Johannesburg Civic Theatre

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The largest and perhaps the best known civic theatre, or city theatre, in the country, one of a number built in the 1960s and 1970s.


The theatre complex has had many names over the years.

Officially named the Johannesburg Civic Theatre in English at its founding (and "die Johannesburgse Stadskouburg" in Afrikaans), it was soon simply referred to as "The Civic Theatre" ("die Stadskouburg"), or The Civic, by writers from the Transvaal.

Renamed The Joburg Theatre Complex, and usually referred to simply as the Joburg Theatre in 20**.


It was designed by Manfred Hermer, and Michal Grobbelaar handled the administration. Sam Moss served on the board of the Johannesburg Civic Theatre. It was built by and belonged to the Municipality of Johannesburg.

The Civic Theatre 1962 to 1990


In 2014 the City of Johannesburg, as part of its ongoing Institutional Review, resolved that the two civic theatres, the Joburg Theatre and Roodepoort Theatre be integrated into a single theatre management company, Joburg City Theatres (JCT), to manage the functions and services of the two theatres. In 2014 the JCT would also take over management of the newly established Soweto Theatre.

Physical set-up

When first built the theatre consisted only of the Main Theatre and**.

Renovated 1991 and re-openend in 1992. It had now gained four stages and three additional rooms, the fourth venue opening on 4 November 1992. The two-level foyer is minimalistic, while the lower level leads to the Tesson Theatre, Thabong Theatre and Pieter Roos Theatre and the upper level leads to the Main Theatre.

The Main Theatre

This is the original venue and has a maximum capacity of 1,064

The Tesson Theatre

This seats 215 people;

The Thabong Theatre

This has a maximum seating of 176;

The Pieter Roos Theatre

The smallest space, it seats 95 people.

Ruth Oppenheim presented herself in Cocteau’s The Human Voice in 1976. Patrick Mynhardt presented A Sip of Jerepigo here in 1992, and Athol Fugard’s Nongogo was staged here in 1994. (See Percy Tucker, 1997)

The Joburg Theatre Complex

When it was renamed in , the theatre stages were also once more renamed, becoming:

The Mandela, The Peoples, The Fringe and

The Mandela

The Peoples

The Fringe


Over the years the theatre, in all its manifestations, has staged an enormous variety of performances and events, including mainstream theatre, experimental work, pantomime and dance.

Performances in the original Johannesburg Civic Theatre (1962-1990)

1962: The Civic's inaugural season saw three operas staged in 1962, as well as the Kushlick-Gluckman production of Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons and Bartho Smit's Afrikaans translation of Friedrich Dürrenmatt's The Visit. JODS did Frank Loessers Broadway musical The Most Happy Fella (directed and designed by Anthony Farmer)

