The Space

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The Space was an enormously influential alternative theatre space in Cape Town, active in the period 1972-1979.

Officially named The Space/ Die Ruimte initially, later The Space/ Die Ruimte/ Indawo, but best known as The Space (or referred to as the Space Theatre by some authors). (Die Ruimte and Indawo simply mean "The space" in Afrikaans and Xhosa respectively).

Not to be confused with Space.com at the Joburg Theatre

The management and company

The theatre was founded and managed by Brian Astbury and his wife Yvonne Bryceland, with the close involvement of Athol Fugard. Moyra Fine, one of the founding fund-raisers for The Space, also remained a bastion through its seven year life. In addition the venture also had the help of numerous other people active in the Cape Town theatre scene, including students and staff from the Universities of Cape Town and Stellenbosch.

By July 1973 the permanent company included Yvonne Bryceland, Bill Flynn, Christopher Prophet, Jacqui Singer and Maralin Vanrenen.

Over the years it became the home and training ground to numerous South African performers, directors and other theatre artists, including such prominent individuals as Yvonne Bryceland, Bill Tanner, Dmitri Nicolas-Fanourakis, Bee Berman, Pieter-Dirk Uys, Bill Curry, Fatima Dike, Barney Simon, Paul Slabolepszy, Bill Flynn, Janice Honeyman, Robin Malan, Vincent Ebrahim, Wilson Dunster, Thoko Ntshinga, James Mthoba, Jaqui Singer, Val Fletcher, Christopher Prophet, Shirley Johnston Blaise Koch, Christene Basson, Nomhle Nkonyeni, Marthinus Basson, Dawie Malan, and Grethe Fox. Designers like John Nankin,

Performance spaces

The original Space Theatre occupied two buildings during its existence, within which a number of sub-venues were created.

The Space in Bloem Street

In 1972 The Space the first venue was opened in the premises of Sebba and Co in Bloem Street, Cape Town, having been converted by the staff and many volunteers and supporters. Maciek Miszewski was the architect responsible for the overall design. The venue opened on 28 May 1972 with an early version of Athol Fugard's Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act, starring Fugard and Yvonne Bryceland in the leading roles.

In 1973 an art gallery was added, called The Art Space

In 1974 a second venue was added on the ground floor and called The Outer Space. It was mainly used as a venue for new work and for films and opened in 1974 with Pity About People by Pieter-Dirk Uys, and closed with Survival by Theatre Workshop '71 in 1976. It saw a great deal of new work by young writers in the three years of its existence, including Dance Is (directed by Patricia Whittock), Die Laaste Middagmaal, (by Wilma Stockenström), It’s My Weekend, Too by Sheila Roberts)**

The Space in Long Street

In 1976 The Space moved around the corner to the YMCA building in Long Street, putting on a performance of Tsafendas by William (Bill) Tanner on the evening. The audience were asked to carry their chairs to the new building.

Besides the main theatre, other, smaller, venues in the old and the new buildings were also utilized from time to time (e.g. The Gym, The Rehearsal Room, Upstairs at the Space, and so on).

Productions

The theatre opened on 28 May 1972 with a production of Fugard’s Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act, starring Fugard, Yvonne and Christopher Prophet. This was followed by Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona’s Sizwe Bansi is Dead in October 1972 and the seminal production of Die Hodoshe Span ("The Hodoshe Team", later known as The Island) by Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona in July 1973.

Among the other major productions done at The Space were Athol Fugard’s People are Living There, Hello and Goodbye and Dimetos; Pieter-Dirk Uys’s Selle Ou Storie (1975), Karnaval and God’s Forgotten; , Genet’s The Maids, Survival (1976) by Theatre Workshop ’71, Imfuduso by the Women of Crossroads (1978), Fatima Dike’s The Sacrifice of Kreli (1976), The First South African (1977) and Glasshouse (1979), Geraldine Aron’s Bar and Ger (1978), Mickey Kannis Caught my Eye (197*) and Zombie (197*), Othello – Slegs vir Blankes [“Othello - For Whites Only”], Enemy – An Anti-War Collage and Scarborough by Donald Howarth, **** (197*), **

Other facilities

Particularly in the early years, The Space undertook a number of linked enterprises in their quest for relevance.

Among them:

The Space Theatre Club

To avoid the apartheid legislation of the times The Space was run as a "theatre club", called the Space Theatre Club, thus allowing for racially mixed casts and audiences. The first performance of Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona’s Sizwe Bansi is Dead, for example, was offered in October 1972, for “members only".

