Open-air theatre

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Open-air theatre is the general term for all kinds of theatrical and musical performances hat take place out of doors.

This is sometimes written Open Air theatre or Open-air Theatre.

See also Shakespeare-in-the-Park

Open-air theatre as concept

Generally this can refer to any performance space in the outdoors, including amphitheatres, arenas, stadia, and found spaces (such as street theatre).


An amphitheatre is an open-air venue used for entertainment, sport and performances. They may be man-made or natural, they may be semi-circular (Grecian) or circular (Roman).

See also Open-air theatre, Arena and Stadium


Some theatres specifically referred to as amphitheatres are

Boardwalk Amphitheatre Summerstrand, Port Elizabeth

Dr J L Dube Amphitheatre, Inanda, KwaZulu-Natal, scheduled to open in November 2023

Fort Schanskop, Pretoria

Freedom Park Amphitheatre Pretoria

Jabulani Amphitheatre, Johannesburg

King's Beach Amphitheatre Humewood, Port Elizabeth - now demolished

Kirstenbosch Gardens, Cape Town

Libertas Theatre, Stellenbosch

Oude Libertas Amphitheatre, outside Stellenbosch

Rand Show Amphitheatre, Johannesburg

Taalmonument, Paarl

Union Buildings, now called Nelson Mandela Amphitheatre, Pretoria

University of Natal, Durban

University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

V&A Waterfront, Cape Town

Voortrekker Monument, Pretoria



See the entries on Arena[1], Amphitheatre and Stadium.


A modern stadium (plural stadiums or stadia) is a place or venue for (mostly) outdoor sports, concerts, or other events and consists of a field or stage either partly or completely surrounded by a structure designed to allow spectators to stand or sit and view the event. This may at times be used for festivals, pageants and other large scale theatrical events. (see

See also Arena and Amphitheatre

Street Theatre

Open-air theatres in South Africa

Good Hope Gardens, open-air theatre, the Gardens, Cape Town.

In 1882, Charles Du Val published his book With a Show Through Southern Africa and personal reminiscences of the Transvaal War, in which he relates giving a "grand farewell night" performance of Odds and Ends in the Good Hope Gardens.

He said that the gardens were given this name "more for purposes of nomenclature than for botanical reasons, for they have small claims on horticulture to recommend them; they possess 'bright and shining' gas lights here and there among the trees, subservient entirely to the will of the breeze, and there is a band-stand, and an open-air theatre.

"Du Val organised for the band and pipers of the 91st, later the Sutherland and Argyll Highlanders, to "add their brazen charms and for the 'Hieland pipes' to add 'to the attractions of the evening'.

The south-easter wind blew that night and "the Highlanders made a stolid fight against the howling wind as it rushed and rustled through the trees.

"The Gardens were crowded, the band crashed away; some people promenaded, others skated in the rink; the enterprising lessee of the place discharged a few half-hearted squibs, some very unorthodox Roman candles, and about a dozen semi-paralysed rockets, which he was pleased to call a 'grand fireworks display'."

Happy Valley Open-air Theatre, Humewood, Port Elizabeth.

Before the construction of the open-air theatres, bands, such as the band of Prince Alfred's Guard would entertain beach-goers, first loosely seated with spectators sitting around in an informal manner and then with the band seated in an enclosure surrounded by a low fence.

An open-air theatre was later constructed in Happy Valley.

The theatre, built in 1938, was known as Happy Valley Theatre, and consisted of a raised covered stage with chairs arranged on the grass.

On January 6, 1938, Jock Duff and his Vaudevillians started their nightly run at the Happy Valley Theatre. In the event of bad weather, the show was moved to the nearby Humewood Cafe which had a restaurant/theatre inside known as the Lido during the Second World War years. It was later renamed the Dolorico Cafe. In the 1960s the venue was known as the Palm Grove. The building was demolished after the 1968 flood.

January 16, 1938: A "Grand Special Concert" was staged starring vocalists Mr I.B. Shaw, Miss Nellie Daly and Mr Arthur Bevan (The Great Comic). The musical director was Herr H. Schneider. The show included songs such as Jolly Fellows Waltz by Robert Vollstedt, The Right o' the Line by G O Walker, A Happy Song by Tereses del Riego and While old times rolls gaily on by Hutton.

The Happy Valley Theatre was used in the afternoons for free Punch and Judy shows.

The Happy Valley Amphitheatre, Humewood, Port Elizabeth

The the Happy Valley Amphitheatre, was constructed under the supervision of John Shelton after the devastating flood of September 1968 during which Happy Valley was totally destroyed.