1963: Leon Gluckman brought out the Athens Drama Company to perform Euripides's tragedy Iphigenia in Aulis, directed by Costis Michaelides, starring Aleka Katselis, Maria Moscholiou and Costas Kazakos. They opened soon after with Aristophanes’ Lysistrata. JODS staged Show Boat, starring New Zealand baritone Inia te Wiata, Ronnie Shelton, Marie Van Zyl, Olive King, Shirley Arden and the Capedium Choir here in 1963. Anthony Farmer directed and did the designed for the production which, due to popular demand, played at the Civic again in 1964. Austrian-born Joy Adamson did a lecture here to raise money for her lion projects in 1963. Victor Melleney directed John M. Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World for PACT at the Civic in 1963. Siegfried Mynhardt directed the famous Ben Travers farce, Rookery Nook for PACT. It was staged here in December 1963. Taubie Kushlick staged C.P. Snow’s The Affair at the Civic for PACT in 1963. PACT produced Hamlet at the Civic, directed by Margaret Inglis, starring François Swart, Reinet Maasdorp, Joan Blake and Joe Stewardson in 1964. Elaine Perry arrived from New York to direct the Broadway comedy Never Too Late at the Civic for Hymie Udwin’s Theatre International in 1946. It starred American actors Nancy Coleman, Roland Winters, Helen Lewis and James Kirkwood. Irene and Orlin Corey and their Everyman Players company staged The Book of Job, here for Taubie Kushlick in October 1964. TRUK presented Elektra at the Civic, starring Anna Neethling-Pohl and directed by Costis Michaelides in 1965. JODS staged Frank Loesser’s musical Guys and Dolls which was based on the writings of Damon Runyon here in 1965. Anthony Farmer directed and did the design for this musical which starred Diane Todd, Michael McGovern, Charles Stodel, Patricia Langford and Bradley Harris. It returned for another sell out season the following year. Toerien-Rubin brought Marlene Dietrich to South Africa to perform here in 1965, and again in 1966. Pat Bray and Tom Arnold secured the rights to Around the World in 80 Days for JODS in 1966. Anthony Farmer staged the production at the Civic, with choreography by Wendy de la Harpe and music conducted by Bob Adams. Aubrey Louw assisted this show starring John Boulter and English actor Jack Tripp. Hollywood film actress Joan Fontaine played here in 1966. Bob Monkhouse, the British comedian, performed at the Civic in 1967. JODS staged Cole Porter’s musical Kiss Me, Kate, which was based on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, here in March/April of 1967. Pieter Toerien and Basil Rubin brought Russ Conway, Jeremy Taylor and the American crooner Dick Haymes back to the Civic in 1967. Jim Stodel had to hire the Civic Theatre for Marcel Marceau in 1967 as no ACT theatres were available. Basil Rubin and Pieter Toerien brought Cyd Charisse and her husband, Tony Martin here in August 1967. Percy Baneshik’s Eureka, with score by Bertha Egnos, and direction by Anthony Farmer opened here in March 1967. It starred Lawrence Folley and Pat Lancaster. PACT presented the Salzburg Marionettes at the Civic in 1967. The JODS production of South Pacific was staged here by Brickhill-Burke in 1969. There were designs by Keith Anderson and it starred Inia te Wiata, June Hern, Jean Dell and James White. Patrick Mynhardt’s one-man show A Sip of Jerepigo, based on the works of H.C. Bosman was staged in the Pieter Roos Theatre at the Civic, in 1969. Toerien-Rubin brought director Anthony Sharp and actors Cicely Courtneidge, Jack Hulbert, Roger Livesey, Ursula Jeans, David Kossoff and Robertson Hare from London to star in Oh, Clarence at the Civic circa 1970. JODS staged Canterbury Tales at the Civic, directed by Geoffrey Sutherland in 1970. The Quibells brougt Sidney James home to star in Wedding Fever at the Civic circa 1970. Pieter Toerien staged Ronald Millar’s Abelard and Helöise here in 1971. It starred Heather Lloyd-Jones, Paul Massie, Margaretta Scott and Mervyn Johns. JODS did Man of La Mancha here, with direction and choreography by Geoffrey Sutherland in 1971. JODS staged Applause, starring Janis Paige and Gay Lambert, at the Civic in 1971. Anthony Farmer designed the set, Otto Pirchner directed, and choreography was taken over from Geoffrey Sutherland by Wendy de la Harpe after dissatisfaction from the director. This proved to be the last production for JODS at the Civic. Pieter Toerien presented Jack Popplewell’s Darling, I'm Home starring Ian Carmichael and Diane Todd, and A Touch of Spring starring Leonard Whiting and directed by Philip Grout, at the Civic Theatre in 1972. Sandro Pierotti produced the Brickhill-Burke extravaganza Follies Spectacular starring Joan Brickhill and Choreographed by Wendy de la Harpe at the Civic in 1972. Pieter Toerien brought Kenneth Connor to star in My Fat Friend at the Civic in 1973. Toerien also presented a compilation of Noël Coward’s material Cowardy Custard starring Moira Lister, David Kernan and Graham Armitage and directed by Freddie Carpenter that same year. Kismet, the first PACT musical, was staged here in late 1973. It was directed by Anthony Farmer who also designed the sets, Neels Hansen did costumes and Lawrence Folley, Gé Korsten, Barbara Veenemans, Kerry Jordan and Iris Chapple starred in it. Pieter Toerien brought Nigel Patrick to star in Alan Bennett’s Habeas Corpus which was directed by Kim Grant at the Civic in 1974. David Poulson directed Not in the Book with Wilfrid Hyde-White and Avril Angers for Toerien at the Civic in 1974. Welcome Msomi’s new version of Umabatha directed by, and starring Msomi and Thuli Dumakude, was staged here in 1995. Ster Theatres’ production of Holiday Spectacular was staged here on 13 February 1975 as the first show open to Coloureds and Indians. Pieter Toerien staged Peter Shaffer’s Equus which was directed by Leonard Schach starring British actors John Fraser and Dai Bradley together with Anne Courtneidge, Kim Braden , Fiona Fraser and Michael Howard here in 1975. He also presented Barbara Windsor in Carry on Barbara, Terry Scott and June Whitfield in A Bed Full of Foreigners and an ensemble of British actors, led by Sir Michael Redgrave who brought Shakespeare’s People, put together by Redgrave to the Civic in 1975. Rolf Harris performed here in 1975. Pieter Toerien presented Roger Redfarn’s production of Murder Among Friends starring Moira Lister and Nigel Davenport here in 1977. Pieter Toerien presented Tom Stoppard’s Dirty Linen starring Richard Warwick, Charles Hawtrey, Peter Bowles, Naomi Buch and Ron Smerczak here in 1977. Gordon Mulholland starred in Oliver! in 1978. Academy Productions presented Eric Sykes and Hattie Jacques in A Hatful of Sykes at the Civic in 1979. PACT staged Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat here in May 1979 with its original cast. PACT staged The Archon, directed by Geoffrey Sutherland at the Civic in 1979. Ronnie Quibell staged Carnival à la District Six written and produced by David Bestman and Taliep Petersen here in 1980. Ronnie Quibell presented the comedian Shelley Berman, with Judy Page as a special artist at the Civic in 1981. The Lindbergs directed a guitar festival called Guitars from Africa here in 1981. Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice’s Evita starring Jo-Ann Pezzaro/Sharon Lynne, Gé Korsten and Eric Flynn and directed by Geoffrey Martin was staged here in 1981. Brickhill-Burke brought Michael Stewart’s I Love My Wife starring Tobie Cronje and Eddie Eckstein to the Civic in 1982. It returned after a run in Sydney with Bartholomew John, Erica Rogers and Sharon Lynne having joined the cast. Jerome Lawrence’s Mame, an adaptation of Auntie Mame, was opened by Brickhill-Burke as a joint production with the Civic on 27 November 1982. It starred Joan Brickhill, Jean Dell, Janice Honeyman and Mark Richardson. The Johannesburg Civic Theatre Association and Brickhill-Burke Productions co-produced a new version of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum starring Terry Lester and Wilson Dunster in June 1983. Louis Burke directed Barnum for PACT starring Mark Wynter and Paul Ditchfield alternating the lead role in 1983. Basil Rubin presented Mummenschanz [1] in 1984. PACT presented Louis Burke’s productoin of The King and I starring Joe Stewardson and Judy Page here in December 1984. Godspell, again directed by Des and Dawn Lindberg and starring Sam Marais returned for PACT in May 1986. PACT staged The Student Prince starring Taubie Kushlick at the Civic in December 1986. Anthony Farmer staged a multi-media show to celebrate Johannesburg’s 100th birthday in October 1986. Geoffrey Sutherland directed The Pirates of Penzance starring Clive Scott, Julie Wilson, Edwin van Wyk and Colleen-Rae Holmes for NAPAC which was brought to the Civic by PACT in December 1986. PACT staged an Afrikaans version of King Lear here in 1990.

