Guild Theatre

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About the Guild Theatre

The East London Guild Theatre (Afrikaans: "Gilde Teater") is a playhouse facility, producing and presenting performing arts in East London and the broader Buffalo City Municipality in the Eastern Cape. Founded in 1962, the Guild has been home to some of South Africa’s leading artists, emerging local performers, as well as several international acts.

Origins and history

The idea

The theatre was born of an idea of Dr B Bromilow-Downing; it began in a prisoner of war camp during the Second World War, where the young East London soldier past the hours writing a pantomime.

The East London Guild Theatre Association

After the war, in 1953, Bromilow-Downing and another East Londoner, Arthur Markson, formed the East London Guild Theatre Association [or often referred to simply as the Theatre Guild with the idea of initiating interest in building a proper theatre. Soon the association comprised of over 1 000 members affiliated with the societies from around the city, including the Afrikaner Klub, Association of Arts, Church Drama Club, Kongo Drama Club, Technical College Drama Club and East London Music and Variety Club.

In May 1954, the societies began raising the necessary funds to build what was then called the Civic theatre or Little theatre. The cash was raised through performances in churches and school halls, and “by receiving donations from various sectors”, according to a report from the theatre.

It became a tradition to perform a pantomime each year in the East London City Hall, with proceeds going to the fund. As the money came in, the Theatre Guild Association challenged the Department of Education, Arts and Science of the time to match its funds, rand for rand.

Until such time, the theatre would be owned and managed by the Theatre Guild Association.

However, the government responded that it would only supply funds if the East London Municipality provided a loan towards the cost of the theatre and the municipality owned the building. "The government finally granted the theatre R50 000, the City a loan of R50 000 while the Theatre Guild raised R58 000” reads the report.

The Guild Theatre

Theatre opens In October 1962, the doors of the Guild Theatre opened with a production of School of Scandal, directed by Mary Howe, who imported costumes from London, “especially for the occasion”.

Zane Flanagan, the theatre manager, says: “This was a dream come true for the East Londoners, to have a place to be proud of and a home for amateur and professional theatre, ballet and music concerts.”

At the time, the theatre was managed by the East London Guild Theatre Association, a non-profit organisation, while the Guild Theatre dramatic society provided staff to run it on a voluntary basis.

The theatre accommodates 486 people and was opened to all races in 1979.

Today, the Guild Theatre hosts commercial and non-profit productions. Flanagan explains that it is also rented out for various events, including conferences, music concerts and children’s theatre. The non-profit productions include drama, directing and dance workshops held in townships.

There is also the traditional annual pantomime during the festive season.


The main purpose of the Guild Theatre is to provide a functioning infrastructure to serve as the home for the performing arts in the East London/Buffalo City Municipality and its environs and to ensure that this infrastructure is used to:

•develop and stimulate an interest in the performing arts in the communities within Buffalo City •act as a base for the Guild Theatre’s outreach programmeme which aims to encourage and develop the practice of the performing arts among young people in the urban and rural areas of Buffalo City and the wider areas of the Eastern Cape.


As part of the Guild’s core business, the theatre is actively engaged in developing and nurturing talent and interest in the performing arts through its education programmes.

The Guild Theatre Dance Company

Formed in 1998, has been instrumental in facilitating the Guild’s education programmes through training workshops and education programmes for the talent of Buffalo City and surrounding areas, particularly in the townships and rural Eastern Cape. The company of eight professional dancers specialise in dance forms ranging from classical and traditional to contemporary and have graced the stage of many events such as the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown and the opening of the Eastern Cape Tourism Summit.

Transnet Theatre Trucks

A recent partnership with the Transnet Foundation has enabled the Guild Theatre to expand its delivery to the province at large, enabling it to take the performing arts to areas where theatre infrastructure does not exist. The Transnet Theatre Trucks are horse-and-trailers converted into mobile performance stages, fully equipped with audio and stage lighting. The truck has a drop-down side creating a stage size of 8m x 5m powered by three-phase electricity and is fully equipped with a sound and lighting system that is suitable for all performances or events with an audience of up to 5000 people.The Theatre Trucks are available for rental with all proceeds going towards the Theatre’s education and audience development programmes, such as Community Connections.

For more information

See the Guild Theatre website at

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