in 1966 by British Equity's ban on performers working in South Africa. Actions like these effectively set in motion the gradual isolation of artists and academics in the country. Ironically the initial effect of this was far more positive than negative, for it forced local writers and performers to make theatre for its times by using and developing its own resources. In this way it enabled a playwriting tradition in English to firmly establish itself alongside the Afrikaans tradition.

The beginning of the sixties also saw a troubled NTO make way for a larger, more ostentatious governmental scheme in 1962: four regionally based Performing Arts Councils (PACs): the Natal Performing Arts Council (NAPAC), Performing Arts Council of the Transvaal (PACT), Performing Arts Council of the Orange Free State (PACOFS) and the Cape Performing Arts Board (CAPAB). Much more lavishly funded, they are responsible for theatre, music, opera and ballet in the four provinces (see Part 3, Section 3). Over the next thirty years the councils were to do much to improve the quality of theatre despite the restraints mentioned, for they offered fixed employment, expansive budgets and well equipped theatres. Given the benefit of permanent companies of trained performers, they could mount a wide variety of fine productions ranging from the classical repertoire to the modern.

Unfortunately the PACs, like the NTO, were reserved for whites only and focussed exclusively on Eurocentric forms of theatre. However they did offer writers in Afrikaans and English an opportunity for developing a quite formidable canon of new dramatic writing, and not all of it supportive of the regime. Indeed, some of the first essays into resistance theatre boldly occurred within the PACs own workshop-theatres, notably PACT's Arena in Johannesburg, CAPAB's Theatre Laboratory in Cape Town and PACOFS's Presidensie Teater in Bloemfontein. Prominent writers whose works premiered with the PACs in this time include Chris Barnard (1939-), André P. Brink (1935-), Guy Butler (1918-), P.G. du Plessis (1934 -), Pieter Fourie (193*-), Adam Small (1936-) and H.W.D. Manson (1926-69). However, the PACs did little for the other performance traditions till the beginning of the eighties, when the government was forced to allow them to open up to all races and they thus considerably broadened the scope of their activities.

The foregoing trends all come together at the beginning of the seventies with the development of the so-called "alternative" theatre movement. As the initial thrill with the PACs wore off and disillusion slowly set in, many came to believe that the real liberating influence could only come outside the governmental sphere. The whole concept of improvisational and experimental performances as ways of raising the political consciousness of the performers and public (as demonstrated, i.a. by the avant-garde theatre of the USA and Europe) attracted those opposing the status quo. As a result, a growing number of politically inclined independent theatrical producers surfaced in this period, and began to push the limits of the indigenous theatre beyond its European roots. Along with the groups mentioned earlier, these included Robert (Mshengu) Kavanagh's(*) Theatre Workshop '71 (1971), Music, Dance, Arts and Literature Institute (MDALI - 1972), The People's Experimental Theatre (1973) and Junction Avenue Theatre (1976). However two groups in particular are indelibly linked with the major thrust forward experienced in the seventies. When Brian Astbury (19*) and Yvonne Bryceland (19*-1995) linked up with Athol Fugard (1932-) and founded The Space Theatre in Cape Town in 1972, the tentative movement towards a serious and locally grown theatre of opposition became a virtual revolution. And when Mannie Manim (19*-) and Barney Simon (?1934-1985) followed suit in Johannesburg and founded The Company in 1974 and the Market Theatre in 1976, the pattern was set. By focussing on a multi-faceted agenda of oppositional theatre, promotion of local work, experimentation and training for the disadvantaged, these groups not only actively helped to broaden the scope and alter the form of South African theatre, but gave it a distinctive character and status. By the eighties the Market was in essence South Africa's unofficial national theatre.