Performances in the renovated Civic Theatre 1992-2007

Together with PACT, CAPAB and NAPAC the Johannesburg Civic Theatre Association presented A Chorus Line in 1992.

The fourth venue opened on 4 November 1992 namely the Youth Theatre. Janice Honeyman’s production of Sinbad’s African Adventures was staged here in 1992. Mbongeni Ngema’s Magic at 4 a.m was staged here in 1993. Pieter-Dirk Uys’ The Poggenpoel Sisters was staged here in 1993. PACT’s production of Buddy was staged here in 1993. In conjunction with Des and Dawn Lindberg they produced a revival of Godspell in 1994. Janice Honeyman’s production of Hair was staged here in 1994. Gaynor Young told her life story in the one-woman show My Plunge to Fame which was staged here in 1994. Geoffrey Sutherland, Andrew Botha and Graham Scott’s production of Queen at the Opera was staged here circa 1995 and in 1996. *

Renovated 1991 and re-openend in 1992. Financial difficulties. Again in 2000 the theatre finds itself in a serious financial crisis. Youth Theatre: This was the fourth venue which opened at the Civic on 4 November 1992 with a production called Pure as the Driven Slush. Leonard Schach’s Baxter production of Beecham was staged here in 1993. Pieter Toerien brought James Sherman’s Beau Jest here in 1993. Tennesse Williams’ The Glass Menagerie was staged here in 1994. Bryan Schimmel and Ian von Memerty’s A Handful of keys was staged here in 1994. ****

The Civic Theatre 1994 to 2007


During the early post-apartheid years the Johannesburg Civic Theatre continued functioning as a city theatre, subsidised by the city and running at an annual financial loss. In July 1993 established stage director Janice Honeyman was appointed Artistic Director and Deputy Executive Director of the Civic, working with Executive Director Alan Joseph. Her main contribution was the development and staging of original productions at the complex. In June 1994 Tale Motsepe was appointed as Development Manager with the specific brief to concentrate on the broadening of the Civic’s audience to include more of the black majority, whereas the complex’s traditional audience was predominantly drawn from the white urban population. Playwright/director Jerry Mofokeng was appointed Assistant Artistic Director in February 1995 to support Honeyman.

