Federation of Amateur Theatrical Societies of South Africa

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The Federation of Amateur Theatrical Societies of South Africa (1938-1969) was an enormously influential bilingual, national organization. The Afrikaans name for the federation was the Federasie van Amateurtoneelvereniginge van Suid-Afrika, but it was widely known by its acroynym of FATSSA (or FATSA in Afrikaans).

Founding and aims

The association was founded by the representatives of twenty amateur dramatic societies at the instigation, and under the leadership, of P.P.B. Breytenbach of the Krugersdorp Municipal Dramatic and Operatic Society (KMDOS), on 14 December, 1938. The aims of FATSSA were to: promote co-operation between societies; establish scholarship funds to assist promising members in further studies; assist with library facilities, costumes and scenery; encourage what had become known internatgionally as the Little Theatre Movement[1] in South Africa; seek reciprocal membership facilities between societies; encourage playwriting competitions, as well as drama and music festivals; and collect royalties and performing rights fees on behalf of playwrights.

Organization and contribution

The first working committee consisted of P.P.B. Breytenbach, Elsie Solomon (Johannesburg), J. Hardie (Boksburg), J. Elwyn Davies (Pretoria), Lionel Bennet (Heidelberg) and Frank Drummond (Krugersdorp), with H. Cranko (Johannesburg) and Frank Rogaly (Port Elizabeth) co-opted later.

Although the first twenty members were all English language societies, many Afrikaans groups later became affiliated. Organised in terms of 30 districts, with district committees made up of representatives of affiliated bodies, and each district represented on the central executive committee. The executive committee would meet at least twice a year, before and after the annual conference, and the conference elected the president, the eight vice-presidents (one for each province, plus the Rhodesias and South West Africa - with Eastern and Western Cape counting as two regions) and the honorary treasurer. The secretary was appointed part-time.

In actual fact the federation was run by a smaller committee of management, led by P.P.B. Breytenbach (who had been was elected president from the start), with the long term support of Muriel Alexander of the Johannesburg Repertory Society.

Among their most important contributions to South African theatre were the annual FATSSA Play Festivals which they organised over the years, with productions eventually having to get through district and provincial rounds, to make the finals (held in a different centre each year). The competitions also promoted indigenous playwriting, especially of one-act plays. (Two collections of Afrikaans plays were published under the auspices of the society for example.)

By 1950, 150 companies were affiliated to FATSSA, the annual one-act play competition had attracted 107 entries and more than a thousand actors had participated in the eighteen regional competitions, six provincial and one national festivals. The combined membership totalled around 15000 in all. Added to this, a total of around 500 productions had been staged which had been attended by around 200 000 people. By 1955 however, its end was in sight as a decision was made to decentralise the federation. It disbanded in 1960.


When the state came to the decision to found the National Theatre Organisation (NTO) in 1947, FATSSA was given the task to set it up, with P.P.B. Breytenbach as its part-time director. In 1952 he took the job on full-time and withdrew from FATSSA.


P.J. du Toit, 1988;

Ludwig Binge, 1969;

Sydney Gosher, 1988;

Phyllis Konya ,1985;

Percy Tucker, 1997)

Go to The ESAT Bibliography

[TH, JH]

For more information

See also National Theatre Organisation

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