In February 1971, the Happy Valley Amphitheatre opened with the newly formed Port Elizabeth Shakespearean Festival's production of The Merchant of Venice. Produced by and starring Leslie French as Shylock, it was staged to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Republic of South Africa.

Starring: Reg Hicks (The Duke of Venice), Wilhelm van der Nest (The Prince of Morocco), Rocky Mann and Paul Mann (Attendants to the Prince of Morocco), Derek Scarr (Prince of Arragon), Philip Jackson (Antonio), Jeremy Baylis (Bassanio), Philip Godawa (Solanio), Roy Williams (Gratiano), Neil Graer (Salarino), Trevor Hicks (Lorenzo), Leslie French (Shylock), Avery Dorward (Tubal), Bruce Sanderson (Launcelot Gobbo), Alfred Porter (Old Gobbo), Michael Bateson (Leonardo), Ronald Hicks (Balthasar), Dawson Whitehead (Stephano), Helen Mann (Portia), Helen St C Wilkins (Nerissia), Margaret Gillmore (Jessica).

Lords, Ladies, Servants and other Attendants: Michael Bateson, Dawson Whitehead, Lenel van den Berg, Ronald Hicks, Dennis Slattery, Colleen Channon, Maeve o'Regan, Yvonne Howell, Claudine Johnson, Sue Donald and Maureen Huber.

Elaine Bateson (Assistant to Producer), John Shelton (Technical Consultant), Waldie Bartie (Stage Manager), Yvonne Howell (Choreography), Edith Porter (Wardrobe), Evelyn Barnes (Makeup), Billy Fletcher (Lighting), Helen Wilkens (Production Secretary), Leslie French (Costumes and Settings).

The Happy Valley Amphitheatre was only used for one production as it was found the damp sea air and wind made conditions very unpleasant.

In 1972 the Shakespearean Festival was given a new venue in St George's Park which was named Mannville after Bruce and Helen Mann. The first production staged there was A Midsummer Night's Dream produced by Leslie French.

King's Beach Amphitheatre - Humewood, Port Elizabeth.

This entertainment complex was built in the 1960s and consisted of the amphitheatre with a raised stage, kiddies paddling pool, a miniature train, ablution facilities, change rooms and a cafe. The sea air took its toll on the buildings and the complex was eventually demolished in ????.

The stage was used for many free functions, especially during the festive season, and also for the Miss Port Elizabeth competition.


Found-space theatre

Market Square, Port Elizabeth.

Open spaces have often been used for impromptu and/or organised performances by all races in South Africa. On April 12, 1909, three elderly Xhosa men, dressed in a combination of European and traditional clothing, entertained a crowd in next to the Obelisk in front of the Port Elizabeth Town Hall. Their heads were decorated with ostrich feathers, round their necks they wore horns and beads, in their hands they carried sheilds and sticks, and in strange contrast to this they wore striped shirts, corduroy trousers and veldschoens. The Eastern Province Herald described the scene: "Squatting down on his haunches one of the men began to storm on a Kafir Piano, (See: Policy regarding offensive language and terminology) whilst the other two, with many "Ha!"s and "Wow!"s performed the intricate evolutions of the national war dance. Soon a crowd collected. Faster and faster went the dance, louder and louder played the piano, its manipulator encouraging his compatriots with guttural exhortations sounding remarkably like "Gitche! Gitche! Gitche! Git up!" Worked up to a frenzied pitch of excitement the two dancers shuffled and jumped and flung themselves into the air, shouting out their war-cries and feinting at each other with a considerable degree of ferocity. Finally, with the persperation streaming from their faces, they banged their sticks against the shields and simultaneously gave the royal salute, and the 'show' was over."


St George's Park Swimming Pool.

In 1938 Taubie Kushlick produced William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream on and around the swimming pool. Oberon and his court made merry with the revels of Puck and the Fairies. The Mechanicals played their music on a raft floating on the water and fears were expressed that it would capsize, but fortunately, this never happened.

Street theatre

Theatres in the park

Mannville Open-air Theatre

Founded in 1971 in St George's Park, Port Elizabeth.

See Mannville Open-air Theatre

Maynardville Open-air Theatre

Founded in 1950 in Maynardville Park, Wynberg, Cape Town.

See Maynardville Open-air Theatre

The Open Air Theatre, Durban

Open Air Theatre Durban Botanic Gardens Durban, 02 South Africa

Oude Libertas Theatre, Stellenbosch

Pieter Scholtz Open Air Theatre, Durban


Charles du Val. 1882. With a Show Through Southern Africa and Personal Reminiscences of the Transvaal War (Volume 1 & 2): Tinsley Brothers, 8 Catherine Street, Strand.

Eastern Province Herald, April 13, 1909.

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