Joyce Levinsohn

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Joyce Levinsohn (1935-2021) was an actress, director and inspirational force behind children's theatre in Southern Africa.


Born Joyce Zinman in 1935.

She was married to Lionel Levinsohn and the couple had four children.

In 1952, she qualified with an Associate Speech and Drama Teacher's Diploma (A.T.C.L.) from Trinity College, London. Thereafter in 1953, she obtained a Teacher's Diploma from the Royal Academy of Dancing; and a year later, in 1954, she graduated from Trinity College, London with a Licentiate Speech and Drama Teacher's Diploma.

She passed away in Johannesburg on 6 November, 2021

Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance

Her qualifications came at a time when the apartheid regime was in the process of enacting the harsh 'Bantu Education' laws, which were effectively designed to retard the learning progress of South Africa's children of colour. Aside from a vastly inferior curriculum to their white counterparts, the government decreed that educators in black, Asian and coloured schools did not require any qualification higher than a standard 8, school leavers certificate to enter the teaching profession. Whilst Joyce was powerless to overturn this legislation, she was nevertheless struck by injustice, and in her own small way, she resolved to use her talents and resources to make a meaningful difference.

Through her housekeeper, she came into contact with a number of black teachers, whom she instructed in the techniques of Theatre-In-Education; - a medium, which integrates arts and culture with learning areas such as languages and human and social sciences. Levinsohn's unwavering passion for the performing arts is deeply entrenched in the belief that interactive theatre is an integral part of the human experience; - the means by which actors and audiences choose to participate in the unfolding scenarios which theatre provides; many of which often mirror real life.


From 1954 - 1961, Joyce served as co-director of the Zinman-Green Speech and Drama Studio. Whilst she was also primarily involved in preparing and training pupils for Eisteddfods, festivals and examinations, in addition to running integrated dance, drama, and song workshops for children from junior primary school to high school, she also continued to use her skills to upgrade the literacy and overall teaching competencies of teachers from disadvantaged communities.


Growing young minds through quality interactive children's theatre has always been one of Joyce's central goals. As the Director of Sandton Speech and Drama Centre, which she opened in 1961, she was able to actualise her talents in adapting and directing popular children's literary classics for the stage. Within the context of the private drama classes she ran, she focused on cultivating the oral communication skills of her pupils and empowering them with the confidence to express themselves.


With the establishment of Children's Theatre Productions, in 1976, Joyce became a pioneer and the forerunner of professional, quality children's theatre in South Africa. Whilst the Company was run along almost identical lines to a professional adult theatre company, Children's Theatre Productions afforded young, emerging actors and actresses the opportunity to perform alongside seasoned professionals.

Given that the Company received no state funding, Joyce was thrust in the roles of financial director, theatrical co-director and drama / voice coach. In between knocking on the doors of potential sponsors from both the private and business sectors, she relentlessly hounded officials at various government departments to obtain permission for youngsters from marginalized communities to attend the weekly theatre workshop classes that she ran. As donors and civil servants soon discovered, Joyce's tenacity leaves little room for refusal. With monies received from generous benefactors, the Company was able to tour a host of underprivileged schools and provide children from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds with first time exposure to stimulating, interactive, high quality theatrical 'edutainment.'

Each holiday season saw the staging of popular children's classics. Many of these productions were musicals featuring a host of wild and wonderful characters dressed in elaborate costumes, who performed against a backdrop of imaginatively designed sets. Based on Joyce's belief that wherever there are children, there is a spark of life that makes children's theatre a riveting adventure, the Company built its reputation on staging productions that developed the imaginations, creativity and communication skills of actors and audiences alike.

Following the Soweto Riots of June 1976, the Government temporarily enforced the closure of black schools. Joyce was in the middle of staging a production at the time, which featured black children from her theatre workshops, who played alongside white professional actors. In her determination to uphold the theatrical maxim, 'the show must go on', she took the youngsters into her home, where they remained for the duration of the production.

In 1987, at a time when there was little exposure of indigenous folklore and mysticism, Joyce conceived the idea for an interactive, eco-musical to promote the message of conservation. Entitled Songs and Tales under African Skies, the production combined the rich African tradition of oral story telling with vibrant song and indigenous dance. With most of the stories calling for additional players from the audience, this interactive masterpiece was hailed as a 'tour de force for children of all ages'.

In 1990, the production went global and enthralled audiences in London, West Germany and Italy. It also captivated millions of young Americans when it was filmed for the US education TV series, Channel One. It also played to captive audiences in Mauritius during its 1996 tour of the island.

1989 / 1990: VITA AWARD


With the founding and formalisation of the Johannesburg Youth Theatre Trust as a non-profit educational theatre trust, in 1989 /90, and Joyce's appointment as Executive Director came the recognition of the Johannesburg City Council, which granted the Trust a 50-year lease on a heritage site in Parktown, Johannesburg. Two historic houses on a property, which is situated on all major bus and taxi routes fulfilled Joyce's dream of providing all of Gauteng's children, irrespective of socio economic circumstances, with an easily accessible theatre environment in which creative energies are channelled to encourage cognitive development, life skills and literacy.

Under the direction of the undisputed doyenne and forerunner of children's theatre in South Africa, JYT has consistently delivered an imaginative year-round repertoire.


In 2001, Joyce was the recipient of the prestigious Arts and Culture Trust Lifetime Achievement Award, which hailed her inestimable contribution to children's theatre as follows; - 'Through the Johannesburg Youth Theatre Trust, Levinsohn has fostered a culture of art appreciation, language and literature amongst youth. Her dedication to excellence in children's theatre has helped to build theatre audiences of the future.'


The most valuable resources on the planet are not easily found. Gold, diamonds and oil take time and patience to find and cultivate. The same is true of people. In a society that has been scarred by political injustice and wounded by racial intolerance and socio-economic hardships, I believe that the performing arts communicate in a universal language, which builds bridges across cultural, economic, racial and religious divides.

I have strived and hopefully succeeded in my aim to build a theatre environment that prizes creative, innovative and critical thinkers. JYT is a place where multiple ways of knowing and doing are celebrated. Each production is aimed at teaching children about the heritages and cultural practices of others whilst providing them with a context in which to discover their own important place in South Africa's multicultural society. The future is in the hands of our children and it is up to us to teach them well, so that they can lead the way.


Apart from the awards mentioned above, the following were awarded to her:

In 1989/90, Joyce Levinsohn was the recipient of a Vita Award for her, 'contribution to the growth of quality children's theatre.'

She won a Naledi Lifetime Achiever Award, February 2005.

Theatre Managers of South Africa lifetime achievement award." 2005 (Saturday Star, 23 July 2005).

Naledi 2010 Best Production of play/musical for children: Levinsohn, Joyce: Seussical Jnr.


The Star, 15 February 2005.

‘’Citizen’’, 8 March 2010.

Tucker, 1997.

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