Astrid Schwenke

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Astrid Schwenke (1954-) is a former archivist and professional cultural historian with a particular interest in South African theatre and ballet history.

Also known as Astrid Schuler in some earlier references.


Contribution to South African Theatre, Ballet and cultural history

Born Astrid Schuler, she grew up in Stellenbosch where she matriculated at the Hoër Meisieskool Bloemhof. She subsequently studied ballet at the University of Cape Town Ballet School.

In 1977 she obtained her BA in Afrikaanse Kultuur and Volkskunde ("Afrikaans Culture and Folklore) and Klassieke Kultuur ("Classical Culture") at the University of Stellenbosch and in 1978 she obtained her Post-graduate Diploma in Museum Science from the same university. She obtained her BA Honnours in 1985, in 2003 her MA in Cultural History and in 2018 her D.Phil. Cultural History from the University of Pretoria with a thesis on Die evolusie van die historiese marmerfries in die Voortrekkermonument, Pretoria, 1932 tot 1952 ("The evolution of the historical marble frieze in the Voortrekker Monument, Pretoria, 1932 to 1952").

She is married and has two children.

Contribution to South African Theatre, Film, Media and Performance

During 1979 she was employed as the curator of the Oude Pastorie Museum (now known as the Paarl Museum) in Paarl. In 1980 she was appointed as researcher and archivist of the archives of the Centre for South African Theatre Research (CESAT), in the Institute for Literature and the Arts of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), Pretoria. In this capacity she was responsible for the theatre, ballet and musical collection in CESAT, comprising more than 400 000 documents and handled hundreds of enquiries from across the country and the globe.

Besides determining policy and procedures for the archives and managing its staff, she was also responsible for a key research project in this period, i.e. compiling and mounting an encompassing exhibition on the history of theatre and ballet in South Africa from its earliest beginnings for the inauguration of the State Theatre in Pretoria in 1981. This exhibition also travelled to the Grahamstown Festival and was used in revised form at the opening of the Natal Playhouse in 1986.

When she retired from the HSRC in 1986 she become a freelance researcher and a registered tourist guide. She has since then been involved in various research projects and has led numerous culture-based tours for international tourists.

A key self-initiated project is the history of indigenous South African ballets based on South African folklore, myths, legends, cultural historic events and politics. In 2008 she read a paper in this regard at the conference of the Society for Dance History Scholars in Saratoga Springs, USA.

In 2019 she was re-employed by the HSRC as Senior Research Specialist working on the archival project and the history of the HSRC for its 50/90 project.


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