Among the major new playwrights of this period were Reza de Wet, Deon Opperman, Paul Slabolepszy, Maishe Maponya, Matsemela Manaka, Mbongeni Ngema, Anthony Akerman, Stephen Gray, Hennie Aucamp,

Such was the situation till the late eighties. The new dispensation in the country (1994 onwards) altered much of this, particularly since much of the material formerly utilized by playwrights had lost its impact, and the role and funding of the arts have become a point of heated debate. However, structurally the theatre had remained much as before, though the straitened economy and the altered attitudes about the importance of the arts have impacted heavily on the industry. Essentially the same four basic traditions (i.e. formal Eurocentric theatre, Western-style indigenous theatre, crossover workshop theatre and traditional indigenous performance forms) continued to develop in the country, mostly along parallel lines. New developments included the rise of cultural festivals (about 30 were being held annually in 2000) as venues for performances, constituting as it were the "South African season" and affecting the style and format of plays and audiences, the collapse of the state funding system and the old performing arts councils, the prolifieration of small, non-standard venues in pubs, restaurants and other informal spaces, an inormous increase of interest in musicals, physical theatre and stand-up comedy. There were clear signs that increasing cross-fertilization was taking place and that the individual forms were less clearly linked to specific companies and groups. All indications were thus that the country was in search of new structures, forms and styles to suit the rainbow nation of the new South Africa.

Playwrights and playmakers who now became important include William Kentridge, Jane Taylor, Lara Foot-Newton,

Amateur Theatre

by P.J. du Toit

Theatre for Young Audiences

by Marie Kruger

Although the school play and (amateur) theatrical entertainments for and by children have long been part of the South African scene, the launching of a teacher exchange programme between Britain and South Africa in the 1940s was a singularly crucial event. Amongst these innovative teachers were Celia Evans (*) and Rosalie van der Gucht (1908-1985) whose contributions, although reflecting different approaches to children's theatre, largely led to the emergence of indigenous theatre for young audiences in South Africa.

In 1944, Celia Evans formed an Organisation called Children's Theatre Incorporated in Johannesburg, with its primary objectives being the development of sound artistic standards and a sense of appreciation in children of music and the arts. The Organisation was also to provide children with the very best available entertainment, instruction, tuition and guidance in music and the arts. For most of their early presentations, local elocution teachers such as Norah Taylor (*) and Isabel McLaren (*) acted as producers, putting on shows such as Rosemary Ann (1947) and The Snow Queen. In order to provide entertainment of a high standard, their policy was to use professional actors only. Evans had a firm belief in the magic of the theatre and thus supported the use of elaborate stage settings and sophisticated stage machinery.

With Children's Theatre Incorporated firmly established in Johannesburg in the early 1950s, Rosalie van der Gucht was invited to establish a branch of the Organisation in Cape Town. In contrast to Evans's approach, Van der Gucht wanted to harness the educational possibilities to those of entertainment, promoting simplicity of presentation and participation by the audience, rather than passive observation. Van der Gucht's productions (e.g. Arena Entertainment, Let's Make an Opera and Brian Way's Pinocchio, adapted by Gretel Mills) all made use of informal arena-style staging and audience participation which influenced the action of the play. These radically different ideas about the nature and practice of theatre for young audiences and complications in funding the Cape Town branch caused problems and led Van der Gucht to form an independent Organisation called Theatre for Youth in 1956.

For financial reasons, Children's Theatre Incorporated had to abandon its policy of employing only professional actors in 1962. This change in standard, together with the difficulty of obtaining plays suited to their preference for spectacle, led to their demise in 1965. Theatre for Youth, which used Van der Gucht's drama students from the University of Cape Town as a nucleus of performers with often professional actors in leading roles, continued to function until 1986.

In many ways the 1950s can be seen as the golden age of non-subsidized children's theatre in South Africa, for besides the two major movements described above, most cities had smaller amateur companies and schools presenting plays produced by local and international authors - in English and Afrikaans. Developments in this period also contributed a number of significant changes to the form of children's theatre in the country. For example, formal proscenium arch presentation started to give way to the more flexible arena-style productions advocated by Van der Gucht, and directors began to experiment with presentation styles for young audiences.

