Encyclopaedia of South African Theatre, Film, Media and Performance

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General Editor: Temple Hauptfleisch

Introduction and aims

The Encyclopaedia of South African Theatre, Film, Media and Performance (ESAT) is an open access, internet based interactive resource for theatre and performance researchers interested in the evolution, history and forms of drama, theatre and performance in South Africa.

The aims of the ESAT encyclopaedia are to create a comprehensive database on the history and nature of South African theatre and make it available as a general reference work and resource for the use of researchers, students, artists, journalist and all other interested parties.

The encylopaedia's editors invite the academic and artistic community to help in expanding and improving on this material in order to make the results of academic and other research more readily accessible to the general reader and the theatre enthusiast. (For more on this see Updating ESAT.) In this sense the basic aim is rather to condense and collate available information on all South African theatre and performance forms (as far as they have been documented) in one place and in a handy and accessible digital format, rather than to undertake any comprehensive new research. Happily a great deal of little known and/or forgotten information has in fact come to the fore during the course of this project, and can be made available, though that was not the fundamental aim of this first version of ESAT.

Background and origins

The idea of compiling a comprehensive resource on South African theatre and performance was originally conceived by Temple Hauptfleisch while he was head of CESAT. However, the time was not ripe and he finally initiated the project - originally called A Companion to South African Theatre and Performance (COMSAT), later renamed The Encyclopaedia of South African Theatre and Performance (ESAT) - after he moved to the Stellenbosch University in 1988. In 1994 he founded the Centre for Theatre and Performance Studies and COMSAT became the first research programme of the new centre. The aim was to involve a range of researchers and students to compile a general reference work on South African theatre and performance which would make the results of academic and other research more readily accessible to the general reader and the theatre enthusiast.

Ultimately the project would evolve through three stages over the years:

A Companion to South African Theatre and Performance (COMSAT) - 1994-2010

Involving researchers across the country as well as post-graduate students at the University of Stellenbosch, the project expanded almost exponentially between 1994 to 2010 , generating over 10 000 individual entries and a number of sub-sections, including an overview of theatre and performance in the country, a chronology of theatre events (in the context of social, cultural and political events), a comprehensive bibliography and annotated lists of plays and performances.

This database of more than 2000 pages soon became a core resource for the research undertaken by the staff of the Centre for Theatre and Performance Studies as well as the staff and students of the Drama Department. Gradually international enquiries also begtan to come in to the Centre.

In view of this interest the pressure to "publish" the material began to grow. However, it slowly became clear that that (a) few publishers were really interested in a publication of this enormous size and (b) as the material still kept on increasing , much editing still needed to be done, and there was an enormous amount of information still lacking. Thus the research team began to explore other possibilities. The most promising seemed to be an online version of the database, something along the lines of the Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.org/).

An Encyclopaedia of South African Theatre and Performance (ESAT) 2010-2012

So, in early 2010 Temple Hauptfleisch met with Ralph Pina, Director of e-Business at the University of Stellenbosch, to discuss possibilities. Pina saw this as a project that could become far more widely applicable, so he referred Hauptfleisch to Ms Ina Smith (in charge of the Open Acess initiatives at the University) , who had also been toying with the idea for an open access site for research output for some time. In May 2010 a meeting was held with her and Mr Hilton Gibson, IT specialist for the library, and the ball was set rolling to create a website utilising the Wiki platform used by Wikipedia, and to employ it to upload the theatre data from the old COMSAT research project onto the new website, as the first phase. After an experimental period however, it was clear that ESAT was something different, and a separate wiki site was created for the Encyclopaedia of South African Theatre and Performance (ESAT), still utilising the Wiki-programme that the University had acquired. The various templates were now developed, the staff were trained and transferral of the data to the ESAT file began in July 2010, with the aid of a number of students and staff. The first version of the ESAT website was launched and opened for public use in March 2011.

An Encyclopaedia of South African Theatre, Film, Media and Performance (ESAT) 2012-

In 2012-2013 the scope of the ESAT Project was considerably enlarged by two factors. In 2012 a meeting was held with Marisa Keuris and members of her archival project on provisionally called SA Drama- en teaterbewaring ("SA Drama and Theatre Conservation"), which aims at creating a digital archive of materials on South African theatre, in association with similar international archives. This association means that the ESAT project and the SADET project become partners, sharing information and each supporting and supplementing the other. Discussions on this matters continued into 2013. In 2013 another expansion took place, when film specialist Freddy Ogterop approached the project team to suggest that we expand the scope of ESAT to include South African Film. This discussion led to the idea that perhaps Radio Drama and TV Drama may also be added to the scope of ESAT. Ogterop declared himself willing to join the research team and be the editor for the film section. This was immediately implemented, and the title of the project changed to the Encyclopaedia of South African Theatre, Film, Media and Performance (but retaining the acronym ESAT). By 2014 the pattern had been set and the encyclopaedia was receiving over 1 million visits to its various sections.

The ESAT Archives

ESAT is primarily a digital encyclopaedia, i.e. a database of processed information and was not conceived as an archive of written and/or published material - digital or otherwise. In view of this, the project does not consciously solicit and/or collect physical materials on the various art forms. However, as the project has proceeded ESAT has inevitably been offered and has begun to accept voluntary donations or the loan of materials in order to write up the data.

On occasion the term ESAT Archives is therefore used in the entries, to refer to material used in writing the item. In the past such references tended to refer to a temporary facility for storing materials donated to the ESAT team for processing. (Often this material was stored in found spaces, such as the studies and garages of participating researchers.)

However, given the immense concerns of, and actual problems faced by, collectors and researcher with the preservation of valuable materials on the arts in South Africa, the ESAT the project leader and the team members have constantly been in consultation with various projects, seeking to set up some kind of network of archival facilities (physical and/or digital). Prominent in seeking our such facilities have been former senior librarian, the late Miriam Terblanche, and researcher and film-maker Amber Fox-Martin, as have been the staff of the Africa Open Institute for Music, Research and Innovation (AOI)[1] at the University of Stellenbosch, with which the ESAT project has gone into partnership.

As part of the working relationship, ESAT was offered some interim archival space as part of the AOI's larger archival holdings on music and other art forms in its DOMUS Archive, where the ESAT archival materials could be held till a more formal space is found for the AOI and the ESAT material. The first batch of material was moved from the editor's garage to the AOI on Wednesday 9 August, 2023.

In future therefore, donated material will be accessed (as individual collections listed under the name of the donor) and, once processed and the data uploaded, the various items will be assessed for future preservation, either in the ESAT archives or, if more appropriate, in one of the other existing cultural archives and libraries in South Africa.




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