Mofokeng’s appointment underlined the focus of serving a wider audience and he declared in an interview, “My position entails the restructuring of the Civic Theatre and giving it a new image. People in the townships and elsewhere would know that there is a room for them as well. ... We are contemplating taking our productions to the townships. But, in practical terms, we face insurmountable problems. Facilities in the townships are nearly non-existent” (Mfundo, 1995). Since the Civic was subsidised by the Greater Johannesburg Metropolitan Council, its focus in the new South Africa had become to serve all the cultural groups resident in the metropolitan area. In 1998 actor/playwright Pat Pillai was appointed General Manager of Marketing and New Business Development of the Civic Theatre complex. The Civic had become a hive of activity and 28 productions were staged in the complex in the first half of 1998.

In the mid-1990s strong focus was also placed on developmental work at the Johannesburg Civic, developing audiences, specifically from the historically disadvantaged communities, while at the same time developing emerging theatre-makers through the annual New Stages project. Beginner playwrights, directors and actors were invited to take part in the project and to present their work. Dramatised play readings were facilitated and the most promising talent was selected and developed and their productions were staged at the Civic.

In June 1998 the Greater Johannesburg Metropolitan Council announced that it would cut the Civic Theatre’s artistic budget of R26 million by 40%. The Johannesburg Civic Theatre was the only complex of its size that received no government subsidy and was totally reliant on funding by the local metropolitan government. The Civic suddenly found itself in a serious financial dilemma, which was exacerbated considerably by the more than R100 million debt incurred by the previous management for extensive rebuilding and renovations during the late 1980s, prior to the reopening of the complex in 1992.

Janice Honeyman reacted optimistically to the new financial challenges and in an interview outlined “...plans to attract corporate use of (the Civic’s) facilities, including the modification of one theatre, and the focus on a ‘big bang’ approach to productions: staging popular musicals and spectaculars to cross-subsidise less popular work. ‘Harnessing whatever skills, expertise and experience we have, we can become less dependent on public subsidy.’” An equally great challenge would be to continue with the Civic’s developmental work, while at the same time shifting the business approach to a more commercial objective, “The Civic’s new business focus will also apply to its training and education programmes, which, Honeyman says, remain the theatre's most important long-term work” (in Greig, 1998d). [Van Heerden (2008)][2]

Pat Pillai saw these challenges as insurmountable, and the recently appointed GM of Marketing and New Business Development resigned his position, stating “Money makes money and without the budget I cannot do the job” (Coetzee, 1998). A year later, by mid-1999, commentators, the media and the theatre community were speculating that the Civic Theatre might be closing its doors by the end of the year.

In August 1999 the Greater Johannesburg Metropolitan Council announced that, as part of its iGoli 2002 strategy, a number of its units would be “corporatised” to make them more viable as individual business units. These included the Civic Theatre. The Civic’s Section 21 company (not for gain) would continue to exist and a new (Pty) Limited company (a company for profit) would be formed with the objective to turn the theatre into a viable, independent business unit. The Metropolitan Council would be the sole shareholders of the newly formed company. In March 2000 it was announced that Janice Honeyman, by this time CEO, would relinquish that position and concentrate on her core strengths as Artistic Director. The position of CEO would be advertised. Two months later Honeyman resigned as Artistic Director and became a freelancer.

In July 2000 the Johannesburg Civic Theatre (Pty) Ltd was formed and Bernard Jay was appointed as its first CEO. The existing Section 21 company was renamed “Friends of the Civic Theatre”, with the brief to concentrate on community and educational theatre, and Cas Coovadia was appointed its chairman. Bernard Jay was a highly experienced commercial theatre administrator and producer, and a strong candidate to tackle the challenge of turning the Johannesburg Civic into a profitable commercial business, in line with the trend of independent commercial theatres emerging around the country in the new South African theatrical landscape.

Immediately after his appointment Jay made his commercial approach to theatre and entertainment very clear when he declared emphatically in an interview, “...everything we present in the future must have a clearly identifiable target audience that we believe can fill the theatre if successfully enticed. We can't just put on a show for the sake of it” (Walker, 2000). His first priority, he stated in another interview a month later, was “to fix what has gone wrong as result of the fact that creative people had been in control previously, rather than business people” (Naudé, 2000, translated from Afrikaans). His strategy, from the outset, was to change the Civic Theatre from primarily functioning as a production house, into a theatre for rent, a receiving house for popular commercial productions.