As we have seen with other playwrights, the Afrikaans playwrights and performers basically had to write their own material and authors such as C.J. Langenhoven, Gerhard Beukes, Mariechen Naude and Suzie Mey Viljoen produced numerous one-act and full length plays for children. However the first production of a truly indigenous full-length play in English came The Three Wishes by James Ambrose Brown (1919-), produced for Children's Theatre Incorporated in Johannesburg by Anna Romain Hoffman (*) in 1954 and in Cape Town by Hansel Hewitt (*) in 1955. Inspired by an Arabian fairy tale, Brown tells the story of a dreamy Malay fisherman whose wife sends him to find the magic genie trapped in a bottle at the bottom of the sea. The play launched Brown's distinguished career as a playwright for young audiences and was followed by such popular plays as The Circus Adventure (translated into several foreign languages and also reworked as a musical).

From the late 1950s, state-subsidized theatre began to play a role in the development of theatre for young audiences. The National Theatre Organisation, sponsored by the Education Departments, founded a Youth Group in 1959 to perform dramatized versions of literary texts at secondary schools and to produce plays for young audiences of all ages. When the NTO was dissolved in 1962 initially only two of the Performing Arts Councils (CAPAB and PACT) formed special companies for children's theatre and school programmes. Starting with the same approach as NTO, PACT's youth company underwent a radical change in 1974, when Robin Malan (*) became the director and made Theatre in Education (TIE) the basis of their programmes, which now reflected relevant socio-political issues. At CAPAB it was largely the work of Eileen Thorns (*) who became head of its Youth Drama in 1976, which changed the emphasis from pure entertainment to socially relevant issues.

Because of a limited interest in children's theatres by the four state-subsidized Organisations, drama departments at universities and training colleges have played a major role over the years in keeping theatre for young audiences alive in their communities, servicing schools and doing regular plays for the youth.

Perhaps the best example of this comes from the University of Natal in Durban and the pioneering work of fiery speech teacher and educationist Elizabeth Sneddon (?1897-) and her successor Pieter Scholtz (*). Scholtz wrote and directed his first indigenous full-length play in 1970. Thurkaari: Demon of the Curry Powders was performed on an open stage which allowed direct participation between audience and actor. This has become a central feature in many of the plays and productions that have made Scholtz such an important exponent of contemporary children's theatre in South Africa. Scholtz, unlike many other dramatists, publishes his playscripts in limited editions shortly after performance, thus making them available to other companies. In 1979 he received the Amstel Playwrights' Award for The Amazing Adventures of Tambootie the Puppet, and in 1980, he received the same award for Mister Big Strikes Again, the second play in his Tambootie quartet, which revolve around a series of main characters who are joined by different minor characters in each adventure. The theme is always a battle between morally good and evil forces, set in a stylized multi-purpose circus setting. Many of the Tambootie characters are loosely based on the Commedia dell'arte prototypes, but are essentially modern in conception. Scholtz's influence has spread to other tertiary education institutions in Natal, so that children's theatre is comfortably entrenched in that area.

Another kind of contribution to the development and vitality of theatre for young audiences has been made by the drama department of the University of Cape Town, under the leadership of Rosalie van der Gucht and, from 1971, the fine director and pedagogue Robert Mohr (*). One distinctive influence came through their involvement in the Theatre for Youth's productions until 1986, the other through the institution of an annual winter school in the early 1970s. This created an opportunity for young people to experiment with different theatre forms. Flowing from this the University of Cape Town became a leading force in the development of Drama in Education (DIE) and Theatre in Education (TIE). The important figure here is the dynamic Esther van Ryswyk (*), course leader for educational drama and theatre programmes until 1982. She not only introduced the notions of DIE and TIE into Cape schools, but in 1979 founded SAADYT (Southern African Association for Drama and Youth Theatre). SAADYT's objectives include the unification and thereby development, of youth theatre and educational drama in South Africa. SAADYT is explicitly concerned with education and social change and therefore altered its constitution in 1987 to adopt a militant resolution to work through educational theatre and drama towards a just and democratic South Africa.

The link between theatre for young audiences and education that has developed lately is clearly reflected in the work of a number of prominent contemporary playwrights, such as Janice Honeyman and Annie Barnes (*).