Foundation for Art and Theatre

To encourage new writing the fund-raisers who had initially collected the money for The Space formed a group called the Foundation for Art and Theatre under the leadership of Kate Jowell. They organised a one-act play competition with Robin Malan, Brian Astbury and Mavis Taylor as the judges. In the end 105 plays were submitted and these were then reduced down to ten stageable ones, of which 5 were eventually produced. Die Laaste Middagmaal by Wilma Stockenström and It’s My Weekend, Too by Sheila Roberts were tied at first place.

The Yvonne Bryceland School of Drama

The Yvonne Bryceland School of Drama was a training facility for young people (12 years of age or older) opened at 21 Bloem Street, Cape Town, in 1972.

An offshoot of The Space, it had Yvonne Bryceland, Athol Fugard and Brian Astbury as directors of the venture, with Bryceland as managing director.

The teachers were drawn from both The Space theatre company as well as prominent theatre practitioners. Full time staff included Val Donald, Jacqui Singer, Paul Slabolepszy, Steve Daitch Steven Daitsh and Lianda Martin. Among the guest lecturers were Robert Mohr, Donald Howarth, Robin Malan, Tessa Marwick and Gisela Taeger-Berger. Bryceland and Fugard also gave occasional lectures.

The aims of the school were summarised as follows in their original brochure (a pamphlet written by Amanda Botha, with artwork by Issy Sacks):

1. To awaken and foster within each student a sensitive awareness of his environment through the arts.

2. To discover and encourage future professional actors.

3. To give students an essentially PRACTICAL training by using teachers actively involved in theatre.

The school followed the Western Cape schools calendar, and the original fee was R16 per term. It offically opened on 15 July 1972, with a welcoming address by Yvonne Bryceland.

The classes were scheduled for Saturday mornings , beginning with a movement or yoga class, and afterwards small group exercises in improvisation, mime, practical acting techniques and public speaking, as well as discussions of all aspects of theatre making. Students could participate in special theatre projects during the holidays. Students were also able to see The Space productions at concession prices.

The end

By 1978 the theatre was struggling financially and otherwise. Libby Morris for example, offered her show Edith Piaf, Je vous aime as a fund raiser to the struggling theatre in December/January 1977/8, but ultimately to no avail. The Space closed its doors in September 1979 and Brian Astbury and his wife Yvonne Bryceland left for England, to pursue their careers there.

However it had a brief respite when, soon after, it resurfaced as The People's Space, now under the guidance of Rob Amato, Muriel Fine and others. This finally closed down in 1981. (See the entry under People's Space.)

In 2009

Influence of The Space

Besides its influence on the lives and careers of the many people involved and the many new South African works it helped create and launch, (see above ), the theatre also became venue for productions by other experimental and political groups, and became the inspiration for other similar theatres, notably the Market Theatre in Johannesburg.

Memories of The Space have been substantially maintained through a number of publishing activities by people involved.

In 1979, Brian Astbury produced a book, The Space/Die Ruimte/Indawo March 1972-September 1979, containing his photographs and details of all the productions put on (with useful annotations). It was published by Moyra Fine and Azriel Fine. Filled with information, the book has become a rare gem, since it had been published in a limited edition.

In 1997 Cape Town celebrated the 25th anniversary of the founding of The Space and Pieter-Dirk Uys wrote his nostalgic remembrance of it in the play called No Space on Long Street, performed at its successor, the Baxter Theatre, and the text published in the South African Theatre Journal of that year as its contribution to the commemoration.

At the insistence of Percy Sieff Brian Astbury returned to the original book and by 2009 had created an online documentary on the history of the theatre, entitled Theatre of Survival – the story of The Space[1]. Published on the internet as a blog by Wordpress.com. Even more useful than the original book.

Sources

Brian Astbury. 1979. The Space/Die Ruimte/Indawo. Cape Town: Moira and Azriel Fine.

Brian Astbury. 2009. Theatre of Survival. The story of The Space/Die Ruimte/Indawo.. A blog at WordPress.com.[2]

Percy Tucker. 1997. Just the Ticket. My 50 Years in Show Business. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press.

Loren Kruger 1999. The Drama of South Africa: Plays, Pageants and Publics Since 1910. London: Routledge

25th anniversary: Cape Times, 24 February 1997; Mail and Guardian, 14-19 March 1997.

Amanda Botha and Issy Sacks. 1972. The Yvonne Bryceland School of Drama (a brochure – in the ESAT archive, University of Stellenbosch).

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