Jay supported the ideal of incorporating the black community into the audiences at his theatre, but never at the cost of sound, commercial business principles. In January 2001 he told The Sowetan newspaper, “I agree that I would be fooling myself if I believed I could develop new theatre audiences without looking at the potential of theatre audiences among black people. The audience has to be recruited from the ranks of the upwardly mobile blacks. Let's face the facts. While I am not trying to run a theatre exclusively for the elite, theatre is the most expensive form of entertainment and only people with a certain income level can afford it. You cannot run into the middle of Soweto and try to convince people clinging to their last cent to buy a theatre ticket instead of food. My contention is that the starting point is to have a marketing strategy that targets the black middle class with disposable income. That is where the money is in the black community...” (Tsumele, 2001). [Van Heerden (2008)][3]

The new CEO positioned his theatre clearly, “The Civic is not in the arts and culture industry, it is in the entertainment industry” (Gordon-Brown, 2003). In the selection of productions to be staged at the Civic Theatre complex Jay focused strongly on popular, commercial appeal and he placed an equally strong emphasis on the publicity and marketing of the company’s offerings in its three venues, the Main Civic Theatre (1,069 seats), the Tesson Theatre (251 seats) and the People’s Theatre (176 seats). In August 2001 he pulled off a brilliant marketing coup when the Main Civic Theatre was rechristened the Nelson Mandela Theatre. The unequivocally commercial approach to popular entertainment theatre was also underlined in naming the Johannesburg Civic complex “Times Square at the Civic”.

Bernard Jay had completely shifted the Civic’s earlier emphasis on the creation of original indigenous theatre and the development of black theatre-makers and audiences to a purely business-oriented commercial theatre facility, serving audiences from all cultural and ethnic groups, who could afford the price of a ticket for popular, high-end theatrical entertainment. By the beginning of 2002 the Civic’s stages were booked for more than 90 percent of the 365-day year, the company boasted a pre-tax surplus of R3,5 million in its first year of operation and the line-up for 2002 included two world premières of musicals and visits by three leading international ballet companies. The Nelson Mandela Theatre was booked for 95 percent of the year (Accone, 2002).

When he was appointed, and given his professional background, many expected that Bernard Jay would fill the Civic’s stages with imported pot-boilers and sure hit productions from Broadway and the West End and provide little opportunity for local theatre-makers. In the first two financial years of the new Civic Theatre company 130 productions were staged in the two main venues, the Nelson Mandela and Tesson Theatres. Of the 130 productions, 18 featured artists from overseas and the remaining 112 were staged and performed by South Africa theatre-makers. Although the main objective and the business strategy of the Civic was dictated by hard financial principles, the South African theatre industry were provided a well-run professional venue which was building a large and loyal audience. The main focus during the first few years was on audience development rather than talent development, and Jay stated in a 2003 interview, “If we concentrate on giving the audience a good time and they keep coming back, the direct result will be that there will be money for artist development” (Cox, 2003). Indeed, as the Civic became commercially more stable, the CEO showed the promised support for the development of local theatre art by facilitating (rent free) the newly-formed Johannesburg Actors’ Centre in the Civic complex. The Centre was based on similar ones in New York and London and provided a facility for professional actors to meet and to practise and develop their art and their skills. The space provided to the Actors’ Centre consisted of a small theatre, offices, a bar foyer and a lounge.

In late 2003, after its first three years of operation, the Johannesburg Civic Theatre (Pty) Ltd was running at a profit and had an annual turnover of R30 million. The Nelson Mandela Theatre was booked until the end of 2005 and the theatres were running at 80% capacity (compared to 20% before the company had gone commercial), selling in excess of 300,000 tickets per year (Lawrence, 2003). In 2005 PANSA commented in their report, “It is noteworthy that the box office income of R18,4m of the Johannesburg Civic Theatre, a receiving house in Johannesburg, exceeded the combined box office income of the four former performing arts councils, now all having similar ‘receiving house’ mandates” (Performing Arts Network of South Africa, 2005: 38). Bernard Jay and his team had managed admirably to move their operation out of the arts and culture industry and solidly into the commercial entertainment industry. [Van Heerden (2008)][4]

The Joburg Theatre Complex 2008-2013


Tucker, 1997

University of the Witwatersrand Historical Papers [5].

See also Civic Theatre

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