Honeyman, trained by Van der Gucht, from the first introduced a new style that combines entertainment, educational material and social issues in one event, an approach already introduced in her first play Cape Parade Adventure. In WAM (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart), for example, she combines musical education and understanding with a joyous theatrical experience. Incidents from Mozart's childhood are illustrated by his own music in a light-hearted script that allows for active audience participation.

Barnes also extensively utilizes audience participation in her work. For example, in Rainbow Land, an educational play about nature conservation, the ten- to twelve-year-olds in the audience form an integral part of the action, representing the inhabitants of the endangered land. It is a technique also used in her other plays (e.g. The Jubba Jugga Junkgara Follies and Hey! Hooray!).

At present, there is an awareness that theatre for young audiences needs to be extended to a broader audience, one which includes the more remote towns and rural areas, and that the role of theatre as a common and affordable meeting place for children of all races should be promoted, as an integral part of the necessary healing process taking place in the country.


Puppet Theatre

by Marie Kruger

According to the limited research available, a truly indigenous puppetry tradition, free from any Western influences, was present in pre-colonial South Africa in the regions known today as Gauteng, Mpumalanga and the Karoo. Unfortunately no examples of this truly indigenous tradition remain today, except for a few puppets in mainly private collections. Thus the puppet shows of today are mainly a product of the colonial cultural hegemony.

Once again the key impact for a local tradition, albeit in the European tradition, comes from the 1940s, when the efforts of John Wright (8) and Frida Allemans (*) gave puppet theatre a new energy. Wright adapted local legends and used Cape Malay characters and songs to develop an indigenous character in puppet theatre. Allemans, who was head of the Frank Joubert Art Gallery in Cape Town, trained students in the construction and manipulation of puppets. Today art schools and drama departments at tertiary institutions, as well as workshops by professional puppeteers, all provide training for puppet artists.

During the 1950s and 1960s, there was a distinctive growth in the number of amateur and semi-professional puppet theatre groups and in 1961 Keith Anderson (*) formed the first professional group, the Teatro dei Piccoli (theatre for young girls) The aim was to promote puppet theatre as formal entertainment. However, progress was slow and it was really only with the appearance of further groups in the 1970s, along with the beginning of broadcast television in 1976, that puppet theatre as an entertainment medium could come into its own as an independent art form.

Television was especially influential in the development of local characters. Thus there was the newsreader rabbit called Haas Das (created by Alida van Deventer (*)), the political commentators Sarel Seemonster and Karel Kraai (by Johan Roos (*) and the erudite bookworm Bennie Boekwurm (by Rod Campbell(*). These characters really appealed to adults as much as children, for they were used for satirical purposes. However, by far the most popular of all the children's entertainment characters was Liewe Heksie (Dear Little Witch), and her friends such as Blommie Kabouter, Karel Kat and Koning Rosekrans, whose many adventures in Kabouterland (Dwarf Land) were written by Verna Vels (*). Indeed Vels's characters have become a major industry, with books, comic strips, stage plays and many other spin-offs. Besides television, a number of prominent groups have contributed to the development of an indigenous tradition since the 1970s. One such is the Puppetspace in Cape Town, under the energetic leadership of Lily Hertzberg (*). (A singular production of theirs was The Rebirth of the Ostrich, based on an old Khoi-San legend, complete with authentic music on tape and shadow figures based on original rock paintings.) Other groups in Cape Town and surrounding areas include the Cape Puppet Players of Tony and Jill Fletcher (19* and 19*), the Lilliput Marionette, led by Liz de Grootte (*), and Gary Friedman's (*) Royal Puppet Company. Friedman's committed socio-political work, and his virtuosity as a solo performer, were excellently displayed in Puns en Doedie - Puppets against Apartheid for example. Friedman also became hugely popular with the country-wide Puppets against Aids tours he undertook with his assistant Nyanga Tshabalala (*) in 1989 and 1994. The Johannesburg and Pretoria areas have been growth points for marionettes. For example, the Johannesburg Civic Theatre not only formed the first permanent professional marionette group, but also presented the first national marionette workshop in 1977, in association with the Department of National Education. The quality of the work done by the Little Marionette Company, a semi-professional group from Pretoria under the leadership of Hansie Visagie (*), led to this group representing South Africa at marionette festivals in Austria (1983). The state-subsidized PACs unfortunately never really accepted puppetry as a formal art form and therefore did not create permanent puppet companies, but rather tended to contract private groups to visit to schools as part of their theatre for youth work. As a result professional puppetry has never really developed in the country. However, one company has really done much to reverse this trend and rekindle a wide interest in the puppet theatre as a versatile theatrical form and the puppet as an invaluable aid to theatre in general. The Handspring Puppet Company is the most prominent professional puppet company at present. A fully professional company with Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones as permanent members, their activities include formal performances for both children and adults, involvement in health-care and development work, lecturing at tertiary institutions and even mounting exhibitions (the most extensive of which was "Unmasking the Puppet" at UNISA during 1987). Productions for children have included Mbira for Passela and other plays based on African folktales, and original animal stories such as Gertie's Feathers, which also toured Namibia and Botswana. One of the Handspring Puppet Company's most significant contributions has been in the field of puppet theatre for adults. In a country which still associates puppets mostly with children (in spite of pioneering work with puppet cabarets by players such as Toby van Eyck), they managed to break away and create a niche for themselves. In 1985 Esther van Ryswyk directed them in a puppet play based on David Lytton's indigenous political radio drama, Episodes of an Easter Rising. The main character is a wounded and unjustly treated black man, portrayed as a Christ-like figure. In the open performance area lighting effects were used not only to focus attention on the marionettes, but also at times to illumine the puppet manipulators. In 1988 Van Ryswyk used the Handspring Puppet Company for her own CAPAB production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, combining puppets and actors. The visual impact and African character of Kohler's puppets (representing the fairy denizens of the dreamworld) was astounding. Operated on long rods, they were not the conventional idea of fairies, but almost nightmarish apparitions in the form of huge fish, skeletal flying creatures, goblin-like beings, and in the cases of Oberon and Titania, four-meter-high statues with movable arms and heads. The actors spoke some of their lines from inside the puppets, and then - as the characters assumed more human qualities - they stepped out of the puppets to become human sized performers. In the Pyramus and Thisbe play-within-a-play, crude rag-doll puppets charged the broadly comic interlude with riotous fun. In a bold new collaboration with artist and film-maker William Kentridge as director, designer and animator, and using Louis Seboko, Busi Zokufa and Tale Motsepa as the three principal actors, the Company did a puppet and film adaptation of Buchner's Woyzeck in 1992. Entitled production Woyzeck on the Highveld, the play comments on present day South Africa through its multi-layered structure. The action takes place on three levels, namely the rear-projected animation of filmed charcoal drawings and ink-drawn shadow puppets, and in front of the screen, the roughly carved wooden rod puppets, each manipulated by four puppeteers and an actor. On the animated back drop Woyzeck's explosive inner world not only conveys a sense of his South African environment, but also gives the audience these visions interpreted by him. The distance between the inner world as projected on the screen and the action on stage form the thin line between Woyzeck's twisted dream and reality. In 1995 they took the experimentation further with their production of Faustus in Africa. With Kentridge directing, the play once again integrated film animation, actors and puppets. The script combined sections of Part One and fragments of Part Two from Bulgakov's The Master and Magrita and new material by the South African poet Iesega Rampotokeng, so that the idealism of Goethe's Faust is tested against the more earthy materialism of colonial Africa. By integrating art forms such as dance, music, animated film, live actors and object animation into a new "gesamtkunstwerk", the work of the Handspring Puppet Company reflects and reinforces the belief that puppetry can be one of the most powerful tools in the evolution of a new crossover theatre in the country.

South Africa long retained its links with the international community through affiliate membership of the Union Internationale de la Marionette (UNIMA) of Britain, but in 1977 broke its affiliation and, under the leadership of Lily Hertsberg (*) in Cape Town and Alida van Deventer (*) in Johannesburg, UNIMA of South Africa came into being, as an independent member of the international body.


Dance and Physical Theatre

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Musical Theatre and Cabaret

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Alternative forms

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Media

Film

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Radio drama

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TV Drama

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